Orgeron, Burrow, LSU Win a Very Special National Championship

Herb Gould

I still want to hear Ed Orgeron sing. I had been thinking ``Fly Me to the Moon’’ would make a great ringtone.

Another possibility would be ``Me and Bobby McGee.’’ Even if he isn’t, you know, ``busted flat in Baton Rouge.’’

But now I would go with ``The Battle of New Orleans’’ if the request line was open. He did take ``a little trip down the mighty Mississipp.’’

And on that little trip, Orgeron and his LSU Tigers made history. Big history.

A washout in three years at Ole Miss after some pretty serious youthful bumps in the road. Rejected by USC after an interim stint. Hired by LSU only after Tom Herman opted for Texas instead of Baton Rouge.

And now here he is. All that scrambling in the SEC to hire Nick Saban’s assistants and who gets to the top of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome? Homespun Cajun guy Ed Orgeron, who learned a lot of hard lessons and applied them to build a team that could battle its way to the national championship.

The Bayou Tigers finished off their magical 15-0 season with a 42-25 victory over mighty Clemson, which lost for the first time since the 2017 national championship game.

That ended a 29-game winning streak by Dabo Swinney’s legion of victory, if you’re keeping score at home. What's more, the chances of the Tiger Paw Tigers winning their third national championship in four years by adding a 30th straight win started so well.

Clemson not only took an early 7-0 lead. It kept LSU’s defense pinned down near its own goalline with some excellent field-position punting and defense. Still holding the upper hand, Clemson went ahead 17-7 early in the second quarter.

That, as it turned out, merely set the stage for Joe Burrow, or Joe Burreaux, as he’s known in the land of crawfish etouffee and jambalaya.

He fired his gun of an arm and the Clemsons kept a-comin, as the song goes. But Orgeron’s lads weren’t nigh as many points behind as they were a while ago.

In the final 10 minutes of the first half, Burrow ran for one touchdown and threw for two more to give LSU a 28-17 halftime lead.

In the second half, despite a rib injury from a fair-game but vicious hit, Burrow kept LSU firing and advancing. Clemson closed to 28-25 at the start of the second half, but got no closer.

Showing class at the end, Orgeron had Burrow take a knee at the Clemson goalline rather than a 49-25 victory.

The night didn't belong solely to Orgeron. It also was exceptional for Burrow, who went through his own odyssey to win an historic battle of New Orleans.

The son of an Ohio U. assistant coach, he wanted to follow his father and two brothers, who had been defensive stalwarts at Nebraska. The Cornhuskers weren’t interested, so Joe went to Ohio State, where he was buried in the depth chart.

So he put all that baggage behind him, transferred to LSU and came up with what might be the best season a college quarterback ever had. He is just the sixth quarterback to win the Heisman, go undefeated and win the national championship in the same season.

He set a slew of season- and championship-game records, highlighted by 65 touchdowns, a single-season record made more dazzling by the opponents he did it against.

With Burrow operating the explosive offense that Orgeron wisely installed, LSU beat the pre-season top four (No. 1 Clemson, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Georgia and No. 4 Oklahoma) on its march to this national championship. And that early shootout win at Texas was pretty good stuff, too.

But Burrow’s best record might be this: After he called attention at the Heisman ceremony to hunger in his Athens, Ohio, hometown, a local food pantry raised more than $500,000. More than five times its annual budget.

The projected No. 1 pick in this spring’s NFL draft, Burrow is likely to go on to great things at the pro level. And with the wisdom Orgeron is showing, it wouldn’t be surprising if LSU hoisted more national championships.

But neither Burrow nor Orgeron is likely to approach anything as special as the season finished off before a raucous home-state crowd in New Orleans on Monday night.


Herb Gould