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Bleary-Eyed Impressions: LSU Wins the National Title

The greatest ever

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff National Championship-Clemson vs Louisiana State
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Fifteen and eaux. Let it sit on your tongue for a bit. Swirl those words around in your mouth and enjoy the sound: The LSU Tigers are the national champions.

Even better than winning the national title, this team is a legitimate entry into the Greatest Team of All-Time discussion. This is LSU’s fourth national championship of the poll era (sorry, 1908), but the first one that doesn’t come with some sort of caveat.

1958 went unbeaten, but didn’t play an integrated team. 2003 won the BCS title, but there was that whole USC thing I have no interest in talking about. 2007 also won the BCS title, but backed into the title game with two losses (but undefeated in regulation!).

Perhaps the best teams in LSU’s history didn’t win the title. 2011 had perhaps the greatest regular season ever, before it struck midnight in New Orleans. 2005 might have been the most talented team in LSU history, but Katrina derailed the season and the team served as a respite from real life, not a title contender. 1969 was kept out of the bowl games and missed its chance to play #1 Texas. 1936 got hosed by the bias against the SEC (times change, man).

We have never seen a team like this, and likely never will again. Let’s put this in perspective: Alabama is in the midst of one of the greatest dynastic runs in college football history, and they have not had an undefeated national champion since 2009. In the BCS Era and beyond, Alabama and LSU now have the same number of undefeated national champions.

What I’m saying is, it’s hard. Even the greatest programs get a team this good maybe once in a generation, if they are lucky.

We have been waiting for this team all of our lives. When you are old and gray (not hard to imagine in my case), you’re going to annoy those damn kids with tales of this team. Oh sure, this year’s QB is pretty good, but he’s no Joe Burrow.

This team never played a defensive snap in the fourth quarter all season in which the other team could have tied or taken the lead with a score. Not once. They beat seven teams who were ranked in the top 10 at the kick, and five teams in the final top 8. They outscored their opponents by 398 points on the year, doubling their scoring output.

Ed Orgeron won coach of the year, Joe Brady won assistant coach of the year, and the offensive line won the Joe Moore Ward. Grant Delpit won the Thorpe, Ja’Marr Chase the Biletnikoff, and Joe Burrow the Heisman. There are almost too many trophies to count.

LSU scored 726 points this season, nearly 50 points a game. The team’s lowest scoring output all season was 23 points against Auburn. Joe Burrow set an NCAA record for passer rating (201.96) and touchdown passes (60). He threw for 5,671 yards on 10.8 yards/attempt en route to winning pretty much every award in college football he was eligible for.

But the story of Joe Burrow isn’t just those prolific passing numbers. He’s the guy who decided to scramble on 3rd and 10 with under 25 seconds left in the half and no time outs. And gained 30 yards. He threw a bullet to Thaddeus Moss for a touchdown on the next play, as he took a hellacious shot from the Clemson defender that caused Burrow to openly wonder to ESPN’s Holly Rowe whether he broke a rib.

This team was beautiful and it scored a ton of points, but it was also tough as nails. Clemson adopted a 3-1-7 defense, as if to dare LSU to run the ball. Challenge accepted. Burrow threw for 463 yards. Oh, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, on just 16 carries and most of them late, rushed for over 100 yards anyway.

However, it was the defense which quietly made it all possible. Widely considered the team’s weak link, the LSU defense kept LSU in the game early while the offense could not get things going. LSU gained just 17 yards and earned one first down in its first three drives. The LSU defense kept the lights on, allowing just 7 points to Clemson’s prolific attack until Ja’Marr Chase finally got LSU on the board to tie the game.

With Burrow struggling early in the second half, Clemson had cut the lead to 28-25. LSU punted for the second time in the half, yet to earn a first down. Clemson had the ball and a chance to tie the game with a field goal.

LSU’s defense stepped up right then and there. Clemson’s next three possessions went like so:

  • 4 plays, 14 yards, punt
  • 3 plays, -2 yards, punt
  • 5 plays, 6 yards, punt

Slammed the door shut. 12 plays netted a mere 18 yards. LSU found the end zone twice more to extend its lead back to a comfortable margin, and LSU’s defense would seal the deal with a fumble recovery on Clemson’s next – and last – possession.

The days of defensive dominance are likely over. The rules lean too far in favor of the offense, and the best defenses can hope for over a full 60 minutes is to simply slow these attacks a down. But when this team needed it, the defense absolutely stepped up and held the line.

This game very easily could have turned a different way. If Clemson scores a touchdown and takes the lead, and a hobbled Burrow can’t respond… we weren’t far from that reality.

Great teams do what great teams do. They find a way to turn a nail biter into a blowout. Nerves were quickly replaced with the party vibes.

This wasn’t a national championship, this was a coronation. Welcome to the ranks of the blue bloods. And let’s all raise our glasses to the 2019 LSU Tigers… the greatest team of all time.

Our wait is over.