Heisman Watch: Joe Burrow vs. Tua Tagovailoa race heating up

Joe Burrow, LSU Tigers. (Photo by Marianna Massey/Getty Images)
Joe Burrow, LSU Tigers. (Photo by Marianna Massey/Getty Images) /

After Joe Burrow torched the Florida Gators, the LSU quarterback is neck and neck with Tua Tagovailoa for the Heisman race that is really heating up.

Last weekend was a big opportunity for many of the Heisman hopefuls to make statements against some very good competition, and for the most part, they all answered.

Though the biggest winner of the weekend had to be LSU’s Joe Burrow as he and the LSU Tigers beat yet another top-10 team. Burrow was already climbing up the Heisman odds, but now he finds himself at the top. However, we’ve just now reached the midway point of the season, and there are still plenty of chances for this race to take multiple turns.

There is no denying it is a two-person race at the moment between Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa, with Jalen Hurts, Justin Fields and Jonathan Taylor hanging in the conversation. Some of these guys will have the chance to face each other very soon, which will have a significant impact on their resume, but until then, they’ll need to continue their weekly dominance.

Here is the Heisman watch for Week 8.

Joe Burrow, LSU quarterback at Mississippi State

  • 148-186, 2157 yards, 25 TDs
  • 35 attempts, 105 yards, 2 TDs

Another big-time game, another big performance by Burrow and the LSU offense as they beat Florida 42-28 and put up 511 yards of offense as a team. Burrow completed 87 percent of his passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns and has catapulted his name nearly to the top of Heisman rankings. He’s tied for the second-best odds with Hurts, getting 3/1 odds, via The Action Network.

For the season, Burrow is completing nearly 80 percent of his passes despite being second in yards per attempt at 11.6. There is no more denying he is the best player in college football right now and is must watch every week.

Burrow and the Tigers head over to Starkville to face Mississippi State this week, and it could be much of the same for this offense. The Bulldogs are reeling at the moment after a disappointing loss to a lowly Tennessee team whose only other win came against Chattanooga. Head coach Joe Moorhead has not been able to find life on offense, and his defense is not what it was in 2018.

If anyone is going to have a chance at beating LSU, they’re going to have to put up at least 35-plus points, and that doesn’t seem possible for Mississippi State right now. The Bulldogs’ defense might keep them in the game for a quarter, but Burrow should wear them down eventually and do what he’s been doing to teams all year.

Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama quarterback vs. Mississippi State

  • 134-182, 2011 yards, 27 TDs
  • 17 attempts, 35 yards, 2 TDs

Alabama’s first “test” of the season ended up being more pitch and catch for Tua and the offense as they rolled over Texas A&M 47-28. Tua did throw his first interception of the year, which is essentially like seeing bigfoot but still managed 293 yards and four touchdowns.

Tua now finds himself almost neck and neck with Burrow, and their game in November could be a battle for a playoff spot and the Heisman lead.

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However, this week, Tua will welcome Tennessee to Bryant-Denny Stadium in what should be a big mismatch. Despite beating Mississippi State last week, the Volunteers have not been a good football team this season and haven’t been competitive versus Alabama in years. The Crimson Tide have won twelve straight in this series and outscored them 152-38 in the last three times they’ve played. Tennessee is also 66th in passing yards allowed per game, which is not what you want going against this machine that is Alabama’s passing offense.

Tua and the Tide should be able to win this game handily, and fans may not see him playing into the fourth quarter of this one.

Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma quarterback vs. West Virginia

  • 98-137, 1758 yards, 17 TDs
  • 74 attempts, 630 yards, 8 TDs

Hurts posted his worst completion percentage of the season at 57.1 against Texas and threw a terrible red-zone pick, but still found a way to total 366 yards and four touchdowns. So even his off games are better than most quarterbacks in the country.

Hurts and CeeDee Lamb led the Sooners over their biggest rival and what looks to be their highest-ranked opponent this season, so Hurts is still in an excellent spot for the Heisman. And from this point on, we could see Hurts put up some monster stats against the rest of his competition, starting with West Virginia this Saturday.

The Mountaineers are in a transition year as they try to replenish all the great players they lost last season along with head coach Dana Holgorsen moving on to Houston. And even with all that talent, they were never known as the defensive team, and this year is no different. Their 63rd in yards allowed per game and are equally mediocre in the run and pass defense.

And former Oklahoma quarterback Austin Kendall has not been able to revitalize the WVU offense, so not much is in their favor this week. Plus, they’ve been inconsistent on the road so far this year getting blown out by Missouri and barley beating Kansas.

All that to say, don’t expect much of a let down from Oklahoma even with last week’s emotional win. This seems to be just too big of a disparity talent-wise in this game.

Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin running back at Illinois

  • 129 attempts, 825 yards, 14 TDs
  • 15 receptions, 136 yards, 4 TDs

You would think Wisconsin destroying Michigan State 38-0 would mean Jonathan Taylor had a tremendous game, but that wasn’t quite the case. He failed to rush for 100 yards for the first time this season but did manage over 100 total yards and two touchdowns.

Given the rest of the schedule, Taylor doesn’t seem likely to rush for over 2,000 yards again this season, but his touchdown numbers could almost double from 2018. He currently has 18 total touchdowns with six-games still to play and could add a handful more this weekend against Illinois.

The Illinois defense proved the be the cure for the common offense last week as Michigan, who has struggled against most teams were able to put up 489 total yards. More importantly, they let Michigan run for 295 yards and 6.1 yards per rush.

Michigan is currently 66th in rushing yards per game, and Wisconsin is 11th. So Taylor should easily get back to 100 yards and may even hit 200 if he’s allowed to play that long.

The quarterbacks are beginning to pull away, so Taylor will need to be consistently excellent from here on out to make it to New York. He’s still got some very tough defenses to face, which could help his Heisman case if he performs, but this weekend’s game is one where he should have little resistance.

Justin Fields, Ohio State quarterback vs. Northwestern

  • 98-141, 1298 yards, 18 TDs
  • 57 attempts, 283 yards, 8 TDs

While all the other Heisman contenders were out trying to make their case, Justin Fields was forced to watch as his Buckeyes were on a bye week.

It was not an ideal week to be out with all the other quarterbacks playing high profile games and all performing well. Fields now finds himself as a distant fourth according to the oddsmakers at Bovada with +900, while the three quarterbacks in front of him are +300 or better.

However, there is still plenty of football left, and Fields has done nothing with his play to take himself out of the race. The backend of Ohio State’s schedule will give Fields all the opportunities he needs to prove he’s a worthy candidate. Though this week is not one of those opportunities as OSU is on the road to face Northwestern.

The Wildcats are 1-4 and have seemed like the same team for years just with varying degrees of success. They continue to be a reliable defensive team as the rank 20th in yards allowed and points per game allowed. But they also continue to be terrible on offense, and this year’s unit is one of Pat Fitzgerald’s worst. They are No. 123 in points per game at 14.4 and No. 124 in passing yards per game at 140.4. Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson has been a total disaster. He and backup Aiden Smith have combined for two touchdowns and eight interceptions.

In previous years this could be a game the Buckeyes should worry about as they’ve had some close contests before, but it doesn’t look like that this season.

This game is being played on Friday, so the Buckeyes will have most of the college football world centered on them. This is an excellent chance for Fields to quickly remind people just how good he is as we head off into the weekend. Northwestern won’t be able to keep up, and even though the Wildcats have been a capable defensive team, they’ve yet to face anything like this offense.

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