If anybody ever had more fun than LSU and its devotees had in the autumn of 2019, then we all should get to see it. Even as it wore mostly white in its 37-10 wreckage of No. 4 Georgia on Saturday in the SEC championship game, No. 2 LSU is headed for the playoff at 13-0 and as an apparent superteam with an enviable level of collaboration and a rare knack for adaptation.
LSU in 2019 has remade LSU, remade 58-year-old coach Ed Orgeron, remade quarterback Joe Burrow, remade long-overlooked 5-foot-8 running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire from Baton Rouge, remade life in Baton Rouge. Against a wall Saturday night, a man credited with a heap of the remaking, 30-year-old passing coordinator and former William & Mary wide receiver and film geek Joe Brady, said of his receivers: “I want them dancing every single time they get in the end zone. That’s what football’s all about. Football’s — you’re supposed to be having fun.”
The color purple should feel like that.
Now they’re headed to LSU’s first College Football Playoff, and they’re so deeply realized that Orgeron said: “I told the team: ‘It doesn’t matter. It don’t matter where they rank us, where they tell us to go.’ ”
Said Burrow: “We’ll play anybody, anywhere. I said in the postgame, ‘You can take us to Canada; we’ll play on a gravel lot.’ ”
They’re all dazzling signals of human aspiration. Orgeron used to be the guy who coached at Mississippi and Southern California and probably functioned better as an assistant; now he’s the guy who figured out the answers with humility and perseverance. Burrow used to be the guy who couldn’t quite nab the starting job at Ohio State in spring 2018; now he’s the marvel who will win the Heisman Trophy next weekend in late fall 2019. Edwards-Helaire used to be the guy the evaluators snubbed; now he’s the guy of irresistible skill and will.
Will this season dance in his head at age 80?
“Yes, sir,” Edwards-Helaire said.
What were the chances, even 18 months ago, that Burrow and Edwards-Helaire would walk out of Mercedes-Benz Stadium together, having done what they’ve done and known what they know?
On top of all their pizazz, the Tigers are together in the way the best teams are together. Of Burrow, Orgeron said: “In my opinion, he should win [the Heisman]. In my opinion, he’s going to win it. But the best thing about Joe? He’s a team player.”
On the interview dais where Burrow sat next to cornerback sensation Derek Stingley Jr., Burrow interjected unasked to a question about Stingley and said: “In case anybody forgets, Derek’s a true freshman. In case anybody forgets. I forget it a lot.” In turn, Stingley said, “The only reason I’m in this position is because of everybody else on the defense.”
Orgeron spoke of how Burrow “kept his mouth shut, worked hard and eventually he took over this football team. This is his team.” Burrow spoke of the budding star Stingley, “Derek’s as humble of a guy as I’ve ever seen. . . . You see [major recruits] time and time again and they’re all cocky and loud, and Derek didn’t say a word for three months.” Stingley spoke of Burrow teaching him how college differed from high school because in college, one must recover from the horror of not being able to make every single play. Burrow said of the unity: “When I first got here, I felt like, you have the offense, and you have the defense. Now you have LSU.”
They reshape realities, of themselves and even of entrenched forces such as Georgia’s defense, which had allowed more than 300 yards only thrice this season, and never more than 343, but just saw LSU romp for 481. Edwards-Helaire said of Burrow’s adaptive skills, “Joe likes to be in tough situations because that’s just how Joe is, and he always finds his way out of tough situations because that’s how great Joe is.”
Burrow spoke of a 71-yard pass to Justin Jefferson and said, “It was all improvisation. Just ran a six-yard hitch route and saw me scramble and just took off downfield.” He told of how so many teams have tried to defend LSU in a way they haven’t defended in previous games — Georgia, for one, tried to do it like Auburn, which had held LSU to 23 — that, “Look, every single week, you know, you watch film all week. . . . We go in and we see something [every week] that they haven’t done all year. . . . I’m starting to tell the coaches, ‘Why do I even watch film?’ ”
Even their defense, seen as a blemish much of the season, has jelled.
“In the spring,” Orgeron said. “I could see ’em coming together,” with the sprouting of “the spread offense LSU fans have been waiting for a long time.” Now, 13 gaudy games later, with dizzying wins at Alabama and pretty much Georgia if you count Atlanta, they’ve proved what Edwards-Helaire said: “This team is a team that always had its eyes set up for bigger goals.”
They’ve splashed 621 points across three months, scored 50 points or more six times, 40 or more 10 times, 37 against stout Georgia, with Burrow’s 48 touchdowns to six interceptions and Edwards-Helaire’s 16 rushing touchdowns and two 1,000-yard receivers (Ja’Marr Chase and Jefferson) and even a kicker (Cade York) leading the SEC in scoring. They’ve dispensed so much evolution and so much vividness that the eye barely can keep up.
Live updates and highlights, by Jacob Bogage in Washington, can be found below.
December 7, 2019 at 7:55 PM EST
LSU 37, Georgia 10
Dominant LSU sealed its spot in the College Football Playoff with a 37-10 win over Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game on Saturday in Atlanta.
