Updated: Mar 5
THE FINAL COUNTDOWN
We strongly advise enjoying #10-7 of the Countdown https://www.lsuodyssey.com/post/lsu-s-top-10-moments-of-2019-10-7 ,
before #7-4 https://www.lsuodyssey.com/post/lsu-s-top-10-moments-of-2019-7-4
Although....if you must....
Out of all the incredible circumstances and achievements of this LSU juggernaut, the record-erupting performances, the Hollywood rise, or their gritty, unglamorous grind on a daily basis to get the gat, one of the things Tiger fans will miss most about this team will be the way they could talk trash and back it up.
For the longest time, I viewed bragging rights as an overrated part of sports, meant for inane online debates with 'Bama fans (aka Gumpers) or for private conversation between jealous friends.
But in 2019, the stakes were raised and words mattered:
Bragging rights for LSU fans became ominous warnings or statements of intent, as Tigers fans' pride and belief in their team quickly evolved into a cathartic exorcism of the last few decades with the momentum of each win. Meanwhile, our players and coaches wielded this ultra-confidence as a psychological weapon...and there was nothing any Alabama, Florida or A&M fan could do or say as we lived vicariously through our heroes.
After the rout of UGA in the SEC title game and the overwhelming vindication of the awards ceremonies, this was a team that were operating with such hysterical phenomena and aggression, that when combined with the familial looseness in their overall approach, the results were always going to be untouchable.
As the College Football Playoff drew near, this group of Tigers were branded as "cocky, careless" young men hustling for an NFL payday, regardless of their hard work. That's when this backlash of 'LSU hate' sunk to lower, more sinister depths in the wake of Joe Burrow's Heisman:
Burrow was roundly criticized for his ultimate bravado and self-belief, many choosing to misinterpret Joe's constant drive to prove LSU's doubters wrong as evidence of his "unquenchable ego".
This pathetic Haterade aimed at #9 was nothing more than pure jealousy...of the kind we haven't previously seen in college football:
Nobody likes a loser transforming into a winner; nobody likes surprises which make a fool of the public gallery's verdict...nobody likes honesty in 2020...and when it came to Joe Burrow, simply put: nobody likes a smart ass....especially one who's smart and proceeds to make you look like an ass.
Never before was there a team so at peace with themselves, so secure in their unity and their leadership, that they would make constant declarations and then fulfill them 100%...right in front of the naively bitter eyes of every overpaid analyst in the country.
Joe Burrow brazenly declared the LSU offense would "drop 50 points a game"...and he said this back in August, backing it up against all comers.
Every one of those deranged opponents baited us into beating them down mercilessly, poking at us with consistent hollering of "LSU isn't thaaaaat good", "they've only played four Top 10 SEC teams! Only four!" "Their defense is weak, Dave Aranda's so overrated, this is not an SEC defense!"
But every time, we answered the call in swift, brutal fashion that brought opposing fans to their knees...before they went back to their Pinterest or shopped at IKEA for 10 hours just to pretend none of it happened.📷
We were the phantasm in the dark corners of their mind prodding them with memories of Joe Burrow's eternal legend, Clyde Edwards-Helaire busting out moves like it's Saturday Night Fever or the receiving corps leaving five star DBs in the shadows of their dust like a four-headed Randy Moss hydra..
...all while our defense left many a quarterback hobbled, inaccurate, confounded, and ineffective or they simply took the ball back and gave it to the one man on the field it truly belonged to...
THE 2019 PEACH BOWL
vs OKLAHOMA (12/28/19)
If there's one game alone that really showed the core of LSU's swagger in full filthy flight, it is inherently the 2019 Peach Bowl vs Oklahoma.
Before the semifinal, we listened to proclamations about how "high octane" Oklahoma's offense were, we even heard the hapless slapstick witticisms of Skip Bayless and maverick vloggers (like my man R.J) position the Sooners' offense on par with LSU's...(laughter and aimless gunfire in response)...
We sat through talk of how Oklahoma could lose three or four players to suspensions and remain competitive against LSU in a high class fashion...wait, what's that infernal racket?
A pin dropping in Lincoln Riley's coke-stained bathroom?
Hellish moans and tears of rage falling upon the OU coach's lifesize nude bust of Patrick Swayze?
Either way, the pregame uproar from the delusional Sooners fans only heightened once linebacker hybrid Patrick Queen and receiverjesus Ja'Marr Chase uttered vague warnings of the storm that was about to descend upon Atlanta.
LSU's players were roundly viewed as arrogant meatheads already acting as if they were in the NFL, but once again, in all their smug naivete, no one from the media took the Tigers at their word: most were too scared to risk losing a few Twitter followers from a bad prediction, despite having a platform in Bristol.
Finally on December 28th, every Tigers fan woke up excited for the talk to end, the game to kickoff, and all of us ready to enjoy our second to last opportunity watching this legendary team lay waste to Lincoln Riley's Sooners.
Suddenly, hours before the Peach Bowl, horrific tragedy struck in Lafayette, Louisiana, with someone (who respectfully will not be named here) extremely close to the team passing away in a horrid accident.
Shaken but undeterred, this loss strengthened the already unbreakable emotional bond between the team and their grief-stricken offensive coordinator, Steve Ensminger: These were merely men going through life's tidal wave of horror and whirlwind of joy together...
Inevitably, the 2019 Peach Bowl was a stark reminder of Steve Ensminger's greatness, both in the booth and as a father and proud grandfather...after what these instantly lovable people had been through, this semifinal had to go down exactly the way E drew up his dream scenario:
It had to be a demonstration of everything this LSU team could do and just how high they could fly;
When you see Joe Burrow's face as he stalked the sidelines before the game, you don't see someone mourning a tragic loss, you see a glare of stoic anger and vitriol for vengeance, you see a bloodhound frothing at the mouth ready to hunt, you see a wild-eyed Mel Gibson awaiting the chance to avenge Danny Glover's blown up toilet....just as Ensminger wanted.
