Before the 2019 season started, members of the LSU football team, knowing the national championship game would be in New Orleans, about 80 miles away from their campus, made a resolution: They would not be denied.
“We had to be there,” quarterback Joe Burrow told reporters Saturday. “We weren’t going to be at home on the couch watching two teams coming in our state and watching them on TV.”
On Monday, in front of a pro-LSU crowd — as well as President Donald Trump — the Tigers of Baton Rouge capped off a dominant season, winning the College Football Playoff national championship game, beating last year’s champion, Clemson, 42-25 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to finish 15-0.
It’s a location where LSU has had previous success, having won national championships there in the 2007 and 2003 seasons during the Bowl Championship Series era. This is LSU’s first appearance in the College Football Playoff, which began in the 2014 season.
This year, LSU won in historic fashion, with seven of LSU’s 15 wins coming against teams that were ranked in the top 10. Ranked first in the nation in scoring and total offense, LSU had trailed just five times all season — and never in the fourth quarter — entering Monday night’s title game.
However, in an unfamiliar sight, LSU initially got pushed around by Clemson and was down 17-7 in the second quarter. But led by Burrow, LSU would score 21 unanswered points to close the half. Clemson would get within three in the third quarter but could get no closer.
Burrow, winner of the Heisman Trophy and likely top overall pick in this spring’s NFL draft, graduated in three years from Ohio State. He didn’t get a lot of playing time when he was with the Buckeyes, so he transferred to LSU in 2018.
But while it was known Burrow had talent, the college football landscape didn’t expect this. On Monday, Burrow broke the NCAA single-season record for passing touchdowns in a season, with 60. For the night, Burrow completed 31 passes on 49 attempts for 463 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. Burrow also rushed for 58 yards and one score.
For Clemson, the 2019 season narrative was that even though the Tigers kept winning, they had a weak schedule and hadn’t been challenged. They entered the College Football Playoff ranked third, behind fellow undefeated teams in No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Ohio State.
They passed their first test, in the College Football Playoff semifinals against the Buckeyes, as Clemson rallied from a 16-0 deficit to win the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona.
But they could not handle LSU in New Orleans. Clemson’s 29-game win streak has been snapped, denying the Tigers back-to-back titles and their third in four years. It’s also the first loss for sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence, already seen as potentially the No. 1 pick of the 2021 NFL draft, who had gone 25-0 as Clemson’s starter.