NEW ORLEANS — “L-S-U.” “L-S-U.” “L-S-U.”
The chant began before the opening kickoff and lasted deep into the night. The Superdome was colored purple and gold, dressed for a party. It was more like a coronation.
From the season-opening blowout through the road win at Alabama, the record-setting rout at the Peach Bowl to the overwhelming performance in front of a partisan home crowd less than 80 miles from the school’s Baton Rouge, La., campus, it was a season Tigers fans won’t forget. The finish was straight out of their wildest fantasies, a 42-25 rout that snapped defending national champion Clemson’s 29-game winning streak and gave LSU its fourth perfect season and national championship.
“This can’t be taken away from us,” LSU quarterback Joe Burrow said. “This national championship will be remembered for a long time in the state of Louisiana.”
Burrow, the backup quarterback from Ohio State who had gone from an afterthought to enjoying a historical Heisman Trophy season nobody could have seen coming, led them as he has all year. He tore apart Clemson’s top-ranked scoring defense, completing 31 of 49 passes for 463 yards and thoroughly outplaying counterpart Trevor Lawrence and handing him his first defeat in 26 college starts. Burrow set an FBS record with 60 touchdown passes — he threw 18 his first three seasons — after tossing five more and running for another. LSU finished with 726 points, the most all-time in FBS history.
“This is what I wanted to do from the time I was 5 years old, was hoist this trophy, and bring it back to Louisiana,” said Burrow, who also had 58 rushing yards. “We weren’t going to let someone come in here and steal this from us in our home state.”
“We have a great fan base that came out and supported us. We were going to keep this thing right here.”
Said LSU coach Ed Orgeron: “He’s one of the greatest players in LSU history.”
The hiring of Orgeron, the 58-year-old coaching lifer from Louisiana, was roundly criticized three years ago. He couldn’t make it work at Ole Miss and USC didn’t want him. But he had the foresight to make major offensive changes, bringing in former Saints offensive assistant Joe Brady to overhaul an archaic passing game. He got the better of Clemson’s Dabo Swinney on the game’s biggest stage, handing him his most lopsided loss since the College Football Playoff opener on the first day of 2018.
There were Louisiana kids everywhere coming up big. Wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase of Harvey, La., will be giving Clemson’s NFL cornerback prospect A.J. Terrell nightmares, catching nine passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. of Baton Rouge was all over Tee Higgins, limiting the projected first-round pick to two catches for 31 yards. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, a lightly recruited undersized running back also from Baton Rouge, produced 155 yards of offense. After a slow start, the defense harassed and frustrated Lawrence, who would complete just 18 of 37 for 234 yards and no touchdowns.
“This is about our team, this is about our coaching staff, about everybody wearing the purple and gold in the great state of Louisiana,” Orgeron said. “I’m just so happy for everybody.”
By late in the third quarter, LSU (15-0) was in control. When Burrow found Terrace Marshall Jr. from 24 yards out, pushing the lead to 17 with 12:08 left, the result was no longer in doubt. After that score, Burrow pointed to his ring finger.
“I’m a size 10 ¹/2 ,” he joked. “We already got fitted for them.”
The game began to turn in the second quarter, as Burrow discovered his groove and Clemson’s pressure started to subside. Burrow found Chase down the right sideline, the first of several times he would beat Terrell, for a 52-yard touchdown pass. It began of stretch for LSU in which it scored four touchdowns in five possessions, all at least 70-yard drives, treating Clemson’s defense like it was just another overmatched, unprepared sparring partner. After Higgins’ 36-yard rushing score on a reverse to push the Clemson lead to 17-7, LSU owned the remainder of the first half.
Burrow and Chase connected again on a long gain, this time picking on Terrell for 56 yards, and Burrow finished the possession with a 3-yard keeper, the first of many big runs for him, to slice the deficit to three. He would add a 14-yard touchdown pass to Chase, a deftly thrown ball into the back right corner of the end zone Terrell had no chance getting to, giving LSU the lead for good.
Trevor Lawrence goes quietly in first college loss
“This will be a painful film to watch,” Swinney said.
After a second consecutive Clemson punt, LSU was pinned deep in its own territory at the 5-yard-line. Burrow drove LSU 95 yards in 11 plays and capped the drive by finding a wide-open Thaddeus Moss — the son of Hall of Famer Randy Moss — from 6 yards out, standing tall in the pocket and taking a big hit as he released the ball, extending the lead to 11 entering halftime.
“We never flinched,” Burrow said. “We knew what we had.”
The LSU faithful again began to chant “L-S-U, L-S-U, L-S-U.” Thirty minutes of football remained. But they had seen this story so many times before this season. A national championship was merely a formality. Their perfect ending was on tap. The party was only beginning.