The 2019 Peach Bowl was a definitive massacre of Oklahoma from first second to last, buoyed by the greatest 30 minutes in college football history. This vulgar display of power silenced any remaining doubts about the pedigree of Orgeron's young men...at least we thought.
Before the game, a sizable question mark surrounded the health of our own Warrick Dunn / Marshall Faulk hybrid prototype, fresh from the Freak of Nature Lab of Sciences within LSU's locker room:
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, much like Joe, had the season of a lifetime in 2019, advancing his own game, his NFL draft stock, and his place as a definitive LSU legend. In the lead-up to the game, he tore his hamstring only a few days after the CFB Awards ceremonies, officially throwing his status in the LSU backfield up in the air.
Under Coach Orgeron's professional guidance, the Tigers' staff kept the situation smoke and mirrors for the media, the fans and their opponents, forcing Oklahoma's defensive coordinator Alex Grinch to waste crucial preparation time on #22....while LSU also boasted a trio of accomplished backups in freshmen Ty Davis-Price (who impressed throughout the season), John Emery Jr. (who flashed moments of raw talent in his rare carries), and slightly unknown quantity Chris Curry.
Nevertheless, our offensive staff of Steve Ensminger, Joe Brady, Jorge Munoz, and Mickey Joseph were far too cunning for OU's porous, undermanned unit to withstand.
We deployed Clyde as a threatening decoy early, the player's apparent semi-health and durability used against the unprepared Oklahoma; but we stunned Grinch's front seven by handing the ball to Chris Curry and running heavily in the early going.
The underrated Curry's downhill, violent style of running battered and bruised OU's thin defensive line for 90 yards from 16 carries, and set up the passing game.
Though the Peach Bowl will be remembered for Joe Burrow's 7 first half TD passes and Justin Jefferson's 4 first half TD catches, the initial declaration of devastation came from Dave Aranda's disrespected defense:
On the first play from scrimmage, K'Lavon Chaisson ripped through the Sooners' edge, erasing Oklahoma's #81 (who won't be mentioned to save his face...because it just got erased), and our versatile D-end buried Jalen Hurts in his own backfield, letting out two weeks of frustration into the ex-Bama QB, grinding him into submission.
Following Hurts' quick three and out, OU's punter filled his pants with the stinking result of mind-numbing fear, aiding LSU's two play scoring drive after a pathetic 20 yard punt.
Once Burrow had the ball, we routinely began air-raiding Oklahoma's fragile cornerbacks and undisciplined, backup safeties, targeting Turner-Yell's replacement Justin Broiles (as I'd hoped Joe would) time and time again.
Burrow threw a simple out pass to the leaping Thaddeus Moss, then a trademark quick slant to Jefferson in heavy traffic, #2 diving for the end zone. And just like that, LSU scored the first of what would end up being 7 first half touchdowns. Sooners fans all over let out a knowing hiss of impotent dismay:
Before Oklahoma's players, coaches or fans could wake up, the game was already far beyond their control.
This culminated in a hilarious 1st quarter moment where Clyde trucked Justin Broiles, showing the world he was in prime condition. In retaliation, a disgraceful sucker-punch targeting hit came from "Boo" Radley-Hiles to the head of Clyde, enraging the Tigers.
After that nasty cheap shot on Clyde Edwards-Helaire, his best buddy and quarterback became more dialed in and quickly morphed into an incendiary figure with infinite eyes of dancing madness: he was holding nothing back...he didn't just want to beat Oklahoma, he wanted possession of their soul.
The score was still locked at 14-7 when Burrow dared Oklahoma to come at him, leaving them in the dust one at a time:
The Heisman winner held on to the ball for an eternity, shifting left, then right, then left, followed by #9 inviting the on-coming pressure from the right as he flushed out toward the sideline, out-running 5 star OU linebacker Kenneth Murray to the point the player tore his hamstring in desperate pursuit of Joe.
Murray is a smart defensive player, and he knew what would happen if Joe extended the play outside the pocket...
What other quarterback would be so feared in this position?
As Joe retreated deeper towards his own end zone, he quickly communicated (with the flick of an authoritative index finger) for Terrace Marshall to go deep, then calmly waited for the wide out's route to develop.
Knowing he was about to receive a blistering hit to the chest on his way out of bounds (remember, he'd done this before), Joe hesitated, sensing Murray's maimed presence writhing behind his heels before uncorking the throw of a lifetime.
Joe was pelted hard into the sidelines a split second after unleashing a looping gawdpunch that left the Peach Bowl crowd in a collective gasp (literally...you can hear it), and Marshall made sure he stretched up to the heavens to haul it in, sending every LSU fan into a fit of devout lunacy...
...Even with a score of 14-7, Burrow and co knew where this was going the whole time....Oklahoma were aware of their fate, too.
Before our very eyes, the Heisman winner became an assassin, a cold-hearted killer on the football field, raising his game beyond the anointed "Tom Brady-level" he'd been chained to by lazy analysts.
These death-eaters and critics of LSU's "Too Much Fun Crowd" remained naive...stunned...rooted to their borrowed intelligence.
They'd never seen anything like this before, so they began making excuses about Big 12 defenses or the talent level of LSU's receivers just to make sense of it all, but they couldn't hide the fact that Joe's new transcendence was an echelon higher...further...beyond what was once possible...this was college football's own Lionel Messi or LeBron James, and never was this more obvious than with 12 minutes left in the 2nd quarter, the score at 21-7.
