LSU's win was about more than Joe Burrow, but, boy, he was the biggest part of it
This was about much more than just Joe Burrow.
But, boy, he was the biggest part of it.
Burrow essentially won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday during No. 2 LSU’s 46-41 victory over No. 3 Alabama in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
He threw 39 passes. He completed 31, including his first 13. He threw for 393 yards and 3 touchdowns (with no interceptions). He ran 14 times for 64 yards.
He did lose a fumble, but so what?
Burrow did what he has been doing all year – making excellent decisions, demonstrating poise and toughness, picking apart opposing defenses with surgeon-like precision, answering every threat to his team with clutch play after clutch play.
But this was different.
This was Alabama. The program that had beaten LSU 8 times in a row. Nick Saban’s program. Nick Saban’s team. Nick Saban’s defense.
When Saban went for it on 4th-and-1 at the LSU 49, down just 16-7 early in the 2nd quarter, the Alabama coach was admitting he didn’t know how to slow down Burrow and the LSU offense. He was saying he needed to try and keep that drive alive and get points because he had no margin for error in trying to keep up.
The Crimson Tide didn’t get the first down. And they couldn’t keep up, though they did get within 3 points later in the quarter.
Then Burrow answered with a drive to a field goal. Then a drive to a touchdown.
Then Saban felt it slipping away and showed his anxiety again when Bama took over at its 29 with just 26 seconds left in the half. Feeling a desperate need to try and add some points before the half, the Tide went to the air.
Patrick Queen intercepted Tua Tagavaolia and after Queen’s return and a penalty on Bama, the Tigers had the ball at the Bama 13. Time for one play, maybe two before a field goal. Burrow needed one – a 13-yard touchdown pass to Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
That made it 33-13 at the half. Remember Clemson blowing out Bama in the title game last year? It had 31 at the half.
Sure the Tide were going to come back. They actually held Burrow and the Tigers scoreless in the 3rd quarter and got within 13.
They got within 6 and Burrow produced a touchdown. They got within 5 and Burrow produced a touchdown.
Bama’s best chance of winning the game actually came after it fell seemingly helplessly behind 46-34 with less than 2 minutes left.
That’s when Derek Stingley Jr. inexplicably let Bama’s DeVonta Smith get behind him for an 85-yard touchdown pass.
But it was so late that the Tide had to try an onside kick. Only by not giving the ball back to Burrow could they get the consecutive scores they needed to win. That was true because of the time constraints, but it basically had been true throughout the game.
It was a long shot, but not as long a shot as sending the defense out there to try and force a 3-and-out. It didn’t matter when Justin Jefferson secured the onside kick, Edwards-Helaire bulled his way to a first down and Burrow kneeled it out.
How good was Burrow? He was so good that Edwards-Helaire was only the second-best Tiger on the field.
Edwards-Helaire had as good a game as an LSU running back has had in recent memory – 20 rushes, 103 yards, 3 touchdowns, 9 catches, 79 receiving yards, 1 touchdown catch.
It wasn’t just that he made a big play virtually every time he touched the ball, it was that nearly every big play came at a crucial point in the game and prevented the Tide from getting the game turned in their favor.
It’s easy to focus exclusively on the offense when LSU scores the most points it ever has against Alabama, which it did. And the receivers and tight end Thaddeus Moss and the offensive line also deserve atta-boys.
But there were defensive heroes on a unit that allowed 541 yards. The defensive line played its best game of the year and its best against Alabama at least since the 10-0 loss in 2016 if not since the epic 9-6 overtime win in 2011 that preceded the 8-game losing streak that ended Saturday.
The defense was outstanding in the first half and struggled in the second half, not unlike the win against Texas back in the September, but this was a much more formidable opponent. Rashard Lawrence, Tyler Shelvin, K’Lavon Chaisson and others set the tone
Dave Aranda had near-perfect balance by blitzing and not selling out. LSU pressured Tagovailoa without putting too much pressure on its defensive backs against Bama’s elite receivers.
Yeah, there were lots of yards and points by Bama in the second half, but the defense had helped produce a cushion that Burrow would never let get away.
The special teams had some hiccups, but Cade York, who has had a shaky freshman season, was 2-for-2 on field goals in a game decided by 5 points.
There was more.
LSU had fewer turnovers than Alabama.
LSU had fewer penalties than Alabama.
LSU was less confused than Alabama.
Ed Orgeron was less confused than Saban.
Joe Burrow cemented his place in LSU lore.
And he brought a lot of friends with him.