I think I said it something like five or six times last week. I even tweeted this out on Saturday morning after I woke up. But that was not just a win on Saturday. That wasn’t just beating your biggest rival, it wasn’t just winning one of the biggest regular season college football games of the decade, or winning what will be the program’s 5th SEC West crown. That was an exorcism, a sporting exorcism in every which way that you can get one. We’ve seen a lot of them this decade in sports, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one quite like what we saw on Saturday night.
The Alabama game and the dementor-sized demon that is that program had defined LSU for 2,861 days. Every move this program made, every step it took both forward and back, every player that walked through the doors at LSU from long snappers to quarterbacks and everywhere in between was defined by one team. It went from being about avenging a wrong and a lost opportunity, to being about revenge for the greatest LSU team ever, to a shooting star to catch up too, and to finally just a paralyzing ghost. It took on many forms.
It cost the greatest running back in LSU history his chance at immortality. It got the greatest coach in LSU history fired. It got his replacement, who had set out from Day 0 of his hiring to try and hire Alabama’s offensive coordinator, to do whatever he possibly could to get the program to their level. A coach who with each passing game and week during his LSU tenure picked off bigger and bigger wins, from SEC West champion Auburn in 2017, to SEC East champion Georgia and undefeated UCF in 2018, to now Texas and Florida and Auburn again in 2019, and yet was still told when he went to the 7-Eleven that he had to beat Alabama.
It was about heartbreak. T.J. Yeldon taking that screen pass in 2012 to the house for a touchdown with LSU leading by three and minutes away from avenging their defeat 10 months prior. Alabama going down the field with less than a minute to go after a gallant, undermanned and outgunned LSU team was somehow 57 seconds away from victory in 2014. It was about despair. Leonard Fournette coming in as death, the destroyer of worlds, in 2015 and walking out of Bryant-Denny Stadium let down by those around him. It was about hopelessness. LSU teams of different talent levels and styles, across two different head coaches and offensive coordinators scoring 10 points total in three consecutive losses from 2016-2018.
And then came 2019. LSU had overhauled their offense, breaking records, leaving defenses hopelessly in their wake, beating Top 10 teams almost weekly. Joe Burrow was the favorite for the Heisman Trophy. They were one of the best teams in the country. All you heard though was one question. That same question we’ve all heard for years. “But what about when they play Alabama?” Each week LSU beat another overmatched opponent, each week looking every bit the best team in the country, and each week it was the same. “But what about when they play Alabama?” It was beyond defining this program. It was this program. One question, one team, one gosh darned state. Everything LSU was and hoped to be was consumed by “But what about when they play Alabama?”
On Saturday, LSU played Alabama. LSU exorcised Alabama. It did not exorcise it with flukes, or miracles. It exorcised it by going toe to toe, punch for punch, for 60 minutes. 60 minutes where LSU never trailed. It exorcised it with Joe Burrow going 31/39 for 393 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 489 total yards. It exorcised it with Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the man always undersized, always told he wasn’t good enough, breaking tackles and racking up 180 total yards and 3 touchdowns. It exorcised it with K’Lavon Chaisson, who tore his ACL last year playing the game of his life this year. It exorcised it with Cade York, oft-criticized, hitting two key field goals in a five point win. It exorcised it with every last member of the roster giving everything they had, and refusing to lose. It exorcised it with Clye sobbing and Coach O crying. That third quarter was in a lot of ways a microcosm of LSU’s history in this rivalry in the last eight years, but the fourth quarter was a team not willing to quit. They were not going down on Saturday night. They were going to win. And win they did.
LSU has three games left. As Joe Burrow said, their goal wasn’t beating Alabama this year. Win just two of them and they will have a 4th left, a trip to the SEC Championship where the Tigers haven’t been in eight years. Win that game, perhaps even if they lose it, and they’ll have a 5th and maybe 6th game left of even greater importance than this one for this season.
But this wasn’t just about this season. This was about eight years of pain and heartbreak and of every player and coach who walked through those doors having to deal with an increasingly bigger and bigger monkey on it’s back and demon hanging over it. On Saturday, LSU got that monkey off it’s back. It exorcised that demon. Now it can finally move forward. LSU football doesn’t have to be about Alabama anymore. It can be about this team and these players.
Now go win the whole f’ing thing.