Heisman Watch, Week 9: Is it Joe Burrow’s Trophy to lose?

STARKVILLE, MS - OCTOBER 19: LSU Tigers quarterback Joe Burrow (9) throws a screen pass during the game between the LSU Tigers and the Mississippi State Bulldogs on October 19, 2019 at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Mississippi. (Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
STARKVILLE, MS - OCTOBER 19: LSU Tigers quarterback Joe Burrow (9) throws a screen pass during the game between the LSU Tigers and the Mississippi State Bulldogs on October 19, 2019 at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Mississippi. (Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Joe Burrow continues his aerial assault on college football, but the Heisman pressure is going to mount in the coming weeks.

Heading into Week 9, the Heisman race is still very close, but LSU’s Joe Burrow has emerged as the front-runner due to his outstanding play combined with Tua Tagovailoa’s ankle injury that knocked him out in the second quarter vs Tennessee and will keep him out of Saturday’s game vs. Arkansas.

Burrow has totally revitalized the LSU offense and is one of the great stories in recent memory. Though he will need to keep up his play because the guys behind him have no intention of allowing Burrow to cruise to the trophy.

Jalen Hurts is right on his heels and is putting up huge numbers not only through the air but on the ground too. And even with Tagovailoa scheduled to miss a few weeks with an ankle injury, he will reportedly be back just in time for the big showdown with LSU.

You’ve also got two players in the Big Ten who will face each other in hopes of closing the gap in the odds race. At this point, none of these players can afford an off night if they want an invitation to New York, so we’ll see who can handle to pressure down the stretch.

Here is your Week 9 Heisman watch list.

Joe Burrow, LSU quarterback vs. Auburn

  • 173-218, 2484 yards, 29 TDs
  • 39 attempts, 94 yards, 2 TDs

We’re running out of superlatives for Burrow at this point as he continues to play outstanding week in and week out. He was fantastic once again this past Saturday passing for 327 yards and four touchdowns against Miss State and now holds the school record for passing touchdowns in a season with 29.

Burrow is comfortably in the thick of the Heisman race, but his next two games will define his resume, and first up is the Auburn Tigers. This is another top ten match up for LSU as Auburn comes in ranked ninth in the nation and has a defense that will undoubtedly challenge Burrow.

Auburn is in the conversation for the best defensive line in college football led by defensive tackle Derrick Brown. Burrow will no doubt get hit in this game, and it will be interesting to see how he responds as the game progresses. Auburn is a well-rounded unit as they are 12th in rushing defense and 30th in pass efficiency allowed, so nothing is going to come easy.

However, Burrow already passed his first two tests against Texas and Florida, so there no reason to think he won’t be ready.

One thing working in his favor is Auburn is not very consistent on offense and will take a freshman quarterback into death valley, which is not ideal. If Burrow can control time on possession, he and this passing game are too good to be held down for four quarters.

Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma quarterback at Kansas State

  • 114-154, 2074 yards, 20 TDs
  • 84 carries, 705 yards, 10 TDs

After only completing 57 percent of his passes against Texas, Jalen Hurts made sure to fix his percentage quickly as the was 16 of 17 with 391 total yards and five touchdowns. He was spectacular, and the sooner offense continues to make this look easy as they have had over 500 yards of total offense in every game this season.

Now they head on the road to face a Kansas State team that is the purest definition of a scrappy. The Wildcats are 4-2 and have top 20 scoring defense and are top 40 in yards allowed. Based on those statistics, this will be the best defense Oklahoma has faced so far this season, but the talent gap is still wide.

This new and improved Oklahoma defense has only bolstered the offense as they can get other teams off the field and give themselves more possessions. Kansas State is not what you would call a dynamic offense, so despite their own solid defense, its hard to imagine them containing Oklahoma all game. Plus, if there is one significant weakness in the Wildcat defense, it’s against the run where they are 102nd in yards allowed per game.

Contrast that with the pass defense, which is tenth in pass efficiency allowed and fifth in passing yards allowed, and you’re probably looking at a heavy run game from Oklahoma. Hurts leads the team in rushing and has almost double the carries of any running back, so expect him to be the focal point if they chose that route.

Justin Fields, Ohio State quarterback vs. Wisconsin

  • 116-164, 1492 yards, 22 TDs
  • 63 attempts, 291 yards, 8 TDs

The Buckeyes got kicked off FOX in favor of the World Series last Friday night, but that didn’t stop Justin Fields from leading the Ohio State to a 52-3 thrashing of Northwestern. Fields had another four touchdowns, which makes it a total of 30 for the season and now has a big chance to improve his Heisman odds this weekend against Wisconsin.

Ohio State has run through every opponent this season, but Wisconsin is by far the best team they will have faced. Despite their disappointing loss to Illinois last week, the Badgers still rank number one in the nation in terms of total defense and tops in rushing and passing yards allowed per game. But this is also Wisconsin’s first real look at a top-flight offense.

Wisconsin has yet to face a quarterback with the dual-threat ability of Fields, and in terms of speed, the Buckeyes have a considerable advantage. Look for Fields and the wide receivers to challenge this defense on the edges and look for big plays vertically when left one on one.

Fields was put to the test earlier this year against Michigan State, who was a top-five defense, and the Buckeye offense had 529 yards of total offense.

He doesn’t have the yardage the guys in front of him have, but Fields is orchestrating one of the most well-balanced offenses in the nation. He has yet to throw over 25 times this season, but that could change if this game remains close going into the fourth quarter. This could also mean Fields can put up a much bigger stat line than usual.

Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin running back at Ohio State

  • 157 attempts, 957 yards, 15 TDs
  • 16 receptions, 138 yards, 4 TDs

Even though he had another 100-yard performance and a touchdown, Jonathan Taylor and Badgers we’re unable to finish off Illinois and were upset 24-23. Taylor and a crucial fumble in the fourth quarter and will need to have a bounce-back to keep himself as a legitimate Heisman candidate.

Though it won’t be easy, as he will be going against an Ohio State defense this weekend that has not allowed a single 100-yard rusher all season. Taylor has only played Ohio State once in his career, which was the Big Ten championship in 2017 as a freshman but didn’t fare well, only rushing for 41 yards on 15 carries. Taylor as certainly evolved as a player, so he will be looking for revenge this Saturday.  The Badgers still have plenty to play for, so there is no reason to panic, but they’ve definitely narrowed their margin for error.

There are not very many scenarios where the Badgers will be able to pull off the upset without Taylor having a massive game, so the pressure is at its highest. However, Ohio State is not dumb, and they’ll look to bottle up Taylor, so quarterback Jack Coan must be good enough to allow Wisconsin to effectively establish Taylor and the ground game.

That blend was perfected earlier this season when Wisconsin beat Michigan as Coan kept the Wolverines honest, and Taylor displayed his greatness. Ohio State is a step up in competition, but the winning formula for Taylor and Badgers will always be the same.

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