Burrow moved up and out of the pocket, bypassing danger like this was Madden 2029, and released a jaw-dropping back-shoulder fade to Justin Jefferson, the flight of the ball so gorgeous it reportedly made Sir Isaac Newton a little randy.
Steve Ensminger's brutal play-calling, Joe Brady's expert playbook and Joe Burrow running the offense with a mad glint in his eye will forever be maddening and stupefying for Oklahoma fans, confounding to LSU's critics in Division I and the guffawing media, but it'll be an eternally relivable orgasm for Tigers fans.
Our Heisman winner's electric combination of Steve Young and Han Solo made Lincoln Riley vomit during halftime, his perpetual savagery ruining the Sooners worse than any previous Mike Stoops scandal or past BCS collapse.
While these fools doubled and at times tripled up on Ja'Marr Chase (as if the Biletnikoff Award meant he was LSU's only great receiver), Justin Jefferson constantly ripped through Oklahoma's Casper defense.
Meanwhile, receivers Terrace Marshall and Thaddeus Moss combined for 10 catches, 179 yards and 3 touchdowns, all led by the legendary work of quarterback Joe Burrow, the master and commander of this fleet of hearty warriors delivering 8 total TDs before being pulled out of the game midway in the 4th....
Has our national consciousness become desensitized to Joe Burrow's greatness?
We know so:
There were 48 records broken by this LSU juggernaut in the Peach Bowl.
Burrow set the records for touchdown responsibility in a bowl game, tied the record for passing TDs in a bowl game, set the record with 403 passing yards in the 1st half...
The numbers and the records broken start to make you feel ill from the sheer amount of calculation and thought that goes into making sense of this team's stunning outrageousness:
692 total yards on offense, 9 total touchdowns, 8 from Joe Burrow, 7 through the air, Justin Jefferson catching 14 passes for 227 yards and 4 TDs, scoring 49 in the 1st half, scoring 63 total...these were all untouchable records that won't be eclipsed anytime soon...
The offensive onslaught during the 2019 Peach Bowl, the illustrious performances, the swaggering victory, these were all huge moments...but in conclusion, we have to sweep all of that aside: we already knew LSU were geauxing to rock and roll Oklahoma...
On that day, football was still rendered meaningless in comparison to tragedy.
While elements in life may be out of our control, we can still find the value and positivity all around us: On one of the worst days of his life, Steve Ensminger didn't have to look too far.
Though nothing can bring back the loss of a loved one, this performance from his offense, his university, his favorite quarterback, and his alma mater helped the Bayou Gandalf receive the priceless gift of glory-drenched escapism.
THE ALABAMA GAME
vs ALABAMA (11/9/19)
When choosing which title-deciding match-up meant most out of LSU's 15 victories, no single regular season game of the last decade comes close to the rivalry, the passion, the intensity, pageantry, and overall difficulty of beating Saban's Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
In 2019, every college football fan marked November 9th on the calendar as D-Day for 2019's CFP national champion:
Throughout the lead-up to the game, most of the country were pulling for Orgeron's LSU Tigers to take Saban down, however no one, from Stephen A. Smith, Colin Cowherd or Skip Bayless, had the stones to pick LSU.
"Sure, LSU have a better offense now, but Joe Burrow's never scored a point vs Alabama," was what we listened to.
It was true, he hadn't...but that didn't mean he couldn't...
We had to choke on eight years of statistics vs Alabama, with special attention given to the 2018 shutout in Death Valley and the 2012 duck in the BCS National Championship Game, and we had to sit back and take it.
Regardless of the rankings, LSU and Alabama were the two best teams in the country at the time they squared off (just like 2011) and it was obvious whoever won the game would not only be going to Atlanta for the SEC title, they'd lock down a spot in the final four as well, while the loser would be left to their own devices and the CFP committee's decision.
For LSU, defeat wasn't an option:
After the 2018 shutout perpetrated upon Joe Burrow and this group, this LSU Tigers team were playing for their legacies in the annals of Louisiana State University's history.
The pregame trash-talk was far from limited to final score-lines of the past, as the mechanical mouths of the talking heads continued to ignore the Tigers' rapid development from Winter to late Summer 2019:
LSU's players, coaches, and fans had to listen to talk of "Bama's 'championship' defense" or non-stop comparisons between Tua and Joe Burrow to the point it made us sick.
Most analysts were quick to dismiss the future Heisman-winner as someone who'd "shrink in the spotlight" and "couldn't win in Tuscaloosa"...especially if he didn't score in Death Valley the year before. And joining them in projecting the Tigers' demise were a few gutless, faithless LSU "fans", most of these dissenting "Bama will win" voices belonging to cowardly LSU beat writers.
Much like the rest of their 2019 campaign, Joe couldn't wait to prove them all wrong once again.
As for pure spectacle, the 2019 Game of The Century pulled out all the stops:
Not only was the President of the United States in attendance, every college, NFL or LSU/Bama luminary took to the sidelines to witness something special.
It really was the Game of the Century...although if you're Nick Saban all the scoring and busted coverages could be cause for a mid-life crisis full of alcoholism, frenetic gun play, and quasi-sexual betrayal.
Setting aside Saban's carnal abyss, we had a great feeling when Tua fumbled the ball in the red zone, curtailing an extremely promising opening drive.
If we had to wonder about Joe's mental state, the Heisman winner couldn't wait longer than LSU's 1st play to show us all what he could do:
#9 refused to hesitate as he launched a ball through a tight window, fitting a filthy pass to Ja'Marr Chase between two Bama DBs like it was routine. Joe wanted every nihilistic Bama fan to kneaux that great quarterbacking was just a part of his everyday existence.
