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.