The last time Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence met on the field the former was leading LSU to a 42-25 win over his counterpart’s Clemson in the 2020 College National Championship game.
It was the icing on the cake to Burrow’s staggering college ascent from unknown Dwayne Haskins understudy at Ohio State to landslide Heisman Trophy winner and eventual consensus No. 1 overall pick. Meanwhile for Lawrence, it marked one of just four defeats he suffered throughout the entirety of his high school and college careers combined as the man having been projected to go No. 1 overall since roughly the age of 15.
Few saw Burrow coming; everybody saw Lawrence coming. On Thursday night the pair go head to head in the NFL for the very first time when the Cincinnati Bengals host the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Both learned quickly of what remains a treacherous transition to the professional stage for rookie quarterbacks, Burrow enduring heavy punishment behind a porous offensive line before seeing his first year cut short by injury and Lawrence realising in recent weeks just how much much quicker and smarter NFL defenses are compared to that he faced in college.
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The Good Morning Football team discuss if Trevor Lawrence can get his revenge on Joe Burrow from the 2020 College Football Championship and win his first game in the NFL.
Lawrence is currently tied for a league-most seven interceptions with No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson through the opening weeks of the season, going 64 of 118 passing (54.2 per cent) for 669 yards and five touchdowns across the Jaguars’ winless start.
“Everybody’s different and everybody’s situation is different,” he said this week. “I’m also not expecting this thing to take a year or two until I start taking care of the ball and playing better. I’m trending that way right now and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season and feel like there’s a lot of work for us to do and a lot of games we can win.
“I’m going to accelerate that as fast as possible. I haven’t played my best, but I know there’s a lot of good football ahead.”
Sunday’s defeat to the Arizona Cardinals saw Lawrence showcase more of the ground threat that amounted to 943 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns over three seasons at Clemson as he ran for 27 yards off six carries.
His pass-catching options were also bolstered this week thanks to the arrival of tight end Dan Arnold via a trade from the Carolina Panthers that saw second-year cornerback CJ Henderson head in the opposite direction. Arnold, an undrafted free agent out of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville in 2017, had 31 catches for 438 yards and four touchdowns in 2020.
The Jaguars offense is yet to really hit its stride behind Lawrence and the likes of James Robinson, DJ Chark, Marvin Jones and Laviska Shenault, ranking 27th in scoring and averaging the second-fewest red zone opportunities in the league so far this year.
But offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is unconcerned by his quarterback’s tough introduction.
“You can look around the league, and I’ll take our guy every day in the rookie quarterbacks and how they’re doing,” he said this week. “It’s a different game for them when they come into the NFL. Trevor’s progression has been great. He’s doing a great job. He works his tail off. His play is getting better and better.
“As you watch, and you assess his play, there are things he’s getting much better at. One thing he did a nice job of was getting through his progressions. Last week [in a Week Two loss to Denver], there were a couple of plays he did that and this week he did it even more.”
A reunion awaits for Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer and Burrow following their time together at Ohio State before the Bengals quarterback transferred to LSU for his final year at college.
Burrow was in Rookie of the Year form in 2020 having completed more passes than any other player in history through his first eight games, before a torn ACL and MCL sustained against Washington in Week 11 shut him down for the rest of the year.
He has picked up where he left off upon returning to action this season, going 53 of 75 passing (70.7 per cent) for 640 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions across Cincinnati’s 2-1 start, which included a road win against the Pittsburgh Steelers last time out.
“He has arguably one of the best mindsets I’ve ever seen in an athlete, his toughness,” Meyer told reporters. “He’ll tell you he was highly recruited, he wasn’t. He comes from an incredible family. It’s just a very, very close family, a football family.
“But his mindset, even when he struggled early in his career, the thing you can count on is that guy’s tough as nails, a competitor, refused to lose at anything in the offseason. Then you started seeing this younger body start to develop. Even he was shocked by it. I remember talking to him. I mean all of a sudden, I was like, ‘Woah.'”
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Burrow vouched for the impact Meyer is expected to have on Lawrence in Jacksonville, crediting the former Buckeyes coach for the role he played in his own development.
“He was really hard on me, and it made me a better player and better person,” Burrow explained. “What he does is, when he gets a new player, he tries to put them in a very intense situation to see how they respond, to see if he can trust that player. He really did that to me early in my career. I really wasn’t sure why it was happening. But then as I got older and more mature, I really understood why he was doing it, and it did make me better.”
Pass protection is a primary concern for the Bengals after giving up 10 sacks across their opening two games, although Burrow did go untouched against the TJ Watt-less Steelers in Week Three. They face a Jaguars defense that has recorded just one turnover and a tied-second-fewest four sacks while ranking 28th in scoring and 29th in total defense so far on the year.
In contrast Cincinnati are eighth in total defense with a tied-fourth most 10 sacks and four turnovers, including three interceptions from linebacker Logan Wilson.
As the Jaguars seek their spark on offense, the Bengals have seemingly found theirs in rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who has shrugged off preseason question marks emphatically with four touchdown catches through the opening three games.
The Jaguars will have cornerback Tre Herndon available again after he was sidelined with an MCL sprain since Week One in preseason, while the Bengals will be missing Lawrence’s former Clemson wide receiver Tee Higgins (shoulder) for the second successive game and star safety Jessie Bates (neck).
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