The No. 2 Tigers (13-0, 8-0 SEC) looked so superb — their offense in sync, their defense suffocating — that they made a compelling case to overtake No. 1 Ohio State, the favorite to win the Big Ten title later Saturday night, to earn the top seed in playoff.
Meanwhile, No. 4 Georgia (11-2, 7-1) is in store for a fretful night. No. 5 Utah lost in the Pac-12 title game Friday night, and was thus eliminated from playoff contention. But No. 6 Oklahoma held off No. 7 Baylor in overtime to win the Big 12, a result that went final moments before the Tigers and Bulldogs kicked off. If the selection committee is bent on taking only undefeated and one-loss teams, it will leave Georgia behind and take the Sooners as the fourth and final team to play for a national championship.
On Saturday night in Atlanta, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow wowed again, passing for four touchdowns and 349 yards on 28-of-38 passing. He picked apart a Bulldog defense that entered the game having allowed the fewest touchdowns in the nation and the fourth-fewest yards. The Tigers, though, put up 481 yards of total offense. Even as Georgia held the LSU rushing attack in check, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire still managed 118 total yards as a both a ball carrier and receiver out of the backfield.
Offensively, Georgia was entirely overmatched by the LSU defense, somehow considered the team’s weak spot entering the game. Freshman cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. intercepted Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm twice. Georgia was held to fewer than 100 yards rushing for the first time all year. By the time Burrow connected with Justin Jefferson for his fourth score at the end of the third quarter, many Georgia fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium filed for the exit.
With about four minutes left after LSU picked up a clock-winding first down, he walked off the field for backup Myles Brennan to chants of “Joe for Heisman!”
December 7, 2019 at 7:35 PM EST
LSU adds more
It’s a 50-yard field goal for Cade York, and it’s more style points for the playoff selection committee to consider. (LSU 37, Georgia 10, 7:41 fourth quarter)
December 7, 2019 at 7:27 PM EST
It is a much-needed score for the Bulldogs, not because they’re going to win this game, but because every single point preserves their case to be the final team in the College Football Playoff, especially after Oklahoma’s win earlier Saturday. Fromm took Georgia 75 yards in 13 plays and got bailed on an LSU pass interference call in the end zone. He hit George Pickens, who was suspended for the first half of the game, for a two-yard score. (LSU 34, Georgia 10, 11:41 fourth quarter)
December 7, 2019 at 7:09 PM EST
LSU pouring it on
At this point, the Tigers are playing for the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff. After Stingley’s interception, Burrow threw to a wide open Justin Jefferson in the end zone for Burrow’s fourth touchdown pass of the day. (LSU 34, Georgia 3, 0:45 third quarter)
December 7, 2019 at 7:07 PM EST
Stingley picks off Fromm again
It’s the second interception for LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. and it couldn’t have come for a worse time for Georgia. One snap after LSU and Joe Burrow’s third touchdown of the game, Stingley jumped Bulldog quarterback Joe Fromm’s quick-out and returned it to the UGA 13-yard line. (LSU 27, Georgia 3, 2:01 third quarter)
December 7, 2019 at 7:03 PM EST
Burrow and LSU strike again
What a drive for Joe Burrow. On the very first play, he wriggled away twice from the Georgia pass rush and connected with Justin Jefferson for a 71-yard gain. He then hit Terrace Marshall Jr. for a touchdown on an inside slant pattern. It’s Burrow’s third touchdown pass of the game and the second to Marshall. The quarterback — and prohibitive Heisman Trophy favorite — has thrown for 339 yards on 26 of 36 passing. (LSU 27, Georgia 3, 2:18 third quarter)
December 7, 2019 at 6:54 PM EST
Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship doesn’t miss many field goals, but he just pushed that 37-yard attempt wide right. It’s another missed opportunity for the Bulldogs, who spoiled a promising drive. Jake Fromm had Matt Landers open in the left corner of the end zone on third down before Blankenship’s kick, but Landers couldn’t hang on to the ball. LSU will take over at the Bulldogs’ 27-yard line with a chance to drain more clock and add more points. (LSU 20, Georgia 3, 4:17 third quarter)
December 7, 2019 at 6:43 PM EST
LSU adds another field goal
The Tigers opened the half with a 16-play drive that took nearly seven minutes off the clock. And all they got out of it was a field goal. Georgia made a stand when LSU had the ball first and goal on from the 10-yard line and forced kicker Cade York back onto the field after defending three straight passes from Joe Burrow. (LSU 20, Georgia 3, 8:20 third quarter)
December 7, 2019 at 5:58 PM EST
Tigers take two-TD lead into halftime
Looking thoroughly outplayed, Georgia escaped the first half within striking distance, down only two touchdowns to an LSU team that seemed poised to score at any moment in the first two quarters. Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm returned from an ankle injury to throw for 117 yards on 10 of 20 passing with an interception. LSU’s Joe Burrow looks every bit the Heisman Trophy favorite with 204 yards on 17 of 25 passing and two touchdowns, and leads LSU in rushing with 39 yards on seven attempts. The Tigers’ main weapon has been halfback Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who has five catches for 37 yards, while wideouts Terrace Marshall Jr. and Ja’Marr Chase have the two touchdown catches. (LSU 17, Georgia 3 at the half)
