Before they were Super Bowl LVI rock stars for the Cincinnati Bengals, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase were a couple of guys trying to get to know one another at LSU and make a mark in the SEC in 2018 and ’19.
Burrow was a junior transfer from Ohio State via Athens High in Ohio in 2018. Chase was a true freshman from Rummel High in the New Orleans area.
Burrow made some noise that first season, but he finished a lowly 12th in the SEC and 65th nationally in passing efficiency at 133.2 on 219-of-379 passing for 2,894 yards and 16 touchdowns with five interceptions. Chase caught only 23 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns.
They have both come a long way, as they prepare to lead Cincinnati (13-7) in Super Bowl LVI against the Los Angeles Rams (15-5) at 6:30 p.m. eastern time Sunday on NBC.
In 2019, things started to click after LSU hired pass game coordinator Joe Brady from a third tier assistant job with the New Orleans Saints.
Burrow won the Heisman Trophy and put together one of the greatest seasons for a quarterback in college football history. He led the nation in passing efficiency at 202.0 on 402-of-527 passing for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns with six interceptions.
Chase, meanwhile, won the Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the nation’s best receiver. He led the nation in 2019 in receiving yards with 1,780 and in touchdowns with 20 on 84 receptions as the Tigers went 15-0 and won the national championship.
Along the way, Chase learned how to read Burrow’s spirals and his mood swings. The connection rang true in Chase’s rookie season with Cincinnati, as he caught 81 passes for 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns.
But it was not always easy.
“I don’t know about Joe, man,” Chase said after catching eight passes for 227 yards and three touchdowns in LSU’s 58-37 win at Ole Miss on Nov. 16, 2019. Burrow completed 32 of 42 for 489 yards and five touchdowns, improving the Tigers to 10-0.
“Joe looked at me tonight with a little angry face,” a shocked Chase said. “I don’t know if he was angry, or he was just staring at me. I don’t know if Joe’s got mood swings or not, I don’t know. His face was something tonight. He just stared at me. I was trying to figure out what I did wrong or something. I don’t know.”
Burrow did throw two interceptions in that game for his high on the season.
“We try to cheer him up, but he just looks at us and goes like this,” Chase said, moving his eyes quickly from left to right. “And then just walks off on us. That’s when we start laughing at him.”
Chase and LSU’s other receivers at the time figured a way to get back at Burrow when he was moody.
“We tell him he can’t throw,” he said. “He doesn’t like that.”
The book on Burrow at Ohio State and coming to LSU was that he did not have a strong arm, and he still doesn’t, though he did finish sixth in the NFL in passing in the 2021 regular season with 4,611 yards on 366 of 520 passing with 34 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
“I’ll tell him before a game or a practice, ‘I don’t think you can throw,'” Chase said. “I think I’m going to go tell him that right now. ‘You can’t throw.'”
Burrow admitted at the time that he could get moody.
“Normally, probably not,” he said. “But during the game, I definitely have mood swings. When something doesn’t go exactly as I had planned, I usually shoot them a little look, and they usually know what that means. So, I don’t have to say a lot of words.”
Chase remained wary of Burrow for the rest of the 2019 season before they were reunited in Cincinnati in 2021 after Burrow was the first pick of the 2020 NFL Draft and Chase went as the No. 5 overall pick in 2021.
“His face and expressions, I don’t know, man,” he said. “He’s got an edge to him.”
Chase has got that right, and Arkansas’ interim coach in 2019 – Barry Lunney – also proved prophetic with this comments on Burrow as he prepared his Razorbacks to play LSU the week after Ole Miss.
“He reeks of poise, if you watch him,” Lunney said. “You can see poise, confidence. He’s in control. He has all the traits of a great quarterback.”