The No. 7 Florida Gators travel to Baton Rouge this weekend to face the rival No. 5 LSU Tigers, and "the best quarterback, obviously, we've seen so far this year" in Joe Burrow, says Florida head coach Dan Mullen.
Burrow has been on fire for the Tigers through the first five games of his senior year, completing a whopping 78.4% of his passes for 1864 yards, 22 touchdowns, and three interceptions. "Deceptively athletic," says Mullen - Burrow has also recorded two rushing touchdowns and 61 yards on the ground.
The growth that Burrow has displayed this season compared to last has been tremendous. His accuracy down the field has improved drastically, and the LSU offense has transitioned from being power-run heavy to spread out and pass first, throwing the ball on 52.24% of plays in 2019 compared to 43.23% last year.
Where is Burrow hot as a passer? Pro Football Focus has tracked every throw the Burrow has made by which zone the ball was thrown to, and how he is playing under pressure. Let's break down his accuracy and production on each level of the field.
It should be noted, in case you weren't aware, that the Gators have arguably the best pass rush in the nation. They rank third in the nation in sacks with 26 and have recorded 124 QB pressures - just over 20 per game, per PFF.
This level of disruption has led to passers accumulating a mere 183 passing yards per game, and tossing 12 interceptions in six contests.
However, Florida has yet to face a signal-caller who thrives under pressure like Burrow. He is completing 70.7% of his 42 passes under pressure, on 58 dropbacks. On those completions, Burrow has tallied 496 yards (11.8 yards per attempt), six touchdowns, and has not thrown an interception.
Those numbers are more efficient than the standard quarterback's stats in general, much less under pressure.
Now, while Mullen calls Burrow to be deceptively athletic, he has taken 10 sacks under pressure compared to scrambling only seven times. He's throwing the ball as well as possible while under pressure, but Florida can make an impact by quickly closing the pocket and getting Burrow on the ground in a hurry.
Field zone accuracy
PFF has 12 throwing zones as a whole, with the field split vertically into four zones - behind the line of scrimmage, 0-10 yards downfield, 10-20 yards, and 20+ yards - and horizontally into three, from left to right.
Let's break down Burrow's accuracy on each level of the field.
Behind the LOS:
-Left: Zero attempts
-Middle: 14/17 (82.4%), 91 yards, one touchdown
-Right: Zero attempts
-Left: 8/9 (89%), 72 yards, one TD
-Middle: 37/44 (84.1%), 349 yards, four TDs
-Right: 11/12 (91.7%), 64 yards
-Left: 3/4 (75%), 41 yards
-Middle: 32/39 (82.1%), 655 yards, nine TDs, one interception
-Right: 8/13 (61.5%), 128 yards, one TD, two INTs
-Left: 1/2 (50%), 25 yards, one TD
-Middle: 4/5 (80%), 149 yards, two TDs
-Right: 9/14 (64.3%), 287 yards, three TDs
Of the 10 zones that Burrow has thrown a pass into this season, he's only completed less than 60% of his passes into one of them, and that's the deep left where he still has completed a touchdown.
It's clear that Burrow is money targeting almost every region of the football field, and he's at his best when targeting the middle of the gridiron - whether he's going deep or throwing short. 82.9% of his 105 passes to the middle of the field have been completed, going for 1244 yards, 16 touchdowns, and only one interception.
What the Gators have to do to beat Joe Burrow
Mullen is right - Joe Burrow is the best quarterback that the Gators will face this year, and arguably the most accurate quarterback they've faced in a very long time, if not ever.
Florida's pass rush and coverage unit must play in perfect unison in order to stand a chance at slowing Burrow down. Now, that isn't meant as a slight to Florida's defense, as they're truly one of, if not the, best pass defenses in the nation. But, this test will show the world just how good they can be.
The linebackers and safeties will be the most crucial players on Saturday, as linebacker David Reese has had issues in coverage and the safety unit had concerns coming into the season. Now, the safety unit appears to have hit its stride with Shawn Davis, Brad Stewart, and Donovan Stiner making impact plays, but this is their prove-it game.
Cornerbacks C.J. Henderson and Marco Wilson combine to create one of college football's best cornerback tandems, which is a huge boost. But in return, the two will need perfect, disciplined coverage from the rest of the team and quick, consistent disruption - particularly in four-man rushes - from the pass rush in order for Florida to be successful.