ATLANTA – It is hard to say exactly why LSU destroyed Oklahoma in a College Football Playoff semifinal here Saturday, but it might have been because LSU had much better line play, superior talent at the skill positions and one of the best quarterbacks in the sport’s recent history. O.K., maybe it’s not hard.
Joe Burrow and LSU are going to the national championship game. That one will be in New Orleans, which gives Tigers fans a chance to fill the stadium and LSU’s opponent a few days to learn voodoo. Good luck, Clemson, or Ohio State. Against Oklahoma, Burrow completed 21 of 27 passes for 403 yards and seven touchdowns … in the first half. For some programs, that’s October. Burrow then opened the second half by running for a touchdown. If he had wanted, he probably could have skipped, jumped, moonwalked and juggled for touchdowns.
Burrow is more accurate throwing on the run than most quarterbacks are in the pocket. The Sooners gave him time and open receivers. They might as well have asked him how many touchdown passes he wanted to throw. Early in the game, Burrow placed a pass in Justin Jefferson’s hands, but Jefferson dropped it … so on the next play, Burrow placed another one in his hands for a touchdown.
Most impressive of all, though, was LSU’s postgame shrug. Burrow said the win was “expected.” Receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. agreed: “I expected this … We just went out and did our thing. There was no way that they could stop us.”
The final score was LSU 63, Oklahoma 28, and it wasn’t nearly that close. LSU led 49-14 at the half. LSU’s biggest opponent was not even Oklahoma. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said “We’re battling human nature. The offense comes out and they’re excited, they’re laughing and smiling because they scored another touchdown, and we’re like ‘No, you cannot smile! Be pissed off!’”
Maybe this will make you happy, Dave: Burrow said Jefferson “will be the first to tell you he could have had two more touchdowns but I missed him.” Jefferson smiled and nodded in agreement.
We now know that the national championship will be won by one of the great teams in college football history: Either LSU, or somebody good enough to beat LSU.
In the meantime: There has been a lot of talk about inviting more teams to the College Football Playoff, but first maybe we should focus on getting Oklahoma to show up. Is that a cheap shot? No cheaper than Oklahoma’s Brendan Radley-Hiles trying to remove the head of LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire, a play made even dumber by the fact that Burrow was running for a first down and Radley-Hiles ignored him to hit Edwards-Helaire. Radley-Hiles was ejected for targeting. Maybe he wanted to leave before he gave up more touchdowns.
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said his team made too many mistakes and LSU went on “a run” in the first quarter, as though the Tigers hit a few layups and banked in a three-pointer. This wasn’t a run. Oklahoma got run over.
The playoff is a 365-day argument interrupted by 10 hours of football, and this is the Sooners’ reality: What we saw Saturday can and will be used against them. People will say Oklahoma has lost three straight semifinals, and after this debacle against LSU, why give OU another shot?
It’s not quite fair. Oklahoma earned its playoff spots. Two years ago, Oklahoma took Georgia to overtime—Riley said this week “it was a coin flip,” and he was right. Last year Oklahoma fell behind Alabama 28-0 but actually made a game of it, sort of. And even in defeat this year, the Sooners showed some offensive creativity, with plays ranging from chucking the ball in the air and hoping CeeDee Lamb would catch it to chucking it in the air and hoping Lamb would draw pass interference.
Oklahoma did not belong on the field with LSU this weekend. But who did? Georgia? In its last game, LSU whipped the Bulldogs. Alabama? The Tigers beat the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, and now Tua Tagavailoa isn’t even playing. Oregon? Come on, do you really think Oregon would have given LSU a game?
The pool of true national-championship contenders is only three-deep this year. LSU, Clemson, Ohio State. That’s it. LSU probably would have destroyed anybody other than Clemson and Ohio State. This may explain why Clemson coach Dabo Swinney spent so much time talking about how great his team was. Maybe he knew the value of being the No. 1 seed and facing No. 4.
And maybe Riley knew, too. There were little hints this week that he understood he was trying to climb a mountain in roller skates. He implied that his team would be content playing slow, which is what underdogs often do, to limit the number of possessions. He said more than once that this team suffered more injuries than any other he had—and this was before three players were suspended for the semifinal.
On Oklahoma’s first possession, Riley called for a handoff on third-and-16. He might as well have screamed “S-E-C! S-E-C!” This was the kind of call you make if you don’t think you can make a big play, and you just want to limit turnovers, play a field-position game, and hope the football gods will smile upon you.
“They did not really run their base stuff,” Aranda said. “I think they were trying to trick us and gadget us. When those things didn’t hit, that gave us some downs that we executed on. It gave us some juice.”
Does it tell you something when a team won’t run their base stuff?
“Yes, yes,” Aranda said. “By the time they kind of settled in … there was already a rhythm and flow to the game. The scoreboard was tilted by that point.”
The scoreboard has been tilted all season. Burrow says: Keep tilting.
“We go into every game thinking nobody can stop us,” he said. “We’re still kind of chasing that perfect game.”