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TUSCALOOSA — After all that, Joe Burrow’s hair was still immaculate. Perfectly parted. Sensationally gelled. And why wouldn’t it be after 457 total yards and three touchdowns against a football team that has tortured his program for the better part of the past decade? It was the kind of performance that will cement him as the overwhelming Heisman favorite moving forward.
The architect of LSU’s 46-41 victory over Alabama, a masterpiece of a football game that we never wanted to end, stood at the podium in a grey long-sleeved shirt after one of the most important nights of his life.
Only moments earlier, his teammates carried him off the field and into the bowels of Bryant-Denny Stadium. They moved toward The Fail Room, the name of the visitors’ locker room that didn’t carry the same football weight on this night that it normally does when Alabama plays.
“Just some quarterback from Ohio,” Burrow said afterward in a moment of reflection as he ran his fingers through his hair.
He praised his offensive line and his running backs and his coaching staff, deflecting as much of the spotlight as he possibly could. But after conquering mighty Alabama in this fashion, all eyes were on him.
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Only a year ago, he was still getting his feet under him after transferring from Ohio State. There were moments when it seemed like it might one day come together. That he could develop with another year and more reps. But not like this. No one saw anything like this coming, largely because football transformations this spectacular rarely happen.
Not since 2015 had a quarterback beat Alabama in its own building. And yet, Burrow’s first incompletion came as the sun was beginning its descent over Bryant-Denny Stadium, five minutes and 19 seconds before halftime. History be damned.
From there, he never let up. Not at the end of the first half, which saw LSU score two touchdowns in the span of 30 seconds. Not deep into the third quarter when Alabama’s offense came to life and LSU’s halftime lead dwindled away. Not in the fourth quarter, when Alabama refused to give in. For every response, there was an answer.
The game itself somehow lived up to the hype that has been building for months. While offense has been hard to come by over the years when these two teams meet, that wasn’t the case this time around.
When LSU last beat Alabama in 2011, the teams scored a combined 15 points and accounted for 534 yards. This year, those same programs totaled 87 points and exactly 1,100 total yards.
Burrow was responsible for much of this production, although statistics fail to capture just how great he was. His 393 passing yards, 64 rushing yards and three touchdowns would be impressive without context. But on a night when they needed every yard and every third-down conversion, his play was much greater than what the stat sheet said.
It was the throws he made while being punished by Alabama defenders. “I enjoy getting hit sometimes,” Burrow said after the game. “It makes me feel like a real football player.”
It was the backbreaking scrambles and crucial yardage on the ground that seemed to suck the life out of a stadium that featured the President of the United States and more than 100,000 Alabama fans waiting and hoping for Burrow to finally let up.
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It was the way he answered every Alabama score with a moment of his own. The way he carved up a defense that is rarely deconstructed quite like this.
Consider that one year ago, LSU didn’t score a single point against Alabama in a 29-0 home defeat. Burrow completed just 18 of his 35 throws that night, adding an interception.
This year, however, LSU has found an offense most fans have been waiting for their entire lives. Burrow’s growth partnered with Joe Brady—LSU’s passing game coordinator who came over from the New Orleans Saints—has changed the trajectory and expectations for a program that made it through the most daunting part of their schedule unscathed.
Head coach Ed Orgeron couldn’t hide his smile after the game, his eyes still red and glassy from the tears he shed after securing the victory. He knew exactly what that game meant. Not just for LSU, but for Burrow as the college football regular season churns toward its conclusion.
“I don’t vote,” Orgeron said when asked about Burrow’s chances of winning the Heisman. “But if I got a vote, I would vote for him. I promise you that.”
Both coach and quarterback refused to let this seem like the defining moment of the season. At times, their expressions said otherwise, although they made it clear where their focus is.
“This wasn’t the goal,” Burrow said, echoing Orgeron’s thoughts from earlier in the week. “We have more things ahead of us.”
For Burrow, this could very well mean a Heisman Trophy. At this point, it will be his to lose. And for LSU, after being unable to conquer mighty Alabama for years, the possibility of a conference championship and something far greater has never felt closer than it does right now.
Time will tell. There are still games on the calendar. But now that it has found its offense, powered by a quarterback with immaculate hair, everything is suddenly within reach.