Your 2019 LSU Tigers are the College Football Playoff national champions.
Sounds pretty good, right?
Read it again. Say it out loud.
The 2019 LSU Tigers are the undefeated, undisputed, reigning, conquering and commanding national champions of college football.
Damn that feels good.
The Tigers took Clemson’s best shot, fell behind two scores, got off the mat and surged through the final three quarters. LSU ended a 29-game winning streak and dethroned the champs and they did it the same way that they have rolled through the last 14 games, by overpowering a defense doing everything it could to try and limit the big-play passing game.
There’s odd symmetry to it. LSU essentially pounded the square peg into that round hole as an opponent sold out to stop the offense’s strength. Sound familiar? Only instead of running power into an eight-man front, Joe Burrow and the Tiger receivers kept attacking Clemson’s DB-heavy scheme and making plays. And a defense that had been allowing less than two touchdowns per game and five yards per play gave up 42 points and 7.8.
This was every bit of a decisive beating. LSU was the better team and exerted itself over Clemson. And when the defending champs rallied to make things close, the Tigers responded the way they have in every game this year, and put it away.
And befitting of a team that just put together the single greatest season in the history of this sport.
Let’s relive. Shall we?
- I tend to stay away from this type of hot-take-y sort of thought process, but seeing Clemson’s early script, you have to wonder if their coaches knew coming in that they would have to score quickly to try and get out in front. The game’s opening play is a hook-and-ladder to Travis Etienne, although the Tiger defense did a great job of snuffing it out. Kristian Fulton was just far enough off Justyn Ross in a stacked set, that he could see the lateral developing, and while he did not make the tackle he allowed for the rest of the pursuit to arrive.
- They go with fast tempo and follow that up with a weird freeze play where the blockers stand pat and the rest of the offense moves — it works and draws LSU offsides — for a long completion.
- But then Dave Aranda out-foxes Trevor Lawrence on third-and-eight. Shows blitz with Grant Delpit off the slot, backs out of it when Lawrence audibles, and then comes anyway to get the sack and take Clemson out of a scoring opportunity. Michael Divinity and Damone Clark got great jumps off the snap, which forces Lawrence off his mark and right into the lane for Delpit.
- It didn’t amount to much, but this game really started nearly as well as Clemson could’ve hoped, minus more scoring. They not only flipped the field on LSU, but pinned them inside the 10 on both of their first two possessions. That’s already a zone LSU isn’t used to operating in, and then Brent Venables had the change up of a 3-1-7 zone group. And when Isaiah Simmons is on the field he splits the difference between DB and front seven player as well as anyone I’ve ever seen. He was able to cover really effectively, but still blitz and play the run. On these first two drives he had a tackle for loss and a pass break-up in coverage.
- Burrow manages to avoid pressure and make a really impressive throw to Thad Moss, but the scramble took so long interior linemen started to block down field. One of the few good calls in this one.
- JaMarr Chase drops a slant early in this one. Which seems relevant to point out, given what happened over the rest of this game.
- Admittedly, early on it was a little frustrating to see LSU stick with the basics, rather than spreading Clemson’s dime unit out and try to get some push in the running game. Of course, it won out eventually.
- Great call by Clemson to run an RPO off the tight end “bluff” read play, where he fakes a lead block for the QB and releases. LSU couldn’t have had much data on tight end Braden Galloway, given that he missed the season for a PED suspension. Funny how people keep slipping steroids in Clemson’s players’ food, huh? Luckily, LSU gets partially bailed out by Tee Higgins’ blind-side block.
- Still, Clemson scores. Not gonna lie to y’all. Heart was firmly in throat at this point.
- LSU finally gets a little bit of field position, but Clemson’s defensive backs are really sticking. Simmons breaks up another throw to Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Chase fails to snag another third-down pass. A tough one, but one you expect from the Biletnikoff winner.
- In retrospect, Derek Stingley’s third-down pass break-up on Clemson’s next possession proved to be huge, given what happens next. Does a great job of getting around Ross without re-routing him and drawing the flag.
- And then the LSU offense looks like itself. A quick throw to Moss, a couple tough runs by Edwards-Helaire, and then Burrow hits the shot off play-action. Chase manages to get A.J. Terrell to turn his head a bit soon and gets separation, tracks the ball and boom. Fifty-two yard touchdown.
- The next play for Clemson was kind of emblematic of the night in general:
- Something is off about this play — the snap is off and the handoff timing is bad. Rashard Lawrence blows up the play-side blocking, and JaCoby Stevens slices in from the back side. Etienne does a fantastic job of making both guys missed...only to get crushed by Neil Farrell. A great player, doing great work, and it just. Isn’t. Enough.
- Another crazy part of this game is how many random breaks Clemson got in this — they came into this game outside of the top 100 in special teams SP+. They dropped FIVE punts inside the 20, four of those at the 10-yard line or deeper. And a kicker who was barely 50 percent on the year made a career-long 52-yard field goal.
