Wed, Dec 11, 2019

Tua returns and Burrow don’t care. LSU and Alabama faced off on Saturday and it delivered in every way imaginable — and in a few that no one could’ve conceived of. It also gave us a glimpse into what Tua Tagovailoa and Joe Burrow are capable of at the next level.

In other news that should excite NFL teams desperate for a franchise quarterback, Utah State’s Jordan Love had his best game of the season while Washington’s Jacob Eason had a mixed bag against against Oregon State.

Joe Burrow, LSU

Joe Burrow ain’t messing around. His unlikely season reached its apex on Saturday in Tuscaloosa where he faced one of college football‘s best teams, in one of the toughest places to play, and proceeded to put on a show from start to finish. Any concerns about nerves, or the moment being too big for him, were assuaged from the first snap, when Burrow calmly dropped back, scanned the field, and after finding no one open, rushed for seven yards.

The rest of the drive went like this: A perfect throw to Ja’Marr Chase that beat cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr. and safety Xavier McKinney for a 22-yard gain. On the next play, Burrow stepped up in the pocket, found Justin Jefferson on a crossing route that hit him in the hands and right in stride. And the play after that just reconfirmed what Burrow already knew: He was the best player on the field.

Burrow looks left, freezing the safety, then comes back right and finds Chase down the sideline for a 33-yard touchdown. Credit to Chase too; he out-muscled and outmaneuvered Trevon Diggs, one of the nation’s best cornerbacks, to make the back-shoulder grab and waltz into the end zone. Burrow was 3 of 3 on the drive for 74 yards. He’d complete 10 more passes before finally throwing an incompletion with 5:19 to go in the first half.

A wild NFL Week 10 is almost in the books and there’s a lot to go over. Fortunately Will Brinson, John Breech, Ryan Wilson and Sean Wagner-McGough are here to break everything down on the latest episode of the Pick Six Podcast. Listen to the full show below and be sure to subscribe right here for daily NFL goodness fired into your eardrums.

It’s hard to overstate just how good Burrow has been this season, and much of that conversation is about his decision making in the pocket. But we can’t overlook his pocket presence, the savviness with which he avoids pass rushers while still keeping his eyes downfield. And if nothing downfield opens up, Burrow, one of the toughest quarterbacks on the planet, will take off. This 12-yard run in the first quarter set up a field goal that gave LSU an early 10-0 lead:

That’s not some tomato can Burrow juked out of his shoes; that’s Terrell Lewis, one of the best athletes on Alabama’s roster and a first-round talent. None of that matters to Joe.

We’ve been saying it for most of the season but Burrow does so many things well, and many of those things won’t blow you away upon first glance but they’re the little things that franchise quarterbacks have to do on every single play. His composure is next level, and we saw it time and again against Alabama. Burrow routinely goes through his reads, doesn’t panic, and finds his best option, usually while under pressure. He doesn’t force the ball when he’s hurried, just trusts his training; it’s what can be the difference between a mundane-seeming seven-yard gain to set up second-and 3 and a sack that makes it second-and-15.

That should be enough for NFL teams to fall in love, but then there are the big-time plays, like this jaw-dropper late in the second quarter. Burrow looks left, comes back right and finds tight end Thaddeus Moss on a back-shoulder throw near the goal line. Anything other than the throw we all witnessed and the defender breaks the play up.

This is video game-type stuff and it’s not even halftime, which brings us to this throw, with nine seconds left before the break: Facing pressure in his face, Burrow waits for running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire to come open in the end zone and calmly puts the ball right on him, with three defenders nearby:

LSU led Alabama 33-13 at the half, largely due to Burrow, who was 18 of 20 for 252 yards with three touchdowns and no turnovers.

The Tigers leaned on Edwards-Helaire in the second half but that didn’t mean a diminished role for Burrow, who, in addition to all of his other qualities, is also stronger than he looks:

This set up a fourth-and-1, and it should’ve been a no-brainer go-for-it situation (LSU punted).

