LSU beats Clemson in college football’s national championship game
NEW ORLEANS Concluding five football months as one of the damnedest football comets anybody ever saw, LSU on Monday night won arguably the most exhilarating national championship any fan base ever witnessed. When its unforeseen 15 game storm of gorgeous lightning wound up filling a giant goose bump of a Louisiana Superdome, even a dynastic Clemson wound up looking amazed and bedraggled.
Once LSU’s now usual flurry of kinetic stats and pinball machine points landed on a 42 25 final score, it had done to mighty Clemson what it had done to haughty Texas, to resurgent Florida, to rugged Auburn, to the great Alabama and the brawny Georgia and the supersonic Oklahoma. All along from September, LSU had thrown and caught the ball with such rarefied precision that it probably should have brought along not a band but a symphony.
“I think this team is going to be mentioned as one of the greatest teams in college football history,” said Ed Orgeron, the 58 year old head coach with the stirring story arc from out of the game in 2014 to the top of it in early 2020, owing much to the humility he and offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger showed in welcoming last offseason from the New Orleans Saints a then 29 year old passing coordinator, Joe Brady. It ended with the confetti falling and the whole lot of them rising into a height forever in Louisiana consciousness.
“So many people put so much work into this,” Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Joe Burrow said on the field, and then he mentioned everyone from the offensive line to the football center chefs and dining room assistants. From the interview dais, he said, “This doesn’t happen this doesn’t come around every year.”
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Nobody in the sport could do a bloody thing about the purple and gold blur of them, a reality pretty much amusing when considering that LSU spent a chunk of the young century lampooned for stagecoach football, as plodding through a futuristic era. LSU’s third national title in the last 17 seasons (all clinched at the Superdome) looked nothing like the first two and nothing like anybody imagined when the school promoted Orgeron to head coach as a choice that seemed secondary or tertiary.
In becoming the second 15 0 team ever from college football’s top tier, following Clemson last year, LSU left even Clemson (14 1), that five time College Football Playoff participant, four time finalist and two time champion with a 29 game win streak and a quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, who had never lost a college game, deluged in numbers.
Those included the 31 for 46 passing for 463 yards and five touchdown passes with zero interceptions from Burrow, who left his final college game strewn with his gasp worthy precision and collected the most touchdown passes (60) anybody has ever had in a season. They included the now accustomed churn of numbers for a frightening band of receivers, from Ja’Marr Chase’s nine catches for 221 yards and two touchdowns, to Justin Jefferson’s nine for 106, and tight end Thaddeus Moss’s five for 36 and two touchdowns, running back Clyde Edwards Helaire’s five for 54 (with 110 rushing yards, too), and the three for 46 for Terrace Marshall Jr., whose catches peaked on one notable play.
When Burrow sent yet another unimaginably pretty thing up to the right corner of the end zone with 12:08 to go, Marshall headed for the sky and then returned to earth with the thing snared. It gave LSU a 42 25 lead that seemed too much of a deluge. It meant it had fended off a Clemson third quarter push that had closed a 28 17 halftime deficit to 28 25. It left Burrow riding a sideline exercise bicycle while revving up the crowd, this transfer who came from Ohio State in spring 2018 to help them exceed even their daydreams.
Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney celebrates during the second half Monday. (David J. Phillip/AP Photo)
He had thrived even on a night when the renowned Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables threw some puzzles at Burrow, such that Burrow said, “I honestly couldn’t figure out where they were blitzing from all night.” Yet Burrow also spoke this truth: “We feel like you can’t hold us down forever. I think we’re too explosive. Our coaches are too good, our players are too good, our O line is too good.”
“They made some plays tonight that you’ve just got to tip your cap,” Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney said.
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Most of those plays came after a juncture 10 minutes and change toward halftime, when Swinney exulted on the sideline and ran into a jumping ram with an assistant, a sight looked almost like familiar choreography. Clemson led 17 7 on a 36 yard reverse run from receiver Tee Higgins, who took a pitch from running back Lyn J Dixon and headed left toward open terrain, and it began to feel a little like January 2017 and January 2019, times of Clemson titles and Swinney’s considerable smile.
Then the storm returned. From that 17 7 inconvenience, LSU tore through Clemson as if it had not read Clemson’s astounding recent years CV. It went 75 yards in five plays, 87 yards in six and 95 in 11 as its halftime lead reached 28 17. It beautified the field with a stream of breathtaking football plays, mainly Burrow passes that traveled downfield and tucked themselves precisely into the right arms and guts. “Yeah, I mean, he’s great,” said Lawrence, the Clemson sophomore quarterback who took his first college loss after two seasons of unbroken victories. “He’s unbelievable. He’s a great player I’ve got a lot of respect for him and his (two school) journey.”
## ## As evidence of college greatness, there was the 56 yarder that dripped precisely over all the necessary shoulders to Chase, setting up Burrow’s three yard designed run on third down. As the blur regenerated, there went 22 yards to Jefferson through the middle, 23 yards to Edwards Helaire on a right side fling that featured Edwards Helaire’s typical dose of fight, 18 yards to Jefferson, 14 oh my god yards for a touchdown to Chase in the back corner of the end zone. Next came the audacious 95 yards, helped by an obvious interference penalty on third and 19, and steered along by 29 yards from another case of Burrow carefully and wisely choosing running lanes.
That left LSU at the Clemson 6 yard line 14 seconds from halftime and then, as Burrow took an hellacious whack from James Skalski, Burrow also zipped a pass to tight end Moss, standing alone just behind the goal line.
Moss snared the ball and remained still, as the purple and gold fans did not.
LSU had knocked down Clemson. Burrow had reached 58 touchdown passes by then to equal the 13 year old single season record Colt Brennan forged at Hawaii. Burrow had rushed eight times for 55 yards of importance. And LSU had done all that even after a muddled opening in which its little known punter, a man named Zach Von Rosenberg, ventured out to the field to punt thrice in the first 18 minutes, equaling his total of attempts through the eight quarters against Georgia in the SEC championship game and Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl national semifinal.
Early on, Clemson’s coverage looked thick, and Burrow’s options looked thin. LSU spent two series camped out back near its own goal line. Meanwhile, Clemson took the wrappers off tight end Braden Galloway, back after a one year suspension for a positive doping test, and Lawrence lofted him a pass that found him unmarked and wound up accounting for 42 yards.
Soon thereafter, Lawrence opened the scoring on a masterful fake and a brisk trip outside the right edge for a one yard touchdown, and even after LSU got going with Burrow’s aria of a 52 yard pass up the right sideline to Chase, there came Higgins’s reverse with his closing dance along the left sideline.
That looked like something everyone had seen before. Then LSU presented one last night of something nobody had seen before.
Find our in game highlights and updates, by Des Bieler in Washington, below.
The LSU Tigers mascot celebrates after LSU defeated Clemson on Monday. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Chuck Culpepper Chuck Culpepper covers national college sports, as well as some tennis, some golf and some international sports for The Washington Post. He has written previously for Sports On Earth at USA Today, the National (Abu Dhabi), the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, the Oregonian and, beginning at age 14, the Suffolk Sun of the Virginian Pilot. He first settled in at The Post in 1995 and has proved difficult to dislodge. Follow