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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The scene felt so hauntingly familiar. The sing-song chants of “Roll Tide Roll,” the 100,000 fans belting out “Sweet Home Alabama” and the menacing glare of Nick Saban on the sideline.
There are few forces in sports as relentless and reliable as Alabama football playing at Bryant-Denny Stadium, an unflinching machine that’s managed more national title victories (5) than home losses (4) in the last 12 seasons. Alabama entered the day with a 31-game home winning streak, the longest in the school’s gilded history.
That’s what made the super-human performance by LSU quarterback Joe Burrow so remarkable in No. 2 LSU’s 46-41 bullying of No. 3 Alabama on Saturday. The quirky kid from small-town Ohio who favors cartoon T-shirts – Batman, Mickey Mouse, Space Jam – authored a performance that should spawn a clothing line of his own. These days, Superman should wear Joe Burrow T-shirts after he emerged Saturday as the type of outsized folk hero that almost single-handedly handicapped Alabama’s College Football Playoff chances.
On a day when President Trump received a rousing ovation at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Burrow’s 393 passing yards and three touchdowns left America wondering what will make Alabama football great again. Amid the Alabama autopsy of penalties, turnovers and hopeless defensive lapses, Burrow’s epic afternoon would still be listed as the probable cause of death on Alabama’s season. He left more than 101,000 fans in a state of perpetual surrender cobra, palms glued to temples in disbelief of what played out before them.
With LSU’s 20-point halftime lead in peril twice in the fourth quarter, Burrow led LSU on consecutive touchdown drives after Alabama cut LSU’s lead to one score. The drives showcased all that Burrow can do, as he wriggled out of the backfield to scramble for key yards and whizzed NFL-caliber passes into tight windows for first downs.
"To have a championship team, you have to have a championship quarterback," said LSU coach Ed Orgeron.
It takes a virtual PowerPoint presentation to go through all of the meaningful reverberations from LSU’s domination of Alabama. From flipping the tenor of a rivalry to changing the guard in SEC supremacy to likely moving up to No. 1 in the national title race, the shockwaves rippled through nearly every corner of the south and the sport. And that doesn’t even include the individual honors poised to come to Burrow (31-for-39 passing), who is the runaway leader for the Heisman Trophy and somersaulted himself in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.
Where to start? LSU’s victory both snaps an eight-game losing streak to the Tide and essentially ends Alabama’s College Football Playoff chances. Alabama’s schedule, unless LSU relinquishes the SEC West lead, only allows them one chance at a quality victory. That won’t be enough to allow them to vault one-loss conference champions, as this Alabama team fails both the look test and the data test. (And no, Tua Tagovailoa’s ankle injury won’t be enough of an excuse for the CFP committee.)
Perhaps the highest compliment to Burrow is he authored a victory with 559 total offensive yards that highlights the diminished Alabama aura of invincibility. The Tide’s face-plant is reminiscent of their last marquee game – a 44-16 blowout loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff title game. Simply put, when the stakes were highest again, Alabama had no answers on defense.
Alabama trailed by 20 points at halftime after a Tua Tagovailoa interception gave LSU the ball at the Tide 13-yard line with 11 seconds left in the second quarter. And the Tide left a spree of mistakes riddled across the play-by-play, as they buried themselves in their biggest halftime deficit since 2000 thanks to a Tagovailoa unforced red-zone fumble, a stone-cold drop by punter Ty Perine and a defensive substitution penalty negating a Trevon Diggs interception. There were enough mistakes to cement the grimace in Saban’s face until Memorial Day.
In the one-on-one duel for the top quarterback in college football – and potentially the NFL draft – Burrow thoroughly outshined Tagovailoa. All of the chatter about Tagovailoa’s high ankle sprain soon diminished, as he appeared to be playing near full health less than three weeks after his ankle procedure. But Burrow completed his first 13 passes, accumulated more than 200 passing yards late in the second quarter and bounced back excitedly from every hit as if saying: “Thank you sir! May I have another!”
Burrow summed up his exuberance after taking licks this way: "I enjoy getting hit. It makes me feel like a real football player instead of a quarterback."
It was a cocky, swashbuckling and swaggy performance, the type that combined a rare cocktail of moxie, talent and unbending belief. (Tagovailoa finished 21-for-40 for 410 yards and four touchdowns. But his two crippling turnovers will reverberate as major plot points.)
It’s hard to overstate how much the victory means to LSU, which registered the program’s most important win since outlasting Alabama here, 9-6, in overtime back in 2011. That victory catapulted LSU into the national title game, which they lost to Alabama, and since that time the program has been hanging out in the upper-end echelon of college football without being able to break into the penthouse. Tonight, they traded in their Lexus for a Maybach.
The key hire to unlock all of LSU’s talent came from pass game coordinator Joe Brady, who stands to make millions after eviscerating a Nick Saban defense for those 559 yards. Brady brought the New Orleans Saints’ quick pass game and combined it with Joe Moorhead’s innovative RPO game to build an unstoppable offense. Credit LSU’s play-calling for remaining aggressive in the fourth quarter of a tight game, much like they did at Texas earlier in the season.
A source told Yahoo Sports on Saturday that LSU officials engaged Brady about a raise and contract extension during LSU’s bye week. LSU is prepared to pay Brady NFL coordinator market value – think in the neighborhood of $1.5 million – and could have a deal by the end of the regular season. (Brady makes $400,000 on his current deal.) The source noted the importance of LSU keeping Brady, who has been the season’s breakout coaching star.
For Orgeron, who lost to Troy in his first full season in 2017, the victory nudges LSU ahead of Alabama in the balance of power in the SEC. This is exactly what Orgeron envisioned, as LSU scored more points in the first half (33) that the Tigers did in the prior four games against Alabama combined.
Orgeron expressed delight in being able to go to 7-11 and buy a Red Bull or monster without having to get questioned by the clerk about finally beating Alabama. He said he told his team for the first time in his tenure that they were good enough to beat the Tide. "I felt like we've got it," Orgeron said. "We've finally got the tools we need, we've finally got the players we need, we've finally got the coaching staff we need to beat these guys."
LSU finished the game in fitting fashion, as pinball tailback Clyde Edwards-Helaire (103 yards, 3 TDs) gashed up the middle for a 12-yard rush that epitomized LSU’s offensive dominance on the day. Burrow tapped his knee three times in victory formation, cementing one of the most singularly dominant individual performances in recent college football history.
“When I got to college, I realized team success breeds all of the individual awards," Burrow said. "That’s all that’s ever mattered to me, winning big games.”
From the CFP standings to the Heisman race to the NFL draft, Burrow came to Tuscaloosa and tattooed every corner of the sport with Tiger print. A new world order awaits.
"We comin,'" Orgeron said, stressing the phrase as if in hopes to trademark it. "We comin.'"
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