We saw that toughness again early in the third quarter, after Alabama had cut LSU’s lead to 33-27. Facing third-and-10 and the pass rush in Burrow’s face, he finds Jefferson underneath and Jefferson somehow converts.

At some point you’d expect Burrow to make a mistake, what with the law of averages. But as the game wore on and the score tightened, he got better. Our favorite sequence came with five minutes to go and LSU clinging to a 39-34 lead. Burrow faked the quarterback draw and threw a strike to Chase, who gained 29 yards.

(We can’t emphasize this enough: Burrow’s ability to throw accurately and on time allows his receivers to run after the catch with little effort; there is no adjusting for a poorly thrown ball — just have your hands ready, Burrow will hit them, and then run. It’s almost that simple.)

Burrow is sacked by McKinney to make it second-and-14 but finds Jefferson in the middle of the field for a 17-yard gain down to the Alabama 33-yard line. Two plays later, facing third-and-2, Burrow gains 18 yards on the zone-read keeper. Edwards-Helaire runs it in one play after that to give LSU a 46-34 lead with 1:37 to go.

There were a few more fireworks to follow over the next 97 seconds but no matter what happened Burrow had already proven that he was the No. 1 quarterback in this draft class.

Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama

We talk about Joe Burrow’s toughness but Tua Tagovailoa had surgery on his ankle 20 days before taking the field against LSU and was Alabama’s best player. He finished 21 of 40 for 418 yards with four touchdowns and an interception. And while there are some takeaways from his effort against the Tigers, his grittiness is at the top of the list, well above any concerns about his overall performance.

Put another way: Tagovailoa played better on a surgically repaired ankle than most quarterbacks play when fully healthy. Yes, he was rusty, and yes, his mobility was hindered, but he did nothing to convince us that he’s not the No. 2 quarterback in this draft class and worth a top-five pick.

Tagovailoa was under pressure for most of the game, and for the most part, he handled that pressure. On Alabama’s first offensive snap as LSU pass rushers were in Tagovailoa’s face, he kept his eyes downfield and made an off-balance-but-accurate throw to Jerry Jeudy near the sideline for a first down. Safety Grant Delpit blitzes on the next play, again right in Tagovailoa’s face, and he releases the ball before wide receiver Henry Ruggs is out of his break. It’s a high-level throw that only didn’t succeed because cornerback Kristian Fulton was in tight coverage and broke up the pass. (Related: four future first-round picks were involved in this play.)

We can’t stress just how accurate Tagovailoa is when he’s pressured. It’s easy to forget this when you’re mesmerized by Burrow, but there’s a reason Tagovailoa came into the season as the nation’s best quarterback and, unlike Oregon‘s Justin Herbert, he’s done nothing to change that. If you want to question anything, perhaps it’s Tagovailoa’s durability. But in terms of what he brings when he’s healthy, he’s masterful.

Take, for example, this 64-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith. Tagovailoa catches LSU cornerback Derek Stingley looking to the sidelines, quickly snaps the ball and hits Smith in stride. Notice that Tagovailoa briefly stares down Delpit in the middle of the field, holding him there before turning left to find Smith.

Tagovailoa’s biggest mistake came just before the half. He wasn’t able to move LSU linebacker Patrick Queen with his eyes; Queen instead drifted into the passing lane, Tagovailoa doesn’t appear to see him and hits him right in the hands. The mistake would lead to an LSU touchdown a few plays later.

It was an uncharacteristic outing for Alabama’s offense — the interception, the dropped passes, the penalties — but Tagovailoa was undeterred. With the Crimson Tide trailing 33-13 and just under five minutes to go in the third quarter, Tua lofted this pass to running back Najee Harris, whose back-shoulder catch was one of the most impressive things we saw all weekend:

A series later, Tagovailoa drops this dime:

The final 20 minutes featured a series of such plays; here’s a big-boy throw on fourth-and-2 late in the fourth quarter that found Jeudy in the end zone:

Then, several minutes later and with Alabama trailing by 12, it was another Tua-to-Smith hookup:

Here’s the thing: Tua was limping noticeably for much of the second half and he looked to be around 75-80 percent. He only completed 52.5 percent of his throws — but who cares? That was as gutty a performance as you’ll see, and some of the throws he was still able to make solidify to us that he’s a legit future franchise quarterback.

