Just because LSU is headed for a championship game in New Orleans doesn’t mean the Tigers will win it – though they have twice this century. But their most recent title tilt in the Superdome saw the Tigers lose in abject fashion. That came Jan. 9, 2012, when they mustered 53 yards, five first downs and zero points against Alabama. This will be the first and last time these Tigers are likened to those.
Here was LSU’s first-quarter yield against Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff semifinal Saturday – 211 yards, nine first downs, 21 points. Those 15 minutes were just the beginning. Eight years after a top-ranked band of Tigers acted as if they’d never heard of a forward pass, another top-ranked LSU crew lifted the aerial game to heights unseen in the annals of the collegiate game.
Three weeks earlier under the same Mercedes-Benz Stadium roof, LSU shredded Georgia’s stout defense for 37 points and 481 yards. Against Oklahoma – owner of the best defense in the Big 12, not that the Big 12 is to be confused with the SEC – Joe Burrow and his merry mates had 361 yards not six minutes into the second quarter.
By then, Burrow had thrown five touchdown passes, Justin Jefferson catching four of them. By then, a contest had been rendered a showcase.
It was 35-7 with 9:17 left in the half. Oklahoma drove to a touchdown to slice its deficit to … er, 21. Question: How long would LSU need to respond? Answer: two plays and 21 seconds. Chris Curry, subbing for the slightly ailing Clyde Edwards-Helaire, rushed for 13 yards. Burrow found a scandalously open Thaddeus Moss for a 62-yard touchdown.
But wait. The half wasn’t quite over. Burrow had one more drive and one more touchdown pass in him, this one to Terrace Marshall, his second score of the game. That made it – pause for breath – 49-14. At halftime of a playoff game. At HALFTIME, we say again. LSU had – this is beyond belief – 497 yards in two quarters, 403 on Burrow’s passing.
Final score: LSU 63, Oklahoma 28. Had the Tigers wanted, they might have had 80. Even if you can cite chapter and verse regarding the proliferation of offense via the run/pass option, this was still astonishing. This was LSU – borrowing from the distinguished Atlantan Bobby Jones on Jack Nicklaus – playing a game with which we’re not familiar. How else to describe those 30 minutes that saw Burrow throw more touchdown passes (seven) than incompletions (six)?
Said LSU coach Ed Orgeron: “It didn’t surprise me (his offense) did what they did. It did surprise me the ease with which they did it.”
The two greatest collegiate seasons I’ve seen in 40 years of doing this are Herschel Walker as a freshman and Cam Newton at Auburn. Burrow has now ascended my podium. True confession: I saw him in person last year when LSU trounced Georgia in Baton Rouge, and I thought he was a decent quarterback – but not an exceptional one.
I wasn’t alone. Check the all-conference selections from SEC Media Days in July. First-team quarterback: Tua Tagovailoa. Second-team: Jake Fromm. Third-team: Kellen Mond. Joe Burrow: nowhere.
Now we ask: Joe Burrow, greatest college quarterback ever? (I’m not kidding. That’s a conversation we should have.)
It isn’t, we stipulate, just Burrow. He has four estimable receivers. On most days, he has Edwards-Helaire as a thumping counterpoint. He has a passing-game coordinator in Joe Brady, imported from the New Orleans Saints to bring LSU to the glistening edge of its sport. But no offense works if the quarterback can’t make throws. Burrow makes every throw, and his receivers snag ’em all. What Tagovailoa and Alabama did last year, Burrow and the Tigers have seen and raised.
“I trust my guys,” Burrow said. “I trust them to get the 50-50 balls.”
Asked about LSU, which he had seen three seasons running while with Alabama, Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts said: “The obvious difference is that they’re scoring 50-some points.”
That’s not to crown this the greatest team ever – it has one game remaining, and Clemson is better than Georgia and Oklahoma – but has there ever been an offense so irresistible? You might recall Oklahoma losing 55-19 to USC in the BCS title game of January 2005, but the Sooners turned the ball over five times, a muffed punt by the unfortunately named Mark Bradley among those, to make it easy for Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush.
Oklahoma made one turnover this night. LSU simply took whatever it wanted. Its first eight touchdown drives: 42 yards, 75, 86, 80, 55, 75, 63 and 74. The last of those ended with Burrow barreling over the goal line. He can run a bit, too. He can do whatever the heck he wants. Remember when the Heisman Trophy jinx was considered a thing? Burrow took his trophy and then had his greatest game. He finished with 493 yards passing. He was responsible for eight touchdowns.
He also had a post-Heisman moment. Remember his two reverse-pivots-leading-to-a-61-yard-throw-and-Jefferson-catch against Georgia? From the same spot on the MBS turf, he did something similar. On third-and-2 at the LSU 22, he dodged right and, approaching the sideline with safety Eric Gallegos about to slam into him, Burrow whirled and delivered what appeared to be a classic throwaway. Only it wasn’t. It was hauled down 30 yards upfield by a leaping Marshall, who somehow kept a foot inbounds. Amazing. (Again.)
About Oklahoma, what can we say? In its past three CFP appearances, it has yielded 54 points to Georgia in double overtime, 45 to Alabama and now 63. The Big 12 remains the one Power 5 league without a playoff victory, and we can’t say the Sooners are getting closer.
Then again, LSU might be so good that nobody can get close. Clemson will try, but that game will be staged in Louisiana. And Les Miles won’t be coaching the Tigers, and Jordan Jefferson isn’t the quarterback. Joe Burrow is.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.