L.S.U. Wins the Title the Way It Won All Season: Behind Joe Burrow

L.S.U. Wins the Title the Way It Won All Season: Behind Joe Burrow

NEW ORLEANS — When Joe Burrow showed up on Louisiana State’s campus less than two years ago, wooed by a crawfish dinner, the irresistible charms of Coach Ed Orgeron and the opportunity to chase a dream that had been denied him at Ohio State, it was a marriage of convenience.

The gravel-throated coach needed a quarterback he’d never had before, and the baby-faced quarterback needed a team to lead after sitting on the bench for three years in his home state.

The leap of faith each took for the other came to a spectacular conclusion on Monday night, when L.S.U. capped a magical season with a 42-25 victory over Clemson to win the national championship at the Superdome.

L.S.U. did it largely by riding Burrow, who won the Heisman Trophy last month and played to that standard on Monday, using his precise right arm, his nimble legs and his keen football mind to thwart a determined Clemson defense that had been the toughest to score against in the nation this season.

Clemson battered Burrow, sacking him five times, but he nevertheless torched the opposing defenders for 463 yards passing and five touchdowns, running in another as L.S.U. rallied from an early 10-point deficit.

The victory, which snapped Clemson’s winning streak at 29 games, capped one of the most rigorous unbeaten runs any team has ever made. L.S.U. beat six teams that were among the top 13 in the final regular-season College Football Playoff rankings.

Though Clemson was trying to win its third championship in four seasons, Coach Dabo Swinney was well justified this time in playing his familiar lil’ ol’ Clemson card, knowing the game would be played nearly 80 miles from L.S.U.’s home stadium.

Clemson fans turned out, as they regularly do, transforming one end zone into a sea of orange. But as anyone who roamed the streets of the French Quarter in the days leading up to the game might have surmised, this was L.S.U.’s town.

“It’s almost like we’re in another country,” Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons said on Saturday. “Everyone here is L.S.U. There’s not really many of us.”

The three previous L.S.U. national champions had all been crowned in this city, and in the 16 days since the Tigers blew out Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl, their fans had anticipated another title. The crowd, even as it waited to file in, erupted as soon as Burrow came out of the tunnel about 90 minutes before kickoff to warm up, followed by chants of “L-S-U.”

Once the ball was kicked off, with President Trump in attendance, Clemson saw to it that the home-state crowd squirmed in the stands for a little while.

Clemson surged to a 17-7 lead — the largest deficit L.S.U. had faced all season.

But no previous opponents had come close to slowing down the L.S.U. offense, which led the nation in scoring.

Burrow got L.S.U. back on track — not so much with his arm as with his feet.

While Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables used blitzes to bother Burrow when he set up to pass, L.S.U. offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger countered in critical situations with quarterback draws.

Burrow found a crease on third-and-goal to dash 3 yards to bring L.S.U. within 17-14, then ran away from Simmons — the star linebacker — to pick up a first down on a drive that would put L.S.U. ahead for good by dropping a 14-yard pass into the hands of Ja’Marr Chase in the back of the end zone.

And finally, out of timeouts and facing a third-and-10 at the Clemson 35 with 21 seconds left, Burrow took the snap, read the block of center Lloyd Cushenberry III and dashed 29 yards to the Clemson 6 with 14 seconds left. On the next play, Burrow hit tight end Thaddeus Moss wide open in the end zone just as he was leveled by a blitzing linebacker, James Skalski.

The touchdown, with 10 seconds left in the half, was doubly crushing.

The drive had been kept alive when cornerback Derion Kendrick was flagged for interfering with Terrace Marshall Jr. on third-and-19 with L.S.U. pinned at its own 21.

It was precisely the type of mistake that Clemson had repeatedly benefited from against Ohio State in rallying from a 16-point deficit in the semifinal. For the most part on Monday, Clemson was making the errors.

Clemson had another critical error midway through the third quarter: Skalski was ejected for targeting when he lowered his helmet and drilled receiver Justin Jefferson in the head.

The penalty not only aided an L.S.U. touchdown — Burrow threw a short scoring pass to Moss on the next play to put his team ahead, 35-25 — it also deprived Clemson of its defensive bellwether. Swinney wrapped an arm around Skalski and offered a few words before the linebacker headed to the locker room.

After the L.S.U. defense earned another stop, Burrow went to work again, depositing a pass just where Marshall could leap to catch it in the end zone. The reception, with 12:08 to play, did not end the game — but it surely felt as if that was what happened.

The crowd roared moments later when a few strains of the L.S.U. anthem — Garth Brooks’s “Calling Baton Rouge” — was played. Shortly after, Burrow sat on the bench, a smile on his face and waved an arm up and down — mimicking the student section’s singular cheer. The students then followed suit, Burrow once again leading the way.

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