December 7, 2019 at 5:46 PM EST
A pick for the Tigers
Remember the name Derek Stingley Jr.? He just came up huge for LSU, intercepting Jake Fromm on a deep shot into Tiger territory. A score here at the end of the half could be an early nail in the coffin for the Bulldogs. (LSU 17, Georgia 3 with 1:39 left in the second quarter)
December 7, 2019 at 5:42 PM EST
LSU gets three points back
Joe Burrow got it done on the Tigers’ last drive with his legs. One third and 1 from the Georgia 46-yard line, he sneaked through for two yards and a first down. The very next play, he scrambled 13 yards to get the Tigers in field-goal range. Cade York connected from 41 yards out shortly thereafter to put LSU back up two touchdowns. (LSU 17, Georgia 3 with 1:46 left in the second quarter)
December 7, 2019 at 5:28 PM EST
Georgia’s Fromm shaken up
The Bulldogs quarterback appeared to hurt an ankle when he was sacked for a 9-yard loss by LSU’s Grant Delpit. Sophomore Stetson Bennett IV came on and threw an incomplete pass on third down, leading to a Bulldogs punt. Fromm walked off the field on his own, but went immediately to Georgia’s medical tent. His status is unclear for the remainder of the game. (LSU 14, Georgia 3, with 6:44 left in the second quarter)
December 7, 2019 at 5:13 PM EST
Georgia on the board
It’s only a field goal, but it will help. The Bulldogs offense finally found a bit of a groove on a 10-play, 53-yard drive. Jake Fromm found Tyler Simmons on a slant for six yards on third and 14 that set up a 39-yard kick for Rodrigo Blankenship, who had no trouble converting. (LSU 14, Georgia 3 with 11:28 left in the second quarter)
December 7, 2019 at 4:54 PM EST
Tigers get a stop, then the offense goes back to work
Georgia picked up a first down and chugged down to the Tigers’ 35-yard line, within range for kicker Rodrigo Blankenship. But his kick from 52 yards stayed left and was no good. LSU proceeded to take the ball and turned it into points almost right away. Joe Burrow connected with Terrace Marshall Jr. for 41 yards to set LSU up at the Bulldog 11-yard line. Three plays later, Burrow hit Marshall again for a 7-yard score. The whole march took a tidy 1:44 in five plays. (LSU 14, Georgia 0 with 0:12 left in the first quarter)
December 7, 2019 at 4:29 PM EST
LSU strikes first
Georgia dropped back into coverage and paid the price. Joe Burrow had an eternity in the pocket on the eighth play of LSU’s opening drive and found Ja’Marr Chase in the end zone. Officials reviewed the play due to a slight bobble by Chase, and upheld the ruling on the field. It was Burrow’s 45th TD pass of the season, good for an SEC record. (LSU 7, Georgia 0 with 8:30 left in the 1st quarter)
December 7, 2019 at 4:15 PM EST
Here we go
LSU kicks off and Georgia waves for a touchback. We’re underway at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
December 7, 2019 at 3:49 PM EST
The pressure just ratcheted up on Georgia
No. 6 Oklahoma held off No. 7 Baylor, 30-23 in overtime, at the Big 12 championship in Arlington, Tex., on Saturday afternoon. That means if the Bulldogs fall to LSU, the playoff selection committee only has one candidate to replace them. That’d be Coach Lincoln Riley’s Sooners, who told ESPN’s Holly Rowe his team deserved to be among college football’s final four. “I hope it’s not over,” Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts said of his senior season.
December 7, 2019 at 3:21 PM EST
What’s at stake
No. 2 LSU has to be in, right? The undefeated Tigers (12-0, 8-0 SEC) have wins over four ranked teams and spent their Thanksgiving weekend walloping seven-win Texas A&M, 50-7. Their defense: really good. Do names like JaCoby Stevens, K’Lavon Chaisson, Derek Stingley Jr., and Grant Delpit sound familiar? They will, because they’ll all be playing on Sundays eventually.
And LSU’s offense? The Heisman Trophy is quarterback Joe Burrow’s to lose, it seems. That would require a meltdown on Saturday, considering the award is handed out before the national semifinals. Prepare to hear the name Clyde Edwards-Helaire, that Houdini of a running back, a bunch, and don’t forget the receiving corps of Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase, Thad Moss and Terrance Marshall Jr. The group has staked its claim as maybe college football’s best contingent of pass-catchers.
So, is No. 4 Georgia up to that test? Utah, Oklahoma and Baylor waiting in the wings sure hope not. Quarterback Jake Fromm has been solid, but not prolific as in his sophomore campaign. Georgia (11-1, 7-1 SEC) always has a solid group of running backs, but D’Andre Swift and Brian Herrien are not of the same all-world caliber as recent Bulldogs backs. Those Bulldogs can sure defend, though. They’ve allowed the fewest touchdowns in the nation and are fourth in the nation in yards allowed per game.
Is that enough to hold off Burrow and LSU? If Georgia wants its second playoff spot in three years, it better be.
December 7, 2019 at 3:20 PM EST
What you need to know
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta.