No. 1 LSU ran away from No. 3 Clemson winning, 42-25, in impressive fashion on Monday night to finish 15-0 and win the 2020 national championship of college football. But were you thinking upset when Clemson jumped out to a 17-7 lead and made the LSU offense and their Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow look ordinary?
LSU had never trailed by double digits all year. Did you think I underestimated Clemson, which I’ve been saying hadn't played anybody all season until Ohio State in the CFP? Could its coach Dabo Swinney be the true equalizer who could impose his will and genius on this game to give his Tigers a third championship in four years? I was never sold on the Clemson Tigers as a top-four team and I’m still trying to figure out how they defeated Ohio State. Yet, it was almost a unanimous consensus considered to be a close game by almost all who handicapped it, with ESPN’s own “predictor” giving Clemson a 55% chance of winning. Wonder what data they fed that computer. I watched television, read publications and on-line articles — and didn't see any forecast that said LSU would win easily, as I did here. Specifically, the reason was the difference at quarterback was so significant. Yes, I’m gloating a bit. I now sincerely apologize.
In the end, it didn’t come down to one play but to one player. Few people have dominated an entire football season as quarterback Joe Burrow did. No player had captured the affection and admiration of an entire state like Burrow, or "Burreaux" as they spell it in Louisiana. LSU’s victory permanently cemented Burrow’s carved sculpture on Louisiana’s own fictitious Mt. Rushmore.
This game was supposed to be different. After all, it was undefeated Clemson, the defending champs, a team that allowed a paltry 11.5 points per game and just defeated mighty No. 2 Ohio State. Surely these Tigers would contain Burrow and turn this into a competitive contest. Instead, it was an epic performance on the national stage that catapulted LSU’s storybook season into fantasyland with an undefeated national championship.
Burrow decimated Clemson’s defense, completing 31-of-49 passes for 463 yards and five touchdowns, giving him 60 for the year, a single-season record. Clemson had allowed only nine all season. Every time Clemson seemed to show some spark, Burrow responded. LSU amassed 628 yards on offense while Clemson had averaged just 264 per game. The obvious difference was Burrow, but it wasn't easy.
Clemson confused and pressured Burrow and he looked tight and sometimes tentative early. Swinney’s defensive game plan clearly had LSU searching for answers. Then — as though on cue — Burrow found his rhythm in the second quarter after the SEC Tigers marched on two long touchdown drives for a 21-17 lead. Burrow punctuated it with a 6-yard score with just 10 seconds left before halftime and it appeared the rout was on, 28-17. Clemson had other ideas.
It scored early in the third quarter and successfully converted a two-point conversion. Suddenly, it was 28-25 and the 25,000 Clemson fans who made the trip could sense a comeback.
But Burrow would not be denied. He led his Tigers to two more touchdown drives, culminating in a 24-yard score to Terrace Marshall Jr. and giving LSU a 42-25 lead early in the fourth quarter and the celebration was on.
The other story was the LSU defense, which held Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence to just 6-for-15 passing and 58 yards in the second half. It was a complete turnaround from a defense that looked off balance and unsure of itself in the first half. You can point to Swinney’s brilliant play-calling as the primary reason for that. Lawrence hadn’t lost in his entire career (29-0) at Clemson, 25-0 as a starter. But as the deficit grew, he began to press, fumbling with just over four minutes to play and ending any thought of a miracle comeback.
The celebration on Bourbon Street was mammoth, an overflow crowd of purple, yellow and gold grateful for their adopted son Burrow and their team’s undeniable march to its destiny. There may be other FBS teams in Louisiana, but there is only one that unifies the entire state. LSU’s roster is filled with local kids who dream of playing for their state university. It has a history of being competitive but rarely dominant. It took a transfer kid from rural Ohio to take this team to the mountain top to be forever remembered as one of the greatest of all time. These Tigers defeated seven top-10 teams, a feat never accomplished.
Congratulations are in order for LSU coach Ed Orgeron and the LSU Tigers.