During the operatic opening 30 minutes, there were altogether 6 touchdowns, 3 turnovers, a punt return for a touchdown, 7 spin moves helping Edwards-Helaire to 2 TDs, and one long Saban howl of anguish heading into the tunnel down 33-13 at half.
Yet a few of these miraculous happenings (occurring on almost every play) deserve extensive highlighting:
In a game littered with special plays, one of the more frightening pieces of skill arrived via an end of half tap-dancing routine by Thaddeus Moss, the namesake of Randy showing off Chris Carter-esque intuition / positioning and Pink Panther-esque reflexes.
Known as "The Catch", this play seemed destined to have been made out of bounds, never to be shown again. Suddenly, much to Saban's eternal dismay, the line judge raised both arms, immediately ruling Moss's dazzling footloose magic was indeed a completed catch.
Saban lost it...and so did Bama's fragile fans expecting a picnic, somehow having to make due with a Bayou Burrow Pain Sandwich.
Thanks to the unbelievable footage showing his remarkably quick footwork, Thaddeus Moss became a household name overnight and bolstered the trusted receiving options for Joe in the red zone.
After this ridiculous play, not a soul wearing crimson could be heard apart from the barnstorming Bayou contingent, as LSU took an unthinkable 26-13 lead, following Edwards-Helaire's orbital goal line leap above 'Bama's spineless defense.
What would follow would be another crucial error from Saban's coaching staff of adversarial inbreeds.
Knowing LSU would receive the 2nd half kickoff, unable to trust the defense he used to start a dynasty, and believing Tua needed to stay aggressive on the final drive, Nick Saban felt it was critical to roll the dice at the end of the worst half in his entire tenure.
In a-typical Bama fashion, Tagovaiola gave the ball right back to LSU. Future defensive MVP Mr. Patrick Queen instinctively jumped a route and picked Tua off on the first play of Bama's drive, setting up the ravenous offense in fantastic field position.
As part of their Herculean 93 points scored off turnovers in 2019, it only took a few plays before Burrow threw a dime over two diving Alabama DBs for a wide open Edwards-Helaire, #22 running a left post corner route from the slot.
This sealed a 33-13 halftime lead, Saban geauxing crazy on the sidelines, demanding an inquest as to how they allowed a third Tigers' touchdown to a wide open receiver.
While the Tigers had it all their way in the first 30 minutes, the 2nd half became a psychological battleground where we learned just how mentally tough this LSU team really was.
Following a rare Burrow fumble, an incomplete pass knocked out of his hands and into Bama's Xavier Lewis's grasp, the momentum swung back to Alabama. This rare Tigers' turnover ended a solid opening 2nd half drive, and allowed Bama back into the game behind the legs of Najee Harris, the robust back bursting and busting through LSU's front.
After Najee Harris and a hobbled Tua cut the score to 33-27 to begin the 4th, Burrow and co were under massive pressure and facing the hostile Tuscaloosa crowd, the noise surrounding them in the fiery cauldron of Saban's domain...though we should've told them Bryant-Denny Stadium was under new management.
In the first drive of the 4th quarter, Joe Burrow made gutty throw after tight throw, putting passes to Chase and Marshall in tight windows before Edwards-Helaire produced yet another moment of epic brilliance:📷
In one of a million plays #22 made that day, this was the most key, perhaps more important than 3rd and 17 vs Texas in establishing a mentality of championship-winning determination:
On 3rd and 10, with no rhythm on offense and Alabama proving unstoppable when possessing the ball, the Tigers were in danger of killing another strong drive.
The second Burrow snapped the ball, he knew he had a second and a half before he would be smashed into the furthest reaches of the backfield, and so Joe quickly tossed an angling, hopelessly backwards pass to Clyde. Burrow later said, "I just hoped I could get the ball out and give Clyde a chance to make a play."
In direct defiance towards his chances of making the 1st down, Edwards-Helaire gave Alabama's entitlement a big middle finger and made the improbable catch, reaching back and scooping the ball outta the air, scanning his head up and seeing only Trevon Diggs in his way of a 1st down.
The statistical probability of
A) Edwards-Helaire making that crazy catch
B) Clyde being able to pick up the 1st down and keep the drive alive were absolutely minimal....together it was an impossibility....
...but the one-on-one match-up on the outside between Clyde and Diggs was there and if #22 could make the catch, he can win any match-up.
Instead of bursting forth into Diggs, Clyde slowed down, hesitated to his left, then cut back to his right and drove forth.
The smaller LSU back caught Diggs unaware of his sheer strength, and the 5'8 Edwards-Helaire powered through the well-positioned wrap-up, moving Bama's supposed future 1st round draft pick out of his way just enough to get the first down...
....It was something that must be seen to be believed...and it gets better every time you watch it.
The college football world happily began to dig our graves and spit on the headstone, yet, here our guys were, operating on a higher level above this pressure, surfing on a burning lake of ice with aviators and a cigar.
It wasn't merely the catch #22 made, it was how he did it: how the hell could all these players do all of this in one game?
How were we doing this as a collective unit??
This game had us pulling our hair out with excitement, bewilderment and absolute hysterical joy...we were on the brink of finally beating the lunch money bully.
As we watched Edwards-Helaire spin Xavier McKinney into the furthest reaches of the universe, walking into the end zone to put us up 39-27, answering the call on the biggest drive of our program's history...we lost our voices.
However, Tua cast himself as some type of likable 80s' renegade villain, and he limped his way down the field to make it 39-34, hobbling through the pain of his recent ankle surgery finally being exposed by our relentless pursuit.
With the score 39-34, it came down to one final drive for the Tigers, and though we had ourselves racked up against the burning embers of the Tide's pact with Satan all 2nd half, Joe Burrow meant business and he made sure we'd all remember this night for the rest of our lives.
