Can just one play in a season be the spark that transforms a good football team into a great one?
The 15-0 LSU Tigers won this year’s NCAA college football national championship game last night in New Orleans with a convincing 42-25 win over the very tough defending champions from Clemson.
LSU found itself trailing by 17-7 early in this game, but there was no sign of panic on the Bayou Bengals sideline Monday night.
After all, this team had gained an element of confidence during the final minutes of their second game of the season. There was one play which transformed the LSU of old into the LS-New team of 2019.
Let’s set the stage.
In week two of the season, #6 LSU was on the road playing a nationally televised prime-time game against the #9-rated Texas Longhorns in Austin. LSU grabbed a 20-7 first half lead, but the Horns mounted a second half comeback against the Tigers.
With LSU’s lead down to seven points with about four minutes remaining in the game, the Tigers faced a third down and 17 yards to go play call at their own 39-yard line. About 100,000 rowdy Texas fans sensed a chance to get the ball back and tie the football game with one more touchdown in the closing minutes.
Besides, it’s third down and 17 yards to go for LSU, right?
Everyone in the stadium and watching on television knew that LSU ALWAYS plays conservatively coming down the stretch in a tight football game. It was in their DNA.
In the long and proud history of LSU football, past teams guided by head coaches like Charley McClendon, Nick Saban, and Les Miles were known as “ground and pound” football squads which could win games with smash-mouth running plays on offense and a rugged defense ready to make key stops in order to preserve the team’s hard fought victories.
So, on this early September night in Texas, the odds were heavy that LSU (now coached by Louisiana native Ed Orgeron) would opt for a conservative play to run the clock on third down and 17 yards to go with just four minutes left to play in the game.
Yes, the history of the visitors from Baton Rouge suggested that LSU would likely try some type of running play or short pass play. The Tigers offense would hope for the best, and, if needed, punt the ball back to the Longhorns and hope their defense would preserve the victory.
But tonight would be oh so different for this team of 2019 LSU Tigers.
On this night in Austin, LSU’s transfer quarterback from Ohio State, Joe Burrow, was having a career-best game up to this point. The Tigers were passing the ball all over the field against Texas that night. Joe Burrow would finish the game with an amazing (by LSU standards) 471 yards passing and four touchdowns.
But, with third down and 17 late in the fourth quarter and the ball on their own side of the field, LSU fans were conditioned to expect a conservative call in this situation.
Then something amazing happened right before our eyes.
That purple and gold ground-based LSU caterpillar suddenly transformed.
That simple creature, known for staying close to the ground all its life, sprouted wings late in the game against Texas and took the air when the chips were down against the home-team Longhorns.
Gasp! Joe Burrow dropped back to pass, dodged a few incoming Texas defenders, and tossed a beautiful deep pass to wide receiver Justin Jefferson for a 61-yard touchdown to give LSU a 14-point lead at 45-31.
Though Texas scored again and nearly recovered a late on-sides kick to have a final chance at victory, LSU took home a 45-38 win which would forever change this 2019 squad.
The nation witnessed the LSU Tigers transform from a team mostly focused on running the ball into a bona-fide pass-happy football team. This squad was already loaded with talent, but it found a new chemistry and big dose of confidence that would soon carry them to a national championship.
After the Texas game, Coach Orgeron said, “I think if they get the ball back, it would have been a different story. A phenomenal call, a phenomenal catch, a phenomenal play.“
With one play, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow transformed from a very good college quarterback into a Heisman Trophy candidate (which he later won in a landslide).
With that one play, LSU’s group of talented receivers blossomed into a confident group of players who knew that their quarterback and coaching staff could count on them to make the big plays in the big games, too.
With that one play, LSU fans rejoiced to see their football team would now play to win in the fourth quarter rather than relying on their stingy defense to help preserve a victory.
With that one play, LSU Coach Ed Orgeron knew that this team was capable of something special together.
With that one play, the LSU team was injected with a dose of confidence which helped to take down arch-enemy Alabama in November to end an agonizing seven year losing streak to Coach Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide bullies of the SEC West.
With that one play, the LSU football team and their very loud and proud fans everywhere could see the incredible possibilities for this special football team in 2019.
With that one play – third and 17 yards to go – late in the night in Austin, Texas, there was no turning back for this LSU team.
This was a team on a mission.
Playing in the toughest college football conference in the country, the SEC’s Bayou Bengal Tigers defeated an unprecedented seven teams in the AP Top 10 during this unbeaten 2019 college football run.
Texas (#9), Florida (#7), Auburn (#9), Alabama (#3), Georgia (#4), Oklahoma (#4), and Clemson (#3) all went down to this special 15-0 team of LSU Tigers.
LSU’s precision passing game set numerous school and SEC records along with a few national records which may last for a long time. Joe Burrow’s national record of sixty (that’s right, 60) touchdown passes this season gave him an incredible average of four touchdown throws per game!
Remember, we’re talking about Louisiana State University.
LSU – the team which had been nationally known for recent great running backs like Leonard Fournette, Derrius Guice, and countless others.
But LSU is also a team which has produced NFL standout wide receivers like Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, and D.J. Chark into the league recently. Those players can only dream of having played for a team which passed the ball down the field like this 2019 edition of the LSU Tigers.
Yes, the proverbial genie was let out of the bottle on that third down and 17 yards to go play late in the game in Austin, Texas in early September.
A purple and gold butterfly took to the air that night and transformed the LSU football program forever more.
This group of LSU Tigers has provided the nation’s college football fans with a much-needed shot of energy and excitement, too.
Before this season began, the national talk had been that Clemson and Alabama had separated themselves from the field with one of those two teams a virtual lock to win college football’s finale every year. For the last four seasons, Clemson and Bama had won two BCS titles apiece.
Today, many fans in the college football world (outside of South Carolina and Alabama) say a hearty, “Thank you, LSU!” Hope has been renewed for teams across the college football spectrum.
Congratulations on your fourth national championship in the modern era, LSU!
This group of Tigers certainly earned their wings (and championship rings) with flying colors this season.
Purple and gold, that is!