NEW ORLEANS — They did it.
LSU’s magical season ended at the top of the peak of college football as the Tigers claimed their fourth national championship Monday night with a 42-25 win over Clemson. LSU is the SEC’s first 15-0 team in the College Football Playoff Era.
Coach Ed Orgeron is the third straight LSU head coach to lead the Tigers to a national championship.
“Give the credit to our players,” Orgeron said. “Those guys fought. We started working last year January 17th. They did the right things, character, grit, determination. They had their player only practices this summer. I didn’t even know about them, led by these guys on the side. Just a tremendous night for the LSU Tigers, tremendous night for the purple and gold, tremendous night for the state of Louisiana. We are so proud to represent them.”
On top of it, LSU’s Heisman-winning quarterback Joe Burrow completed his own magical season going 31-for-49 on the night with 463 yards and five touchdowns. He added 58 yards rushing and a touchdown to cap off the best season by a quarterback in college football history.
Burrow had an off night by the standard he has set this season, something he attributed to Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables mixing up the looks on each snap. Burrow often couldn’t tell where the blitzes were coming from, but as he’s done all season, Burrow was able to make it work.
“This was a long time coming,” Burrow said. “I’m kind of speechless right now. This was fun.”
LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase may have shined even brighter than Burrow. The Biletnikoff Award winner had nine catches for 221 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Thaddeus Moss only had five catches for 36 yards, but added two touchdowns on the night.
The game looked to be a defensive showdown to start, with four punts to start the game — two from each team — before the flood gates broke open and the offenses began to get into a groove.
But then Clemson struck first. After marching down field, quarterback Trevor Lawrence ran the ball in on the right side of the endzone from the 1-yard line to take a 7-0 lead over LSU with 6:34 left in the first quarter.
That was the first time LSU had trailed since Oct. 26 against Auburn.
LSU tied the game up immediately after on a 52-yard touchdown pass from Joe Burrow to Ja’Marr Chase, Clemson wouldn’t go away.
Clemson scored two more times in the second quarter — a 52-yard field goal and a 36-yard touchdown run by Tee Higgins gets a 36-yard touchdown on the reverse to give Clemson a 17-7 lead over LSU. That was the first time LSU had trailed by two scores all season.
Ten points was the largest deficit that LSU has faced this season, but it was quickly erased. In the second quarter, LSU scored 21 points with 269 yards and led 28-17 at halftime.
LSU started the second half slow once again, going three-and-out on its first two drives, which allowed Clemson to get back into the game. The Tigers from South Carolina briefly looked like they were back in the game when LSU committed 30 yards worth of penalties on Clemson’s first drive of the second half. Clemson capped off the drive with a 3-yard touchdown by Etienne to cut the lead to 28-25 after the two-point conversion.
Then LSU did what it’s done all season long and shut the door on any comeback attempt.
Burrow threw for one more touchdown to Terrace Marshall Jr. early in the fourth quarter and the LSU defense showed that it belonged. Linebacker Patrick Queen was all over the field, especially in the second half, and played his best game of the season with eight tackles on the night.
“You know, at the end of the first half, Coach O sat us down, calmed us down,” Queen said. “We was really anxious being out there, so we just all gathered together and played team defense. We always knew this was Joe’s team from the day he came in. He was competing in the sprints. So for Joe to be that kind of person to come out on day one and give us the best that he can, we already knew this was his team.
Orgeron always talks about “blocking out the noise,” whether that noise is positive or negative. This LSU team, more so than any other Orgeron has been apart of, has exemplified everything that he wants out of his team — from the “leadership, the character, the grit.”
“They wanted to win,” Orgeron said. “They believed in our coaching staff. They believed in the work ethic. We started last January 17th. We were working for a year. All those things combined, and obviously I thought we had a great schedule this year, playing Auburn and Florida at home really helped us, having a great coaching staff, getting Joe Brady from the Saints, going to the spread. I think when we didn’t score many points with Ensminger we talked about going to the spread and I thought that was critical, and we got the right guy, the right quarterback to run it. We had athletes and the receivers the way they played. A lot of things had to fall into place.