On 3rd and 2, we faced a potential long field goal attempt on 4th down if we couldn't pick it up and only an 8 point lead.
An 8 point lead, or more dangerously Cade York failing to make the kick, would never satisfy either Joe Burrow or Brady, or Coach E or O, any of those receivers, and definitely wouldn't please the tired defense.
So, acting as if this operation was as simple as spitting chew into an empty water bottle, Steve Ensminger utilized a wrinkle no team could stop all season for the toughest plays of the game:
Joe rushed the team up to the line, forcing Saban's defense to key on Edwards-Helaire for the quick dive up the middle. Cool as ever, Joey Burrow faked the hand-off and rushed out from Shaadiq Charles' hip and powered his way to the first down inside the red zone, effectively ending the game.
But Edwards-Helaire wasn't finished:
As if he was directing the Bama secondary's snuff film, he pounded through Travon Diggs yet again, and fought away from his loose grasp, battering past a trail of maimed Alabama defenders and into the end zone...a final humiliation.
It really was over now...46-34...right?
On Bama's last desperate drive with under a minute left, LSU freshman corner Derek Stingley was burnt for the 2nd touchdown of the day (and 4th time total), and Alabama tried an onside kick for one last chance. Then Justin Jefferson caught the well-placed, spinning ball, and he finally ended the breathless contest.
Like Michael Myers or The Terminator, Saban's Alabama kept coming back; we'd been bloodied and bruised, yet still we outplayed Alabama and survived.
Joe Burrow called the performance "absolute dominance" during the post-title victory parade at the Maravich Center, but truth be told Joe, we escaped in that 2nd half.
But in this real Game of the Century, we witnessed the reality of football, the possibilities of its future, the magnitude of its consequence, and the destiny of these LSU Tigers.
Every time we relive the Game of The Century, we'll be able to pause and admire these unbelievable moments again and again as they stand for time and all eternity as unforgettable, untouchable totems of Bayou Greatness swallowing Alabama's sweat shack whole.📷
November 9th, 2019 truly was the real Game of The Century as it had everything...from crazy catches, breathtaking speed, vicious hits and defensive stops, two Heisman-worthy quarterbacks throwing for 390+ yards in a duel that went beyond the initial hype and became a masterpiece...
....and no matter how many more titles he may win, the 2019 loss will have left an indelible mark on Nick Saban...one which he'll never be rid of.
GET THE GAT
vs CLEMSON (1/13/20)
Here we are and there they were...
After the digestion of Oklahoma in the semifinals, LSU's fearless Tigers rode their unstoppable wave of inspirational vengeance all the way to the brink of a national championship:
The stage was set in New Orleans, Louisiana, only 60 miles away from Baton Rouge in what would be a de facto home game for LSU, as well as the last detour in our quest to return the title to Death Valley.
There was also the specter of the past and a burning Cajun desire to avenge the 2012 BCS National title game....at all costs.
Though it was 8 years ago, the wounds from that horror show were all too real.
Our diabolical collapse in the Superdome capped off the near-undefeated 2011 run in a burning crash of abject shame and locker room division, our arch-enemy Alabama shutting us out as a result.
But unlike the unpredictable, wild card nature of the 2011 team, everyone around LSU circa 2019 knew what these guys were made of. 📷
Orgeron's squad, most returning from the previous few seasons, were already the greatest LSU Tigers team of all time no matter what the result on January 13th...but winning this final battle secured their status as the single greatest college football team in the history of the game...and before the contest, nothing would deter them from their goal.
In lieu of Ohio State, the adversary for the national title game turned out to be a dangerous opponent: the defending national champion Clemson "Tigers" looking for their 3rd ring in the last 5 years.
They had playmakers, athleticism, speed and consistently innovative, aggressive coaching, the latter having the most impact on their bevy of talented five-star recruits.
Instantly, there were comparisons drawn up between the two programs' commonalities: from the mascot, to the name of their stadiums, the way their coaches talk and their Southern locales.
However, their most obvious shared attributes were the team's aggressive philosophies and recent success:
Together, LSU and Clemson ranked among the top 10 programs of the last decade as far as wins, recruiting, wins against top 10 opponents, and a plethora of other major statistics.
Despite the media trying to even it up, the talk prior to the National Championship read like most of LSU's 2019 jaunt through CFB:
LSU = ARROGANT,
Burrow = cocky,
LSU = overrated,
Coach O = lucky
Clemson = "battle tested champions".
No, that's not a typo, that was said....ohhhhh how naive were the college football media in 2019?
It was astounding how out of touch they were amidst the constant barrage of broken records, hard-earned domination, and complete team success from LSU while playing in the SEC...it was as if the Tigers were the over-achieving son who couldn't command their own hard-partying college football parents' attention,
No one was giving LSU any respect....even after dropping 40+ points on Alabama, Florida, Texas, and 49 in a half over Oklahoma.
What other team in CFB history has ripped through every blue blood in their vicinity, remained undefeated in the toughest conference and division in American sports, and erupted with 40+ points vs four of the best defensive coordinators in the country??
Despite the mind-numbing greatness from LSU, the message was loud and clear from the media and the public's overwhelming jealousy:
"LSU have had such a wonderful season that's entertained us all, but Clemson is the real deal and they'll humble these arrogant punks in Baton Rouge!"
Before the game, many previous dissenting voices such as Paul Finebaum began riding LSU's bandwagon, failing to acknowledge that Clemson were also shooting for the same historical synthesis as LSU:
Their Georgia-born sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence already had a ring on his finger, had never lost a game in his collegiate career, and the long-haired colossus spurned LSU's advances after watching the Tigers' hopeless offense in November 2016;
Clemson's Louisiana-born running back Travis Etienne already had a ring, too and was on a mission to beat the team he rejected for a college career in South Carolina, a place he called "the real Death Valley";
And of course, most intriguing was the approach of defensive coordinator Brent Venables against the Ensminger/Burrow/Brady offense.
