Special LSU season ends the way it seemed destined to end
NEW ORLEANS – The college football season ended the way it seemed destined to end all along – with No. 1 LSU winning the College Football Championship Game, 42-25 over defending national champion Clemson in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
With runaway Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow leading the way.
With a majority LSU crowd celebrating their state university rolling in a de facto home game.
From the time Burrow launched a 61-yard touchdown pass to Justin Jefferson on a third-and-17 to seal a 45-38 victory against No. 9 Texas in the second game of the season it appeared something special was going on.
This LSU offense with first-year passing game coordinator Joe Brady working side by side with offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger was different.
Burrow was different.
And this season was going to be different with the climax taking place in the same building where LSU won its last two national championships (in 2003 and 2007) and where the last undefeated No. 1-ranked LSU team lost to Alabama (21-0) in LSU’s last title-game appearance eight years ago.
“A tremendous night for the LSU Tigers, a tremendous night for the purple and gold, a tremendous night for the state of Louisiana,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said after the program’s first 15-0 season ended.
It was also quite a night for Burrow, who won the Heisman Trophy by a record margin after having the most prolific passing season in SEC history.
On this night Burrow passed for five touchdowns and ran for one to give him 60 touchdown passes and 65 touchdowns accounted for this season, breaking the NCAA records set by Hawaii’s Colt Brennan in 2006. Burrow finished with 31 completions in 49 attempts for 463 yards. He rushed 14 times for 58 yards.
“It feels good, I don’t know what else to say,” Burrow said. I’m kind of speechless. This was a long time coming. This doesn’t come around every year. This is a special group of guys that came together.”
Defending national champion Clemson, which had won two of the last three national championships, finished 14-1 after seeing its 29-game winning streak end.
“It’s been a long time since I stood in front of a team with a loss,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “But tonight was all about LSU. What an unbelievable game. I thought LSU played a beautiful game. I thought their quarterback was tremendous.”
Burrow had a lot of help. Biletnikoff Award winner Ja’Marr Chase caught nine passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns.
“The first couple series I didn’t think there was any way they were just going to play man with Ja’Marr,” Burrow said, “so I wasn’t really looking his way and then I got back to the sideline after the second drive and I was like they really are playing man-to-man with Ja’Marr, so we started going to him heavy.”
Justin Jefferson caught nine passes for 106 yards, Thaddeus Moss caught two touchdown passes and Terrace Marshall caught one touchdown.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who was limited by a hamstring injury in a 63-28 victory over No. 4 Oklahoma in the CFP Semifinal at the Peach Bowl 16 days earlier, rushed 16 times for 110 yards.
The LSU defense, which was inconsistent for much of the season but dominant in the last four games, allowed just eight second-half points, led by Defensive MVP Patrick Queen. (By the way, Burrow was the Offensive MVP.)
LSU limited effectiveness of Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the Offensive MVP of last season’s title-game victory over Alabama as a freshman, who lost for the first time in 26 games as a college starter.
He completed 18 of 37 for 234 yards and didn’t throw a touchdown pass, though he did run one yard for the game’s first touchdown. He lost a fumble to Derek Stingley Jr. when hit by Grant Delpit on Clemson’s final play for the game’s only turnover.
Former Jennings High School star Travis Etienne’s 3-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion pass on Clemson’s first possession of the third quarter cut LSU’s lead to 28-25.
Etienne, a two-time ACC Offensive Player of the Year, had 78 yards on 15 carries and caught five passes for 36 yards.
Burrow threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Moss to give LSU a 35-25 lead after three quarters and tossed a 24-yarder to Marshall with 12:08 left.
After Lawrence’s touchdown run midway through the first quarter, Burrow threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to Chase to tie the score at the end of the first quarter.
B.T. Potter made a 52-yard field goal, the longest in CFP history, and Tee Higgins ran 36 yards on a reverse for touchdown that increased Clemson’s lead to 17-7, marking LSU’s biggest deficit of the season.
Burrow ran three yards for a touchdown and threw touchdown passes of 14 yards to Chase and six yards to Moss to give LSU a 28-17 halftime lead.
“He’s one of the greatest players in LSU history,” Orgeron said of Burrow. “I grew up wanting to be the head coach of LSU. I’m so proud of the state of Louisiana. I’m just happy for the people from Louisiana.
“But you’ve got to give the credit to the football team. They’ve been working for one year. They deserve this day.”
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…