With so many story lines in play and an extra week to build up the hype it would have been no surprise if Monday night’s NCAA championship game between No. 1 LSU and No. 3 Clemson failed to live up to expectations.
Instead, fans of both teams were treated to an instant classic of a football game that will be remembered as one of the best title games ever played.
After a rocky start, Heisman winner Joe Burrow overcame the top-ranked defense in college football and a 10-point deficit to lead the LSU Tigers to their fourth national championship overall and their first since 2007.
The first quarter was unusual in several regards for these two teams. Burrow looked uncharacteristically inaccurate as he was harassed by the front-four of Clemson; the South Carolina Tigers opted for trick plays and conservative calls as they struggled to move the ball in the opening minutes; and both teams punted more than they had in their combined conference championship and first round playoff games.
It wasn’t until the fifth drive of the game, Clemson’s third, that a team finally broke the scoring barrier when Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, after a beauty of a fake-handoff, scampered into the end zone from one-yard out to give his team an early lead.
The Bayou Bengals didn’t manage to find the end-zone until their fourth drive, but then found it in the quick-strike manner to which LSU fans have grown accustomed to over the season win Burrow connected with Biletnikoff winner Ja’marr Chase for a 52-yard bullet to tie the game.
Clemson put ten unanswered points on the board in the next seven minutes, kicking a field goal to close the first quarter and opening the second with a touchdown, to give the Tigers what would be their biggest, and last lead of the night
Burrow finally exploded in the second quarter, and as he has done all season, he did it by putting up almost video game like statistics and shattering long-held records.
After covering 72-yards in two plays, LSU briefly struggled to cross the goal line from the three before Burrow accounted for his second touchdown of the first half with a three-yard designed run around the right end.
On LSUs next possession, after a five-play punt from Clemson, Burrow used all of his weapons, completing passes to Justin Jefferson and Clyde Edwards-Helaire before finding Chase in the end zone for the second time. The six play, 80-yard drive only took two minutes, and just like that, LSU took the lead 21-17.
Another five-play punt from Clemson put the ball back in Burrow’s hands with 3:31 remaining before the half and he took full advantage of the situation. On the strength of a 29-yard run from Edwards-Helaire and a pass interference penalty on Clemson, LSU used the remaining time to score one more touchdown, Burrow to Thaddeus Moss, to lead the Clemson Tigers 28-17 heading into the half.
Clemson’s defense continued to give the Tigers every chance to win the game. After an LSU punt to open the second half, Clemson scored on their first drive of the third quarter and, along with a two-point conversion, closed the gap to a meager three points.
But, then along came Joe.
Burrow had seen the light at the end of the season and he would not be denied the glittering jewel that would cap off the most incredible individual season in college football history.
Engineering two more scoring drives, one in the third quarter and the second in the fourth, Burrow found Moss for his record setting 59th passing touchdown of the season and then found Chase again to put the icing on the cake with his CFP single-game record setting sixth touchdown of the night.
Burrow finished the season as the single season record holder for touchdown passes (60); the single season record holder in touchdowns accounted for by a player (65); the record for total combined yards in a national title game (521); and the all-time passer rating (204.6).
He led the most prolific scoring team in NCAA history as the Tigers racked up 726 points in the 2019-2020 campaign and he finished third overall in passing yards in a single season with 5,671 yards through the air.
On their way to the trophy, the LSU Tigers defeated eight top-ten teams, including Clemson and Oklahoma in the playoffs, and finished as only the second 15-0 team to claim the NCAA Championship trophy.