The LSU Tigers broke through the stranglehold that Alabama and Clemson have had on the college football playoff championships. LSU knocked off Clemson 42-25 Monday at the Super Dome for their first national championship title since 2007. The game went as the season did for LSU on the shoulders of Joe Burrow.
LSU Takes The Title
After the first few LSU drives, no one could have seen this coming. The Tigers had 20 net yards of offense after their first three drives. Clemson came out in a 3-1-7 defensive scheme, and LSU failed to figure out where the pressure was coming from. Quarterback Joe Burrow, who spent the season with a strong throwing pocket, was under constant pressure early. He started the game four of nine for 25 yards.
Clemson opened the scoring, after two punts of its own, with five-play 67-yard drive that was capped by a Trevor Lawrence one-yard run, untouched to the right for the touchdown.
LSU Finds Offense
LSU finally unloaded a more balanced offensive attack late in the first quarter. Burrow completed a seven-yard pass to Thaddeus Moss, and then got 11 yards on two runs by Clyde Edwards-Helaire. That caused the Clemson defense to start to creep up on the line a little more. Burrow responded by finding Ja’Marr Chase in single coverage and connecting for a 52-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7.
Clemson got a career-long 52-yard field goal from B.T. Potter early in the second quarter to take the 10-7 lead.
Clemson extended the lead to 17-7 with a 96-yard drive that took only four plays. Lawrence found Justyn Ross for 24 yards. Etienne picked up 32 yards on two carries. Then the Tigers got a 36-yard end around from Higgins where he lowered his shoulder to run over the defensive back to get into the end zone.
LSU answered on the ensuing drive. The Tigers played like a team that has faced a tough schedule and did not wilt in the deficit. Burrow found Chase, again in one-on-one coverage, for a 56-yard gain. Three plays later, Burrow caught Clemson in their defensive aggressiveness. On a third and goal, Clemson blitzed, but Burrow ran right through it on a quarterback draw for a touchdown. The Clemson lead was down to three points at 17-14 halfway through the second quarter.
Burrow Starts To Look Like Burrow
LSU took a 21-17 lead with a six-play, 87-yard drive that barely took two minutes. The offense started to neutralize the impact of Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons by moving Burrow in the pocket more. Simmons could not defend the receiver in the slant and spy on Burrow. The result was three straight completed passes for 63 yards. Edwards-Helaire had one of the receptions and put his hand on the sideline after the reception. He picked up another eight yards after that. But LSU snapped the next play before the Pac 12 refs could buzz down for a replay. Burrow would eventually throw a picture-perfect pass over the outside shoulder of Chase for a 14-yard touchdown in the back corner of the end zone.
Burrow put an exclamation point on the first half, leading LSU on a 95-yard drive that took most of the remaining 3:30 of the half. On third down with no timeouts left to stop the clock, Burrow ran on quarterback draw for 29 yards and got out of bounds at the Clemson six-yard line. On the next play, he found Moss wide open in the front of the end zone for the touchdown and a 28-17 lead.
For all the sluggishness at the beginning of the game, (each team punting on their first two possessions), the two teams combined for 645 yards of offense in the first half. LSU had 265 yards and 21 points in the second quarter alone. Burrow was 16 of 28 for 270 and three touchdowns in the first half. He also had a net of 55 yards rushing and a touchdown on the ground.
Clemson responded exactly how you would expect the reigning national champions to. The defense held LSU to three and out on the opening drive of the second half. The Clemson offense responded, aided by two costly LSU penalties, went 50-yards on six plays for the touchdown. Lawrence scrambled for seven yards to the LSU 29, and was helped by a face mask penalty, moving it to the 14. Three consecutive runs from Etienne put the ball in the end zone. Clemson added a two-point conversion to make the score 28-25.
LSU started the second half on offense much like the first half. Twice they went three and out. On the third drive, Burrow took them downfield highlighted with a 43-yard reception to Chase. On third and 11, Burrow dumped it off to Chase for seven yards, but the receiver sprinted along the sidelines and broke tackles for another 36 yards to the Clemson 16-yard line. Burrow connected with Justin Jefferson for another seven yards. In addition, Clemson linebacker James Skalski was called for targeting. That moved it down to the Clemson four-yard line. From there Burrow threw a slant pass to Moss who dove for the pylon and the touchdown. LSU had a double digit lead again at 35-25.
Burrow put the game out of reach with an eight play, scoring 57-yard drive. He kept the drive alive with his legs, buying time in the backfield with his legs. The drive culminated with a 24-yard touchdown pass to a leaping Terrace Marshall for a 42-25 lead early in the fourth quarter. It was Burrow’s fifth touchdown pass of the game.
There were too many points and not enough time for Clemson to come back. Lawrence had a very pedestrian performance. He was 18 of 37 for 234 yards and no touchdowns and a fumble in the closing minutes of the game. It was his first loss in a college game, as Clemson’s streak ends at 29 games.
Burrow was big in his final college game. He was 31 of 49 for 463 yards and five touchdown passes. He also had one rushing touchdown, as they finish 15-0 in Ed Orgeron’s fourth year in Baton Rouge.
LSU Takes the Title Photo:
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – JANUARY 13: Joe Burrow #9 of the LSU Tigers reacts to a touchdown against Clemson Tigers during the third quarter in the College Football Playoff National Championship game at Mercedes Benz Superdome on January 13, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)