NEW ORLEANS — As it turned out, the game wasn’t as close as their rankings.
Playing in front of what could have easily been mistaken for a home crowd at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the No. 1 LSU Tigers capped their undefeated season with a convincing 42-25 win over No. 3 and defending national champion Clemson on Monday night. It was LSU’s fourth national championship game appearance in the BCS/CFP era, and all four games were played at the Superdome, where LSU is now 3-1 in national title games.
With the win, LSU snapped Clemson’s 29-game winning streak before a crowd of 76,885. The two programs are in elite company, as LSU joined Clemson in the sport’s exclusive 15-win club, becoming just the second team in the past 120 seasons to win 15 games (Clemson did it last season). Here’s a look at the key moments that led to LSU’s national championship in coach Ed Orgeron’s home state:
WAIT, WHERE’S THE OFFENSE?
In a game that featured two of the top four scoring offenses in the country and Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, the defenses dominated the first quarter. Six of the first seven drives were punts — three for Clemson and three for LSU. It was the first time since Nov. 3, 2018, against Alabama, that LSU failed to score on its first three possessions.
CLEMSON STRIKES FIRST
It was one of the toughest rushing touchdowns of the game — and it was scored by a wide receiver. Tee Higgins took off down the left side of the field, shrugged off one tackle and then lowered his shoulder and delivered a blow to cornerback Kristian Fulton as he ran 36 yards into the end zone, well aware of how close his feet were to the boundary line. It capped a four-play, 96-yard drive and gave Clemson a short-lived 17-7 lead.
LSU FLIPS THE SWITCH
LSU’s 10-point deficit, its largest of the season, lasted a whopping 81 seconds as the Tigers scored on their following possession to take a 28-17 lead. LSU had 90 yards and seven points in the first quarter. In the second? The Tigers had 269 yards and 21 points. It was an uncharacteristic stretch for the Clemson defense, which entered the game leading the nation in scoring defense at 11.5 points per game.
One of the biggest mistakes was when Derion Kendrick was flagged for a pass interference call on third-and-19, extending the scoring drive that gave LSU a 28-17 lead.
“We had pretty good position, but just dumb stuff, man,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said at the half.
The last time Clemson allowed at least 28 points in a first half was in the 2012 Orange Bowl against West Virginia (49 points). No quarterback had three touchdown passes in a game against Clemson this season, and Burrow managed the feat in the first half.
JOE vs. TREVOR
Both quarterbacks had phenomenal seasons, but in the first half, Burrow reminded everyone why he was the Heisman winner. He joined Vince Young in the category of players with 250 passing yards, 50 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown in a national championship game — and he did it all in the first half.
“We had some bad field position in the beginning, but we started clicking on offense,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said on the field at halftime. “We figured out what they were going to do.”
Trevor Lawrence, meanwhile, had a career-high eight overthrows in the first half, and 12 total. He completed just 18 of 37 attempts with no touchdowns. Burrow had five passing touchdowns.
Joe Burrow just completed the gr8est college season ever by a player. Consider the records broken, Heisman and National Championship. Who had a better one?
— shannon sharpe (@ShannonSharpe) January 14, 2020
Trevor Lawrence still an outstanding QB quit the shenanigans…..
LSU IS UNBELIEVABLE POINT BLANK PERIOD
— Dez Bryant (@DezBryant) January 14, 2020
BURROW’S TOP TARGET
As impressive as Burrow was, he couldn’t have done it without Ja’Marr Chase, who racked up 162 yards and two touchdowns on six catches — all in the first half. Through three quarters, Burrow was 8-of-11 for 218 yards, six first downs and two touchdowns when targeting Chase.
He became the first player with 100 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns in the first half of a national title game (BCS or CFP) since Miami’s Andre Johnson in the 2002 Rose Bowl. Chase became the first SEC player with 20 receiving touchdowns in a season.
FROM TARGETING TO TOUCHDOWN
With 5:39 left in the third quarter, Clemson middle linebacker James Skalski was disqualified for the rest of the game for targeting on LSU receiver Justin Jefferson. The penalty gave LSU first-and-goal from the 4-yard line, and Burrow found Thaddeus Moss for the touchdown.
The crowd chanted “L-S-U! L-S-U! L-S-U!” as the touchdown was reviewed and then erupted again when the call was confirmed, giving the Tigers the 35-25 lead — and the momentum.
YOU GOT MOSS’D
Moss, who caught two touchdown passes, also snagged a 13-yard pass in the fourth quarter that sustained what would be the touchdown drive that drained the life out of Clemson fans and gave LSU a 42-25 lead.