- Up 10-7, LSU finally flips the field on Clemson, but then we see their offense start to cook. They hit a very well-run corner route to Higgins on Fulton, then Etienne bounces an inside zone play outside for 29 yards. K’Lavon Chaisson gets pulled inside by the bubble RPO look and winds up taking Patrick Queen out of the play, allowing Etienne to get the edge. He breaks some tackles to help take the play farther. Then the tempo gets the defense with the reverse to Higgins for the score. Jacob Phillips’ is frozen on the front-side run look, Delpit takes a bad angle in pursuit and then a supremely talented player makes things happen in space.
- At this point, the fear that...”maybe they really are just better” has formed a massive ball in my throat. LSU hadn’t seen anything like this yet. They barely trailed this season, and the closest thing to this was a seven-point deficit against Florida. And at this point, Lawrence has hit his throws and Higgins and Etienne have just made huge plays that LSU just didn’t look equipped to stop.
- But that wasn’t how things were going to work. Whether it was Texas or Florida or Auburn or Bama or Oklahoma, 2019 LSU has always responded in this spot and they did that very thing here; 75 yards in five plays.
- Glance to Chase for 16, then over the top again.
- Terrell’s coverage isn’t even that awful here, but the second he sees one-on-one on the slot fade, Burrow’s going away from deep safety and drops it right over the outside shoulder. Chase puts on the breaks and gets a bunch after the catch. He finished with nine catches for 221 yards and two scores.
- You know, there’s irony in losing nine players to the draft, while two others likely to get picked higher than any of them — Chase and Stingley — have to stick around longer.
- Clemson stiffens on the goal line, but Steve Ensminger and Joe Brady get the look they want for the QB draw on third down. Really nice blocks from Saahdiq Charles and Ed Ingram to create a gap on the draw.
- Stevens dominates the next drive for Clemson. Sets the edge to funnel an Etienne run inside for no gain, then makes a BIG, legal, hit on Amari Rodgers.
- Lawrence hangs his man out to dry some, and Stevens just plants a shoulder right into Rodgers’ back. Hard? Yep. But perfectly legal.
- So many times in this first half, LSU’s offense just looks off. Plays late getting in, taking too much time at the line of scrimmage. Receivers dropping balls — Jefferson adds one on the ensuing drive here — but Burrow powers through. He scrambles for a first down to get things going, then scrambles to find Jefferson on a dig route for 22 yards.
- Then it’s Edwards-Helaire in the flat, making Tanner Muse miss for another 23. He touches out of bounds to steady himself, but the wonderful Pac-12 officiating crew doesn’t call for a review before LSU snaps it again, another big play to Jefferson.
- LSU’s gone with misdirection almost every time they really push tempo, and here they use a play-action waggle to get the ball to Jefferson quickly. He slices across the formation away from the fake to Edwards-Helaire. Burrow takes a lick but gets the ball off to Jefferson in the flat, and he pulls a Maverick and lets Muse fly right on by.
- Then motion reveals man coverage and Burrow tosses an easy fade to Chase for six and the lead.
- Clemson has to punt again, and again, gets LSU backed up on its goal line. Eleven plays, 95 yards and timed perfectly to give Clemson no chance at an answer before the half. Edwards-Helaire gets it started with a beaut of a 25-yard run. Charles and Adrian Magee absolutely maul the defense’s right side, and Edwards-Helaire takes the corner Terrell right out of his shoes.
- Burrow takes a sack after a bobbled snap, and suddenly it’s third and 19 and LSU looks to be punting to Clemson with good field position and time to operate. But somehow, despite rushing only three and dropping eight, Clemson allowed Terrace Marshall to get one-on-one with cornerback Derion Kendrick. Burrow makes a great throw, and it’s probably a fairly easy completion, so Kendrick tackles Marshall. DPI. First down.
- Few plays later and LSU is back in third down, and Burrow finds Jefferson on a stick route against a blitz, and he bulls over Kendrick to get the first.
- Again, now with :21 on the clock and no timeouts. Third and 10. Ensminger makes a fantastically ballsy call:
- Clemson brings edge pressure with man-to-man coverage, and LSU runs a QB-Draw RPO that hits perfectly. James Skalski comes up the middle, but when Lloyd Cushenberry picks him up there’s a big hole. Burrow makes a great cut and gets a nice block to turn it all into a 29-yard gain. It was the perfect call for the defense Clemson was showing, but it’s still a huge risk without a timeout. My honest opinion? They figured “if this doesn’t work that’s a really long field goal, if it does, it’ll get the first and we’ll have time to spike it and get something shorter.” But when Burrow gets the ball inside the 10, the touchdown is back in play. And he gets it on the next play to Moss on a stick route.
