BATON ROUGE, La. — The college football world may be shocked to realize that LSU quarterback Joe Burrow completed just 11 of 24 passes for 140 yards and zero touchdowns in his first game last season, a 33-17 win against No. 8 Miami.
The next week, he hit just 10 of 24 for 151 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-0 victory over Southeastern Louisiana.
Meager numbers compared with Burrow's behemoth digits so far this season. He leads the nation in points responsible for at 188 with 29 touchdown passes, two touchdown runs and a 2-point conversion pass. He is No. 2 in efficiency at 216.2 on 173-of-218 passing for 2,484 yards and second in passing yards a game with 354.9 — or 209 more yards a game than he averaged before playing at Auburn last season.
Burrow has thrown for fewer than 300 yards only twice this season and never lower than 278, which was in the opening win over Georgia Southern.
The No. 3 Tigers (7-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) prepare to host No. 10 Auburn (6-1, 3-1 SEC) at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on CBS.
It was on Sept. 15, 2018, at about 6:30 p.m. at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama with No. 12 LSU playing No. 7 Auburn in the 3:30 p.m. CBS game.
"That's when I guess the legend of Joe Burrow began," LSU center Lloyd Cushenberry said this week.
On first down from the LSU 29 with Auburn leading 21-13 midway through the fourth quarter, Burrow found wide receiver Derrick Dillon across the middle for a 71-yard touchdown to get the Tigers within 21-19 with 8:18 to play. Burrow's bullet just missed the reach of Auburn linebacker DeShaun Davis.
"I thought I had it," Davis said after the game. "I judged the ball wrong I guess."
Davis had just been Burrow-ed.
Dillon caught the ball at the tip of the "AU" at the 50-yard line and sprinted through the Auburn secondary for the touchdown.
After LSU's defense produced a three-and-out stop, Burrow converted a fourth-and-7 for nine yards at the Auburn 48 in the final minutes to tight end Stephen Sullivan. Two plays later, Auburn defensive back Jamel Dean was called for pass interference against wide receiver Justin Jefferson to give LSU a first down at the Auburn 24 with under a minute to go.
With :02 remaining, Cole Tracy became the hero with a 42-yard, walk-off field goal for the 22-21 win. But LSU became Joe Burrow's team.
"It was a great throw," Cushenberry said.
It was more than that.
"Auburn had a little momentum at that time," coach Ed Orgeron said. "I think Cole got most of the credit for that game, but obviously, we started believing in Joe. No question. That was his team. I thought he felt more comfortable."
And Burrow was off. He finished with a modest 249 yards in the air on just 15-of-34 passing after a rough start.
"You could see him playing better," Orgeron said.
Two weeks later, he threw for 292 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-16 win over Ole Miss and then had his first 300-yard passing game against Rice with 307 in a 42-10 win on Nov. 17. He threw for 270 and rushed for 100 in the 74-72 seven-overtime loss at Texas A&M. In the 40-32 Fiesta Bowl win, he threw for 394 and four touchdowns, setting the stage for this season.
"I just tried to be a leader," Burrow said after the Auburn game last year. "That's usually what gets me going. Trying to get my guys going, because when they go, I go. We kept confidence with each other."
Burrow was frustrated entering the fourth quarter.
"But my coaches kept trusting me, and my teammates kept trusting me," he said.
Ever the teammate, Burrow said it was LSU that arrived at Auburn last year, rather than he.
"I think that was a big moment for our team," he said this week. "We were struggling that game on offense pretty badly, and we kind of needed a spark. And Derrick gave it to us. He made a great play, great catch, and obviously a great run after the catch, too."
LSU will likely need more of those Saturday.
"Joe knew he could make a play like that before he did it," Cushenberry said. "Hopefully, he makes some more of them."