The former Oklahoma defensive coordinator had taken down or hampered "G.O.A.T" offenses before in national title games (Warrick/Weinke's Florida State in 2000, Alabama in 2018 and 2016, Florida in 2008)...but he'd never faced a group this multi-dimensional, this aggressive or as empirically confident as Burrow's unit.
However much we looked forward to the enticing matchup, the 2020 National title game became a confounding mystery for anyone willing to be unbiased:
Nobody knew how either team would react to adversity, nobody could anticipate how LSU or Clemson would perform in the surroundings of NOLA (LSU feeling too confident or Clemson intimidated?), nobody could predict this scoreline with 100% certainty, but one thing we called before the game definitely happened:
The 2019 LSU Tigers were only coming off the field in defeat if they were in body bags.
Here was the most beloved LSU Tigers team of all time in this crazed atmosphere close to home, the 2019/20 Revenge Tour finally taking its last stop of the campaign and instead of feeling the ultimate pressure, these guys were loose and having a ball.
Elsewhere, members of the haunted 2011 class unintentionally put Orgeron's current high flying talents under a microscope.
LSU alumni Odell Beckham Jr, T-Bob Hebert, and the legendary Tyrann Mathieu all hung out on the sidelines to witness the banishing of their 8-year-old defeat, with Mathieu allowed behind the DBs bench, while an intoxicated OBJ acted a fool.
And so, with OBJ, Karl Malone, The Honey Badger, HOF running back Marcus Allen, Donald Trump, Vince Vaughn, James Carville's shiny bald dome, and a disgusted Nick Saban (wearing a tux straight out of Dumb and Dumber) all under one roof, the classic title game kicked off.
Despite our usual fast starts, LSU were slow out of the gate and Clemson nearly made us pay the ultimate price:
Every possible error, individual rust or missed assignment transpired within the first half alone...and somehow, in typically surreal, comically brilliant LSU fashion, they survived with an 11 point lead:
Brent Venables' defense was getting to Burrow, hitting the Heisman-winner, while cornerback A.J Terrell was making life difficult for receivers Chase and Jefferson.
Due to this physical coverage, our guys were dropping easy catches to start the game, and the Tigers found themselves repeatedly pinned in their own end zone, unable to generate any rhythm.
On the other side of the ball, Aranda's defense were getting faked out by the RPO action, missing gaps and assignments, with Trevor Lawrence continually making us pay early.
After a few long passes down field against Kristian Fulton, Lawrence and Etienne stretched our defense out on the edge and punched in touchdowns.
With the whole world ready and willing to gladly turn on LSU, and the Clemson blitz schemes smelling blood in the water, Joe dug deep while remaining the stoic, poised leader he's always been, and his team followed suit.
To quickly get something on the board, Joe threw a tumultuous bomb down field for 70 yards to Ja'Marr Chase, stopping the bleeding, igniting the New Orleans crowd, and sending all Tigers fans into delirium.
But things soon changed:
Following a Clemson field goal and another successful Lawrence-orchestrated drive (finished off by an end-around sweep from Tee Higgins), our Tigers were facing a 17-7 deficit...and we were in desperate need of adjustments and a good slap in the face.
Instead of self-inflicted slapping, Joe punched back against Terrell's aggressive coverage, catching the Clemson corner napping on Ja'Marr Chase's first step, and Burrow found the filthy sophomore down the sidelines to house the Tigers in the red zone.
Of course, Venables' defense tightened up with their backs to goal, holding the Tigers to a pivotal 3rd down scenario...at that moment, LSU desperately needed a touchdown: 17-10 wasn't an option.
Before snapping the ball, Joe emptied the backfield until he was alone in the gun and all five LSU receivers were occupying seven Clemson defensive backs. As he flashed the mad-eye of the tiger, he snapped the ball and crouched behind his hulking offensive line, ducking before barreling through the open gap to his left and safely tucking away the biggest 7 points of our national title quest thus far.
With our swagger back, our defense buckling down and forcing another Clemson 3 and out, Ensminger/Brady gave Clyde Edwards-Helaire the ball repeatedly in the 2nd quarter to wear Clemson down, #22 crucially stretching the Clemson defense to the tune of 164 yards in the air and on the ground.
Riding our running game and getting the popcorn ready for our receivers' aerial showtime, LSU drove down the field to reclaim the lead 21-17 with a typically commanding drive, hinged on our high-flying Harlem Globetrotters meets Cirque Du Soleil passing attack.
LSU were beginning to take flight, while Brent Venables and Dabo Swinney started to look uncomfortable against the wild backdrop of Bayou natives heckling them. And thanks to Edwards-Helaire's tough yards, holes began to surface in the Clemson secondary.
The class of these Tigers exuded began to take control: it wasn't just the catch by Justin Jefferson to take us into the red zone or his first down, it was the psychological impact his jitter-bug move had on safety Tanner Muse, hilariously fading Clemson's #19 to the ground.
Venables' defense were losing their hold on the game and they knew it, LSU took it, and the crowd could feel the scales tilt dramatically.
Anyone, who'd watched the 2019 LSU Tigers knew what was about to happen next:
In Clemson territory, Burrow sent a teardrop toss to Ja'Marr Chase, hitting the sophomore phenom in stride for his 2nd touchdown of the game, causing mass hysteria within the Superdome as if Drew Brees and the Pope just arrived to do a verse with Lil Wayne.
Ensminger's selection of play calls were now clearly preying on A.J Terrell's inability to cover Chase one-on-one, and the Tigers were feasting.
