NEW ORLEANS – Joe Burrow and No. 1 LSU figured to face their toughest challenge of the season against No. 3 Clemson on Monday night.

And they did.

Clemson played like a defending champion, like a team that had won 29 games in a row, led by a quarterback who was 25-0 as a college starter, as well prepared as it could have been by an elite coaching staff.

It didn’t matter.

LSU had Burrow. Clemson didn’t.

That was the difference. Period.

Burrow passed for 463 yards. He threw 5 touchdown passes. He ran for a touchdown. He finished the season with 60 touchdowns – the most ever. He accounted for 65 touchdowns – the most ever.

He wasn’t perfect. After all, he threw 18 incompletions, which is about how many he threw per month during his Heisman Trophy-winning regular season.

But he was in control always. He was in control when LSU punted on its first 3 possessions. He was in control when Clemson took a 10-point lead in the 2nd quarter for LSU’s biggest deficit of the season.

He needed 81 seconds to reduce the lead to 3. Less than 4 minutes later he had LSU ahead. By the time halftime came he had LSU up by 11.

Clemson got within 3 early in the 3rd quarter, but it never felt like LSU’s lead was in jeopardy.

Burrow threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Thaddeus Moss for a 10-point lead after 3 quarters. He threw a 24-yarder to Terrace Marshall early in the 4th quarter to complete the scoring.

The LSU defense held Clemson to those 8 points in the 2nd half. But if the defense had allowed another score or 2 or 3, Burrow would have answered with another score or 2 or 3.

That’s the way this game felt. That’s the way this whole season felt.

It felt that way against Texas, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Georgia and Oklahoma. Those were the other top 10 teams LSU beat. Burrow was the difference each time.

LSU was always in control. When the defense had struggles. When the offensive line had to deal with injuries and suspensions.

None of that mattered because LSU always had Burrow. He was always in control so LSU never lost control – not of a single game, not of this seemingly inevitable march to a championship.

Burrow said multiple times during the days leading up the game that Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables is really good at disguising what he’s doing and confusing the quarterback.

It was going to take a lot of film study as well as an adjustment period once the game started, Burrow said.

He was right. And he was ready.

Early on, Clemson had a big advantage in field position and its defensive line got some pressure on Burrow and got in his line of vision.

Burrow was a half-beat less decisive than normal and LSU couldn’t sustain anything. At least not right away.

Then on a seemingly innocuous running play, Clyde Edwards-Helaire channeled his Alabama self. He ran hard, he put his shoulder down, he broke a tackle. He gained a mere 8 yards but he immediately brought to life an LSU crowd that didn’t know what to make of an absence of points for nearly a quarter.

On the next play Burrow found Ja’Marr Chase for a 52-yard touchdown and the score was tied at 7 after one quarter. The Biletnikoff Award winner finished with 9 catches for 221 yards and 2 touchdowns. He set the SEC single-season record with 20 TD catches.

But Clemson wasn’t fazed. It scored the first 10 points of the 2nd quarter.

LSU scored the last 21 as Burrow ran 3 yards and threw passes of 14 yards to Chase and 6 yards to Moss.

All of a sudden it was LSU 28, Clemson 17. Suddenly LSU had 359 yards. Suddenly this game was just like all the rest.

The scoreboard said Clemson was in it until late in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t really.

Burrow was always in control. Of this game. Of this season.

A season that belonged to him. That belonged to LSU.