NEW ORLEANS — After his first touchdown, Ja’Marr Chase blew kisses to the crowd. And when the night was over, after LSU slayed Clemson 42–25 to win the national championship, the crowd blew them right back.
While LSU quarterback Joe Burrow was the best player on the best team all year, he couldn’t have finished his college career in fairy tale fashion—hoisting the MVP trophy and lighting up a big fat stogie in the locker room—if not for his stable of talented wide receivers. That group is led by Chase, who was the nation’s leading receiver and Burrow’s top target all year. Heading into the title game, he’d scored 18 touchdowns, amassed 1,559 yards and won the Biletnikoff Trophy as a sophomore. Monday, he lived up to his resume as the spark LSU needed after a sluggish start.
The first quarter belonged to Clemson. Brent Venables’s defense was getting pressure on Burrow, blitzing and playing man coverage. LSU had one first down and 17 total yards in its first three drives, which all ended in punts. Trevor Lawrence led Clemson on an early scoring drive to take a 7–0 lead—igniting the trend of blowing kisses to fans after a touchdown—and stunning an LSU team that had rarely been stunned this year.
Around that same time though was when Chase told Burrow that Clemson was giving him some space. So later in the first quarter, on LSU’s fourth drive, Burrow hit his No. 1 weapon for a 52-yard touchdown strike to tie the game. It was Chase’s eighth touchdown catch of 50 yards or more this season, which is an NCAA record. From that moment on, Burrow kept finding Chase, who kept making plays for his quarterback and dominating the game.
“The first couple series, I didn’t think there was any way they were just going to play man with Ja’Marr,” Burrow said. “I wasn’t really looking his way and then I got back to the sideline after the second drive and I was like, they really are playing man-to-man with Ja’Marr, so we started going to him heavy.”
Chase broke the College Football Playoff receiving record (previously held by Alabama’s O.J. Howard) with nine catches for 221 yards and two touchdowns. He had 162 yards and both touchdowns by halftime, and by that point had made himself an utter nightmare for Clemson’s A.J. Terrell.
Chase’s first touchdown may have been his most important because it was a quick answer to Clemson’s opening score. His second touchdown, which came with 5:19 left in the second quarter, put LSU up 21–17, a lead the team would hold for good. That drive was one of Burrow’s most magnificent of the game. He ran for 10 yards, found Justin Jefferson for 22, then Clyde Edwards-Helaire for 23, Jefferson again for 18, then capped it by hitting Chase for an easy 14-yard touchdown grab.
“That’s Ja’Marr being Ja’Marr,” said Edwards-Helaire, who rushed for 110 yards and added 54 yards receiving. “He kept us in the game. He’s a playmaker. It’s as simple as that.”
In LSU’s last game against Oklahoma in the playoff semifinal, Chase was held to two catches for 61 yards and no touchdowns. It was no big deal because Jefferson carried the load with 14 receptions for 227 yards and four touchdowns. A similar thing happened in the SEC championship game against Georgia: Chase was limited to 41 yards on three catches, while Jefferson hauled in seven passes for 115 yards and a touchdown.
But Chase, a New Orleans native, knew he had to be more than a decoy in the championship game.
“This was his game to shine,” Edwards-Helaire said.
Chase may have been LSU’s greatest threat against Clemson, but Burrow was inclusive, too. The senior quarterback, who completed 31 of 49 passes for 463 yards and five touchdowns without an interception, found five different targets at least three times on the way to slicing up Clemson’s No. 1 passing defense. Jefferson had 106 yards, Edwards-Helaire tallied 54, Terrace Marshall earned 46 plus a touchdown, and Thaddeus Moss added 36 with two touchdowns.
“Every team gotta pick their poison,” Chase said. “It’s kind of hard to double team all of us at the same time.”
Chase had much to say about Clemson not winning its third title in four years—though he did have a key drop in the end zone when LSU led 35–25, squandering the chance to put the game away earlier. LSU had to settle for a field goal instead and missed, giving Dabo Swinney’s Tigers a chance for a comeback in the fourth quarter. Clemson couldn’t make that happen this time, but there’s always next season. With Lawrence coming back for at least one more year, his team is already a national championship favorite. Burrow will be in the NFL by then, but Chase will be back. And he’ll be ready to blow more kisses to the crowd.