And just like that, LSU had reclaimed the lead.
Clemson played their best game....they had a ten point advantage over our guys, they stuffed us early and ruined our "early lead" pattern of play...and with that, their fans assumed the game would be over.
These huckleberry hootenannies believed Lawrence and Etienne could run out the clock, and Joe Burrow would shrivel and shrink in the moment.
Suddenly, every Clemson fan were hit in the head with the startling realization of Joe Burreaux's renegade 2020 reality, and he wasn't done ending their season just yet:
Knowing they'd regain possession to start the 2nd half, LSU stole an all-important drive before halftime thanks to Dave Aranda's defense and the Clemson offense's bizarre play selection. Due to this momentum shift, Burrow would have one more shot to add to our 4 point lead.
Throughout the first 3 quarters, it was a mano e mano chess match between Joe Burrow and Clemson linebacker #47 James Skalski, the Georgia-native amassing 5 forced incompletions, 4 QB hits, 1 sack, 1 pass deflected, and 5 tackles (4 solo) before his ejection.
Skalski was Clemson's best chance at stopping Joe Burrow, and his unsung work punishing those NFL-ready receivers on the slant was important in keeping the Ensminger/Brady/Burrow offense at bay.
After the first few drives, Burrow and the offensive staff made significant adjustments once it became clear Skalski was spying Burrow and the inside routes. Despite changes to protection schemes and the pacing of our routes, Clemson's raging middle linebacker was incredibly effective, and was a constant nuisance.
However, it was Skalski's merciless hit on Joe at the stroke of half-time when we realized just how dangerous the linebacker was to our quarterback:
After another brilliant 3rd down run from Joe (his 29 yard burst taking LSU to the five with 12 seconds left), Venables sent Skalski in on a furious blitz. Our quarterback quickly delivered the perfect ball to a wide open Thaddeus Moss in the end zone, taking the reins and stealing the game from Clemson 28-17...but Joe paid the price on the pass.
As we said before the game, the only way Clemson could beat this LSU team was if they knocked Joe Burrow out of the game, and
it seemed someone, somewhere on Venables' staff agreed.
Right as Joe got the pass off, his left arm was pinned against his body sickeningly by Skalski's helmet, and the impact drove his elbow hard into his chest, fracturing ribs, tearing rib cartilage, and causing horrendous pain to the Heisman-winner.
During the dramatic halftime interval, Clemson were left in tatters and thousand yard stares, incapable of preventing the Tigers' comeback...meanwhile, Joe Burrow's health was the main concern for LSU.
In what Skip Bayless called a "hot dog move", Joe came out of the locker room 10 minutes early and wheeled around on the bicycle, staring up at the lights in deep contemplation. He tried to mask his pain, but it was there for us all to see: the young man was in agony, and he needed to ride that bike until he felt his chest was loose enough to keep throwing a football.
When Joe kept looking up at the lights, isolated and in physical torment, you could see the range of emotions subtly pushing themselves out; but #9 kept them down, moaning with an F-bomb as he stared down at the ground.
Then, without a word, he hopped off the bike and was ready to win a national championship.
In an illustration of both teams' class, Clemson made a swift comeback themselves after Travis Etienne began breaking tackles. After the Louisiana-born running back fulfilled his dream of scoring a touchdown in the Superdome, Dabo's guys pulled off a 2 point conversion to make it 28-25 at the start of the 3rd.
As Clemson kicked off, both sets of fans rejoiced: the title game lived up to its billing, with the Superdome about to erupt.
The atmosphere inside the confines of the stadium never stopped buzzing, the fans continued to scream for blood, bone, and touchdowns, and both teams came to give everything...but at this point, the manic energy and pulsating voodoo all culminated in a frenzy of primal savagery.
On the Tigers' next drive, Clemson would suffer a catastrophic blow to their already-gassed defense:
Justin Jefferson made a slant reception over the middle and crouched in self-protection as Clemson's Skalski came flying in, helmet first and speared Jefferson right in the face mask.
What seemed innocuous at first became bad news for Clemson when a review was initialized from the booth and the best defensive player against Joe Burrow's LSU was sent packing.
Though there were no protestations from any Tigers player and Jefferson seemed fine, Brent Venables' entire game-plan had to go out the window on a play that'll forever be judged as a rather soft targeting call.
And just like champions, Burrow punished Clemson and buried the game on the next play, the Heisman-winner delivering a brilliant pass in the red zone for Thaddeus Moss to stretch out for his 2nd Touchdown of the night, rejoicing in front of his Hall of Fame father.
Joining their offense's ascendancy, LSU's defense played one of their best games of the season, smashing the hell out of Lawrence, and spooking Etienne and Tee Higgins after Stevens', Delpit, Fulton and Chaisson's intensive hits on every one of their touches.
Against Clemson, the stats may not show their effectiveness as a defense, but K'Lavon Chaisson, Rashard Lawrence, Michael Divinity, Jacoby Stevens, and Tyler Shelvin were continuously hounding Lawrence into 17 errant throws (13 over /4 under) and allowed only one 3rd down conversion in the entire contest.
And when Clemson's athletes reached the second level, Patrick Queen, Grant Delpit, and Jacoby Stevens prevented 4 or 5 yard plays from becoming 10-15 yard gains, Aranda trusting their speed on every play and disguising his blitzes behind the mass of his front four.
Following Lawrence completing a few throws over Kristian Fulton, the senior corner smashed Tee Higgins in the johnson so hard, the lanky Clemson wide out left the field as if he'd just had sex with Roseanne Barr.
In the biggest game of his career, Fulton wasn't perfect, but he responded with a championship-winning display, much like his quarterback.