Jordan Love, Utah State

There he is! This is the Jordan Love we’ve been looking for since Utah State’s opener against Wake Forest. In Love’s last four games he had just two touchdowns and seven interceptions and was completing barely half his passes. On Saturday night against Fresno State, Love looked every bit the wildly talented passer who deserves first-round consideration.

He finished 30 of 39 for 388 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. It was his best overall outing of the season, and it wasn’t really close.

There was the nice touch pass down the middle of the field:

And the field-side out route, which comes out on time, accurately and with velocity — a pass Love has struggled to complete this season.

This is an NFL throw every day of the week.

Then there’s this dime to Siaosi Mariner in the end zone:

It was like this all evening, one pass after the next, and it was a joy to behold:

These plays above, they all happened in the first half. Love was just as efficient over the final 30 minutes, and this “How did he do that?!” completion took place on the final drive that set up the game-winning touchdown:

Can Love replicate this performance from one week to the next? That’s our biggest question about one of the most physically talented quarterbacks in this class.

Jacob Eason, Washington

Jacob Eason might have more physical tools than Justin Herbert, but like Herbert, his lack of consistency is worrying. Unlike Herbert, however, Eason hasn’t played a ton of football the last two years. In 2017 at Georgia, he suffered a knee injury in the opener and lost his job to Jake Fromm. He then transferred to Washington, where he sat out last season and is now 10 games into his tenure with the Huskies.

And while there has been a lot to like — especially when Eason has been well-protected — he’ll also have 2-3 iffy decisions a game, that in recent weeks have led to turnovers and even points. In fact, after throwing just three interceptions in the first eight games, Eason has tossed two picks in each of the last two games, including two pick-sixes. That said, not all turnovers are created the same.

On Friday night, the Huskies were in control, running on Oregon State’s undersized defense and giving Eason easy reads off play action. And then, similar to the Utah game the week, Eason threw the ball out wide and it was easily intercepted for a touchdown going the other way.

So what happened? A few things to note: Against the Utes, Eason took a five-step drop; out of shotgun it should’ve been a three-step drop — that’s why he was late with the ball. Against the Beavers, the ball came out on time but it’s hard to blame post-snap decision-making on a timing route that Eason likely decided he was going to make before the snap. A lot of variables are in play from an inaccurate throw (not the case here), a poor route by the wideout (it’s unclear if the receiver was supposed to push more upfield before turning outside) or a good read by the cornerback (which obviously happened).

Eason also tossed an interception earlier in the game on a deep ball that was slightly underthrown. The defensive back made a great play, and sometimes that happens. But the pick-six above is inexcusable, and is a talking point for why it might be in Eason’s best interest to return to school.

But there’s no denying that Eason is a really intriguing prospect too. When he has time to throw, especially on short and intermediate routes, he is very accurate. His ball placement on those throws are among the best we’ve seen this season, and time and again it allows his receivers to maximize their yards after catch. Things start to break down when Eason is under pressure (the second half of the Utah game was a prime example of this), or when he has to push the ball down the field.

Worth noting: For the most part, Washington’s pass catchers haven’t been very good this season, and Eason was victimized by several drops against Oregon State. If you’re looking for a bright spot, watch tight end Hunter Bryant, who is a special talent. He runs like a wide receiver and catches the ball effortlessly, and regularly wins one-on-one matchups.

We got a glimpse of Bryant’s talents and Eason’s accuracy with just under four minutes to go in the first half; Eason hit Bryant in stride, and Bryant did the rest.

The touchdown was negated by a Washington penalty, but that shouldn’t take away from Eason’s ability to regularly put the ball on his receivers when he’s protected.

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