Updated: May 24
AFTER THE CONFETTI FALLS:
TOOK OVER COLLEGE FOOTBALL
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
(originally published on 1/14/20)
Some say greatness chooses you, while others believe you must choose greatness....yet, regardless of whichever path is most attributable to success, Joe Burrow and his 2019/20 LSU Tigers were greatness chosen, greatness earned, and for greatness's sake, these boys were greatness personified.
It's impossible to put into words what this all entails....we'll have plenty of time to make damn sure LSU is recognized as the greatest team of all time, but as for what kind of historical repercussions Joe Burrow's decision to come to Baton Rouge will bring, we don't know just yet....
However, if the ecstasy of the present is any indication of the fun and beauty of the future, then LSU fans (and college football as an entity) win big.
As Tigers fans, we thought winning a national championship would immediately compel us all to feel some sort of acid trip-esque rebirth....instead, this is the same vibe we've had all year, just with confetti at the end.
The true fans who ride or died with Joe and O from the beginning knew, just as every one of those players, that we were taking home the 2019/20 national title and there wasn't a damn thing anyone or anything could do about it:
We made Saban powerless, then a little psychotic, Kirby Smart was the antithesis of his last name & Malzahn's gang made the score seem a lot closer than it was; Lincoln Riley sure as hell wasn't going to "stop" LSU; it definitely wasn't gonna be Dabo "Bigger than Jesus" Swinney; and neither Tom Herman or ex-LSU coordinators Jimbo Fisher and Will Muschamp (all three opting for Texas, Texas A&M and Florida over the LSU job) ever had a chance in hell against this intrepid offensive and defensive Iditarod..
From wire to wire, this was a freight-train of revenge nobody could get out of the way of (including that poor cameraman 😁): from Texas A&M scoring 74 points in 2018 to 7 in 2019, Burrow and co dropping 42 points in 48 plays on Florida in a breathtaking blitzkrieg, showing the world just what LSU was made of against McConaughey's Texas (the 3rd and 17 play a stark statement of intent from Ensminger/Brady's boot to the throat attack); there was the sweeping aside of UGA in what amounted to an away atmosphere in the SEC title game, and finally, the way in which we went into Tuscaloosa and stormed through Tua Tagovaiola and pulled Nick Saban's season out from under him...it was all too poetic, it was all too beautiful and at some point, it was all too much to handle.
So I ask you, could the revenge be any sweeter?
You can sense the jealousy emanating off every sports fan in America...they want to be LSU so bad...they want a heavy-metal offense with the rock and roll passing attack, the sheer strength and speed of Edwards-Helaire breaking tackles in space, the athletic corps of future NFL DBs or world class side to side linebackers and safety hybrids....but they can't be us.
Our genesis under Coach O & Joe stemmed from naturally occurring doubt from the outside, Hollywood-level adversity & an intangible mental strength that no coach, statistic or playbook can provide. There's no blueprint for this type of success...
Only experience and time can forge the bonds these players and their coaches have, which at the end of the day, was what really won this championship for LSU...and it all ended at the dawn of 2020 with a glorious homecoming title, sealed in a manner which Louisiana sports will try hard (but will never be able) to top.
What other team went on a blood-soaked odyssey beating seven Top 10 teams consisting of former doubters, defectors, and straight up enemies who were all roundly kicked in the crotch in front of the world and brought to their knees with swift, brutal justice???
What other team would've been bold enough to marry college football's old school (Steve Ensminger, Coach Orgeron and Tommie Robinson) & the 22nd century offense and new school ethos of Joe Brady or young, unsung defensive coordinator Dave Aranda?
What other coaching staff would've set aside their egos or individual control in the name of collective success?
What other team had a record-shattering quarterback who's also a sorcerer, uttering future premonitions he backs up with calculating, bruising authority?
What other CFB team has ever had a quarterback who's as smart, aggressive, thoroughly entertaining, as singular, special or as downright cool as Joe Burrow?
The answer: nobody.
Burrow's two year masterclass continues to be taken for granted by the same passionless dumbasses who said he was nothing before Alabama and didn't even know his name until October 2019, still mired up to the neck in their own toxic self-righteousness.
Now, in the sexy glimmer of his transcendence, we've all become desensitized to his magic, it's all too familiar, this god-sent sight of #9 dancing around the pocket like Walken in the Fat Boy Slim video and carving opposition coverages like it's Christmas with the Manson family.
When a player like a Joe Burrow, a Lionel Messi, Tom Brady or a LeBron James come around, they not only make the game look effortless: these icons shape the way in which we view the game itself.
After what he perpetrated upon all fifteen defenses he faced in 2019/20, Joe Burrow made the backyard quarterback a national award winning champion, all while sealing the statistical fact that he is the greatest college football quarterback of all time...