- From the time LSU fell down 17-7 with 10:38 left in the second quarter, Burrow completed 9 of 14 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns, with 58 yards on seven carries and a touchdown. LSU rattled off 21 points before the half and suddenly a game that seemed to be drifting away felt completely under control.
- So in the celebration of the touchdown, I didn’t notice Burrow wave off the training staff, though my wife did. Hearing about that, then watching an ugly three-and-out to start the third quarter, when the offense really had a chance to put this puppy away? NERVES.
- Especially when the defense boosts Clemson’s final scoring drive with a reckless kick-catch interference penalty and then a facemask.
- Offense goes three-an-out, but Clemson wouldn’t convert another third down for the rest of the game. They would finish one of 11 on the night, and punted a season-high nine times. Being able to trust the cornerbacks outside was such a luxury; LSU’s linebackers and safeties were free to cover the middle of the field and control the flats. Particularly Queen, who did an amazing job of shadowing Etienne.
- On the next possession, LSU found itself in third and 11 and was finally able to take advantage of Clemson bringing pressure through the A-gaps. Tunnel screen to Chase and it times out perfectly with the offensive blocking getting out in front.
- Chase has an easy run to the first, but then he sidesteps Simmons, which gives his blocking time to get back up to him to turn this play into a 43-yard gain.
- Huge break on the next play when Clemson’s Skalski gets himself ejected. Not a dirty hit, but he clearly leads with the crown of his head into Jefferson on the slant. Only hits shoulder, but it’s a pretty clear targeting situation.
- Tigers get up 35-25 after Skalski’s ejection, and Queen makes big plays on each of the next two defensive possessions, blowing up a third down screen to force a punt and snuffing out an option pitch on first down that put Clemson behind schedule. Twelve yards on seven plays over those two drives. Queen finished with one of those games that makes you say “wait...only eight tackles?” It felt like he was everywhere.
- Tigers overcome a dumb Adrian Magee penalty to put things away with one final touchdown. Burrow reads man-to-man, throws the slot fade to Marshall, who does a great job of mossing the corner and high-pointing the ball.
- I almost hate to act like a play like this is simple or easy...but that’s what Burrow and this offense did all year. “Oh, single coverage? Cool go deep, I got you.”
- And once this game was 17 with about 12 minutes to go, Clemson’s offense got limited and desperate. They had to force things down the field, and LSU knew it and could defend accordingly.
- Queen and Stingley are obvious individual standouts, but LSU’s defensive line did a fantastic job of disrupting Clemson’s blocking all night. Even against the pass, while Glen Logan only had a half a sack, he and his mates kept Lawrence from throwing on platform for a lot of the night. He wasn’t so much running for his life, but he never had a clear, comfortable base under him either.
- The Tiger offensive line, and Edwards-Helaire, went into four-minute mode for most of the fourth quarter. Ten carries for 71 yards, and 9:17 out of the final 10 minutes of the game.
- I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the officiating in this game was atrocious in all directions, specifically in how things were called out on the edge between the defensive backs and receivers. One minute corners and receivers could all but shank each other, and the next we’d see basic hand-fighting draw a flag. That’s incredibly frustrating because it tells me the people involved aren’t really on the same page as a group. What’s more, this crew featured some of the people involved in the fiasco with Benny Snell in the Music City Bowl two years ago. People like that shouldn’t be calling major college football games, and allowing them to call the most important game of the year should get someone working for the playoff committee fired.
And so there it was. LSU played one of the best teams in the country, took their best shot, returned fire, and blew them away.
Fifteen and eaux. Six wins over teams ranked in the top 10 at the time. Five teams that finished in the AP’s top eight, plus two more that finished in the top 25. Pick whichever way you want to decide the best team ever, but LSU can stand on that resume, and the fashion the wins came by — margins of 17, 45, 27, 5, 3, 14 and 7 points. It’s the greatest season that I’ve ever seen, and it’s got a damn strong argument as the best one ever.
I’ve been a broken record on enjoying all of this over the last few months. I hope you did. Because it’s all over now. LSU will win championships again. It seems like a good bet they’ll do it again under Ed Orgeron. But what we just saw? That was singular. That is something we will never see again. Next year? It’s going to be fun. Hell, maybe we’ll get lucky and be back in the title hunt. But it won’t be this.
This was a very special team. It was a perfect storm of talented players that were driven to be the best that they could, and confident that they were, in fact, going to play the best that they could week in and week out. It was a coaching staff in lock step, that had all the right answers and knew how to push all the right buttons. Next year’s going to be a different team, and a different staff. Even the names we know won’t quite be the same guys anymore. That’s just the nature of life, and the nature of how teams change year to year. They’re all different and they all have their own personality.
It’s my wish that all of you savored every second of the ride we just went on. It’s over now.
But damn it was fun.