Most importantly, Aranda's defense took possessions away from Clemson and helped Burrow and co finish this thing off.
It was 2nd and 9 with 12 minutes left in the 4th quarter, the score 35-25 after a missed Cade York field goal, and Aranda's defense forcing another Clemson punt.
But when Chase dropped an open touchdown and Tracy missed wide right, Joe wanted to finish this thing off right here, right now at the Clemson 24.
Unlike Les Miles, a man who will watch punts and field goals in reverent slow motion, this team never waited around to find out if they were going to lose.
On the cusp of Clemson's red zone, Venables flanked Burrow on either side with a strong blitz, however Joe felt their presence and immediately looked vertical for Terrace Marsall streaking towards the pylon.
In one of the greatest moments in LSU's storied history, in a play which signified our "Never Say Die, Pedal To The Metal, Foot to the Throat" mentality on both sides of the ball, Joe throttled a laser up for Marshall to grab and the electric sophomore wouldn't let his QB down:
Terrace leapt up and stole the ball out of the air, pulling it down in epic style to give the Tigers an unassailable 17 point lead.
Once Joe pointed to his ring finger and hugged Coach Orgeron, we all knew it was over...and like all opponents before them, Clemson understood their fate, as well.
We'd won the psychological battle long before, but there was no atmosphere worse for an opposition coach than an unstoppable LSU team playing in Louisiana with a 17 point lead in a national title game.
Dabo Swinney was quiet, reserved...he wasn't himself from the beginning, and unlike his Tony Robbins meets Deliverance performances during the prior Bama-Clemson trilogy, Dabo hardly featured in the television broadcast of the game.
From the second LSU's team ran out on the field and trampled a camerman underfoot in their title-hungry gusto....we knew it was over...we knew this game was ours.
Even down 10 points with everyone saying "what's wrong with Burrow?" and Kirk Herbstreit doubting his fellow Ohio bro, we knew it was only a matter of time before LSU began stringing massive chunks of yards together.
With #9....we were never going to lose this game.
I don't think we'll ever fully fathom how much Joe Burrow means to the history, present and future of our university:
Throwing for 5,700+ yards (no SEC QB had thrown more than 4,300) and usurping Colt Brennan's record of 59 touchdown passes with his 60th (Brennan achieved 59 vs the WAC, while Burrow grabbed his in the SEC and against the defending national champion: in his lone start vs SEC opposition in the 2008 Sugar Bowl, Brennan threw 0 TDs).
His 14 touchdowns in the Peach Bowl and the title game in New Orleans were the most combined TDs of any player's career in the CFB Playoff's history since 2014, and he accomplished this in one season.
This total was more than the entire touchdown haul of the Big 10 (12) and Pac 12 (11) conference participants in all CFB Playoff games combined.
Yes, that's right:
Burrow is better than every team from two entire Power 5 conferences, earning those touchdowns in the biggest games of them all. And against Clemson, he finally proved to every whining critic, every ignorant bloviating hipster, and every puppet-mouthed pundit:
He was and he most definitely is the real deal.
Just imagine if he was a sophomore....
They should retire #9 from LSU's availability from henceforth immediately...if we're geauxing to wait for a statue, let's prevent anyone from wearing his number.
This much is clear:
There'll never be another Joe Burrow...there'll never be another 2019/20 LSU Tigers.
No matter how many titles Coach Ed Orgeron may lead our Tigers to in the future, I don't think there could ever be a team as dominant, as professionally unified or as flamboyantly excellent as this group.
From the mix of experience and youth on the powerhouse staff to the NFL-ready showmanship of our players, this team were of the highest quality....to the point this unit could never last...it was never meant to anyway, with Joe Burrow becoming ineligible after January 2020.
Still, there were many others choosing to depart the Bayou in the wake of this title:
Numerous players including Grant Delpit, Patrick Queen, Edwards-Helaire, Justin Jefferson,
and K'Lavon Chaisson deservedly declared for the NFL draft; meanwhile, heralded defensive coordinator Dave Aranda turned away numerous opportunities over the years to stay at LSU;
But after elevating his status this year, Aranda earned the head coaching position we couldn't offer him; what about Joe Brady's arrival as the wunderkind prodigy who altered the course of LSU's history...before his sudden rush back to the NFL.
We weren't surprised by his exit, we just didn't know he'd cut the cord this fast...
The second the trophy had been hoisted, this historic team, this intriguing, mesmerizing, defiant group we couldn't let go of were finally gone and the wild ride was over.
The longest 5 months of our lives had ended in vindicating victory, the players and their coaches forever enshrined as heroes for taking away the pain of starving LSU fans.📷
As the celebratory hugs and glory-road interviews went down, this team exploded into a million pieces: meddlesome media members and bandwagon fans flocking into the players' limelight...it wasn't the players' anymore, it wasn't ours either, it became the world's spectacle to analyze, debate and destroy with extreme prejudice.
After all the confetti has fallen, the tears have been shed, the laughs have been had, the victory speeches and the MVPs, the shots all night at Red Eyes, the cigars smoked, cops smacked on the ass, the fake, real and fake/real money handed out, and the NFL draft / coaching carousel beginning its rotation, there was still one man left in the corner, alone with his own cigar...no cameras around, only shadow, smoke and relief.
Ed was probably thinking about what's next and how they got there and where they go in the aftermath of such resounding success, perhaps even allowing himself to enjoy the surreality of the moment and the long road he'd traveled to get there.
But then, ever the recruiter, Ed most likely ate that ham sandwich he told us he would eat, called up athletic director Scott Woodward with his big ideas going forward, and went to bed that night singing "hold that tiger" in his sleep.
INTREPID, UNCOMPROMISING LIFE
LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2020 Uninterrupted Writings LLC