Joe made play after play vs Clemson, sending chills down our spines as he took the mantle from Trevor Lawrence's patchouli-scented scalp, accepting the ultimate responsibility as he led his team to the pinnacle of LSU history, achieving this all against arguably the best competition out of the seven Top 10 units LSU vanquished.
After last night, Burrow raised the stakes for every other QB in the game and the NFL better be ready for him:
Against the #1 ranked defense allowing 11.5 points per game and a slight 9 passing touchdowns all season, Joe Burrow "the #9 Stunna", dropped 5 in one game...a title game, no less.
We saw all sides of Joe Burrow in the Superdome:
Under rare pressure and duress at times in the game, Joe took snaps inside his own end zone on the first few drives, with Clemson's corners and safeties jumping routes and getting their hands into Ja'Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson, knocking certain completions loose and frustrating Joe to no end. Nolan Turner, the backup corner (and either team's leading tackler on Monday) broke in front of a route and nearly mirrored his Fiesta Bowl heroics.
Turner's dropped interception was a play that could've changed the game....but I doubt Clemson had the physical conditioning to "hold that tiger"...
Instead of collapsing amidst all the uncertainty and, once again, doubt, Joe kept throwing and produced moments of brilliance which made our jaws drop:
That little improvised toss between two streaking Clemson defenders to Jefferson, the repeated bombs down the sidelines to Ja'Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall; the way he hung in there and took a pummeling to his ribs in order for Thaddeus Moss to score the all important touchdown right before half, giving LSU a lead they'd never surrender...the gargantuan 58 yards rushing...
Joe Burrow never gave up...and why would he?
Why are we celebrating the fact that this man...this incredibly smart and talented "badass of the people" refused to give in to the rhetorical noise buzzing all year long about how "Lawrence is a better quarterback" or "Tua is a better quarterback"...he didn't care...he simply didn't listen.
The pressure on Burrow culminated in that first half, right there on the national stage with LSU down 17-7 and facing direct uncertainty. Many at home and in the stadium were already writing the obituary for Joe Burrow's college football career and underlining Heisman Curse in bold.......
Coming into this heavyweight national championship contest between LSU and Clemson, we all tripped over ourselves to be the one to accurately analyze and predict this wondrous matchup, forecasting 55-52 shootouts while many picked Dabo Swinney's perennial "underdogs" to bring LSU back down to earth...
But, after going behind 10 points early (with Kirk Herbstreit quick to jump down Joe's throat after three fruitless drives), what nobody could've predicted is Joe Burrow himself kicked into an even higher gear.
And LSU needed it:
Under the steamy New Orleans Superdome lights, Clemson came out and socked LSU in the mouth, knocking out a tooth and drawing first blood.
Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne were rolling in the yards on the ground and faking out most of the LSU defense (and everyone at home) with the RPO action and they'd punched three drives into points early, a critical component in beating LSU.
Clemson actually went toe to toe with Burrow and company in the high-octane first half (as we'd predicted), which only Auburn and Florida were able to accomplish all season, and Dabo's boys hung up a 10 point lead: the largest the Tigers had endured all season.
Most importantly, Brent Venables' buccaneering defense were fulfilling their end of the bargain, too, confusing Joe at the line and bringing the hits thick and fast.
Their linebacker James Skalski zeroed in on Joe Burrow and continued to wreak havoc on center Lloyd Cushenberry. Blitzing right up the gut, Skalski was routinely busting through Cushenberry (at times untouched), and repeatedly hitting the Heisman-winner. Venables' tactical punishment reached a fever pitch in Skalski's hit on the stroke of halftime,
a hideous shot with the helmet directly into Joe's ribcage, bending his left arm against his body sickeningly.
The problems Skalski caused the LSU offense lasted clear until his controversial ejection in the 3rd quarter: he was no doubt the most effective and dangerous guy to take on Burrow this season, a challenge the Georgia native relished.
Without their quick, scheme-smart linebacker's repeated shots at Burrow or his good work in containing the yards after catch from LSU's slants, Venables' defense caved...completely losing grasp of a game that was getting away from them far before the ejection...Joe Burrow was their master of reality.
Though Venables came into this game with a defensive plan worthy of limiting LSU, the Clemson defense couldn't account for Joe Burrow's legs and heart when he busted out of the back field for big gain after big gain.
This was the smoothest operating national championship game from a quarterback ever, as Joe Burrow took that aforementioned nasty shot to the ribcage while delivering one of Thaddeus Moss's touchdowns, later in the 3rd he flicked a side-arm dumb-off through two blitzing players, springing Justin Jefferson...but more than anything else, once LSU were in a hole, Joe Burrow answered the call.
In reaction to the 17-7 Clemson lead, Joe dug deep and didn't have to search too far to find the answer: Burrow started throwing bombs all over the field, demanding his receivers to finally step out in front of the troublesome, early Clemson pass coverage and he went to his safety valve all season when LSU needed him most.
Joe trusted the run and handed it to Edwards-Helaire for some tough, positive runs, forcing Venables to respect LSU's run game.
#9 dumped it underneath for #22 to gash Simmons and drag him out of position, gaining the offensive momentum and rhythm we watched explode in the 2nd quarter.
It was Edwards-Helaire's subtle near 200 yards of total offense which gave LSU's receivers that extra inch of space over the middle...with #9 ready to ascend.
At this point, your eyes were locked on Joe, the most misunderstood player of our time, flashing his demonic-James Dean grin and glazed eyes hiding the pure killer wolf inside: this man was on a mission and there was nothing Clemson could do.
Despite Clemson's good first half and defiant showing at the start of the 3rd quarter, LSU kept the pedal to the metal, as they had all year, and began wearing Brent Venables' movement-heavy defense into the ground. Also, at some point between Ja'Marr Chase's 150-200+ yards, we began to wonder if we were watching the A.J Terrell snuff film, the Clemson corner getting turned inside out and destroyed more than Judge Lance Ito.
Chase made sure he wasn't to be outdone by Justin Jefferson's 4 touchdown, 200+ yard performance in the Peach Bowl vs Oklahoma: Chase showed off his telepathy with Joe Burrow time and time again, even dropping a wide open touchdown later in the game that could've proven pivotal had Dave Aranda's defense not scared the androgynous Trevor Lawrence away from making throws.
LSU's defense was 2nd in the nation in opposition completion percentage, which is clear evidence of the facts:
With the skills, coaching, talent and reputation of LSU's DBs (17 INTs, 77 PD), no quarterback will dare throw at us with anything coming close to confidence. Combined with K'Lavon Chaisson, Rashard Lawrence and a crazed Grant Delpit going for him on every play, that's directly where Lawrence's 15 errant passes come from. They also held Clemson to 1 first down from 11 3rd down opportunities...a stat that proves the control Aranda and Corey Raymond's DBs and linebackers had on proceedings.
Even 'Bama's Tua Tagovaiola was subjected to this confusion and sudden destruction of confidence: though he put up 400+ passing yards on Aranda's defense in the November title tilt, Tua had his rhythm effected greatly on key 3rd downs and threw 19 critical incompletions.
Against Clemson the trajectory was simple: LSU's offense searched for momentum, finally found it, and once they did, the purple and gold machine stormed through Clemson like their uniforms were made of orange juice, while Aranda's underrated defense full of stunners, stars, and studs played as well as the offense in a subtle display of brutal calculation.
The celebrations began in earnest, the Cubans were lit, champagne flowed, and none of the players wanted to take off their uniforms or pads....never wanting to let go...never wanting this to end.
The gracious 2019/20 Tigers welcomed the heroes of LSU's past into the locker room, too, letting them in on the fun; the architects of this team, Coach Ed Orgeron & Athletic Director Scott Woodward felt the vindication and finally, the overwhelming credit they'd deserved;
After decades in the shadows, the legend of Steve Ensminger came alive as he battled against tragedy to become the best offensive coordinator in college football in his 60s;
There was young passing game coordinator Joe Brady's rise from Penn State graduate assistant to national champion, which has inevitably led right back to the NFL....all of this swirling around a hazy locker room full of the greatest college football team of all time...with Joe Burrow easing back, cigar in hand...watching it all.
In the immediate aftermath, everyone from the constant brisk disgust of Skip Bayless (you wonder if the man eats children for Christmas), to the mac-and-cheese face'd elitism of Colin Cowherd, they're all clamoring for a piece of this Hollywood Story.
Sadly in 2020, the well-resourced naysayers are always latest to the party, but will undoubtedly be first to take a chunk out of the real fans' enjoyment.
When the talking heads now say that "any team from any school is now only a transfer quarterback away from a national championship", it's offensive, insulting and utterly ridiculous...not every school is LSU...not even close...
Joe Burrow's last stand is now complete: he leaves behind a legacy of victory, hard work, leadership, poise under pressure, social integrity and an iconic image that should see his #9 retired at LSU immediately, without reservation.
But if Joe's orgasmic two years in college or Coach Ed Orgeron's wild ride through heaven, hell and back again, or any of the other 60+ stories from this LSU squad have taught us anything, it's this:
If Joe Burrow did this at LSU...if 30 year old Joe Brady came to Baton Rouge and leaves a national champion with a vastly renewed knowledge and an NFL coordinator gig in 12 months, if Coach O could do this here (aka the coach every pill-popping A.D wouldn't touch)...if these guys could lead this program from out of the ashes and into the ascendancy...then anybody with the same minerals can do it here.
LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
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