Photo via Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
The tears were flowing, the champagne was bubbling, the cigar smoke was billowing, and the cheers were deafening Monday night when LSU brought home its first College Football Playoff Championship, its third championship of the century, and its fourth championship overall.
Now, it is true. LSU has not had the driest of droughts when it comes to championships. With three championships this millennium, LSU, under Nick Saban, brought home the first championship of the century by beating the Oklahoma Sooners in the 2004 Sugar Bowl, 21-14. Next came 2007, where the Les-Miles led Tigers trounced the Ohio State Buckeyes by scoring 31 unanswered points midway through the game, eventually holding on to win 38-24.
And then, silence.
This silence was not in the form of complete collapse. LSU since the 2007-2008 championship season through the 2018-2019 season averaged 9.5 wins a season and made a bowl game every year in that span, including another Championship berth in the 2010-2011 season.
The silence came in a more subtle way, from a loud tiger roar in the jungle to a faint whimper behind zoo glass.
The silence came from a diminishing and fading offensive scheme that was not adapting to the rapidly changing times.
It became apparent in the 2012 National Championship, where LSU was shut out 21-0 by their rival Alabama. Quarterback Justin Jefferson threw for only 53 yards and one interception.
It didn’t stop there. Between the 2011-2012 season and the 2017-2018 season, the Tigers consistently ranked in the bottom half to third in passing yards per game, with their best season coming in 2013, where they averaged 251.0 yards per game, good enough for 46th in the FBS.
Even still, it wouldn’t be enough, as the Tigers under Miles were not able to replicate past success. So, midway through the 2016 season, Miles was fired and defensive line coach Ed Orgeron took over. After clobbering Heisman winner Lamar Jackson in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, 29-9, the interim tag was taken off of Orgeron. It was a controversial move at the time, as many LSU fans wanted a sexier hire in Tom Herman or Jimbo Fisher.
Nevertheless, Orgeron took over and immediately got to work on the team relearning the frightening roar that made other programs fear playing LSU. Growing pains came along the way, including tear-jerking losses to Alabama, Troy, Notre Dame and Texas A&M, among others.
The 2019 season then arrived. After ending the 2018-2019 season on a high-note by terminating UCF’s 25-game winning streak in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, promise was high in the new season with quarterback Joe Burrow coming back for his last eligible season. Additionally, a then-barely known offensive analyst from the New Orleans Saints by the name of Joe Brady came on the scene. Coupled with offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger, people thought the offense could raise some eyebrows.
Raising eyebrows, though, would be the understatement of the decade, as the two offensive minds crafted an archaic run-only-oriented style into a prolific two-way offense that would be something never seen before at the magnitude it would play at.
The schedule was daunting, and the purple and gold Bayou Bengal would have to regain its roar if it dreamed of treading through the threatening habitat ahead of it. First came the aggressive Texas Longhorn in the Texas fields. Then, the bone-crushing Florida Gator. Next? Another Tiger that doubled as a War Eagle. Then, the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, a well-known LSU-killer. A feisty bulldog came next on the habitat pyramid. An Oklahoma Sooner came after and, finally, appeared the other Tiger that crowned itself king of the jungle in Clemson, an opponent that had won 29-straight games based off of its dangerous offense and throat-choking defense.
Despite the difficult gauntlet, LSU would come out on top against all of them. Led by an offense that averaged over 48 points a game and 568 yards of offense. An offense that, after years of ineptitude of throwing the ball efficiently, became the scariest nightmare that haunted every team forced to challenge it. An offense that was captained by Heisman winner Burrow, who shattered records every week and always looked poised while doing so. An offense called by Brady and Ensminger who, through countless practices, scheming, and even tragedy, made an offense that scored the most points in a single season in FBS history.
The offensive line, a unit that won the Joe Moore Award, made the offense come to life. The unit provided the oil through the necessary blocks, holds and holes needed to make the offense a proficient machine.
Then, there is, of course, the defense. A defense that had its critics early turned it on over the last stretch of the season, capping off the year by making Clemson’s offense look uncomfortable and stymied. From true-freshman Derek Stingley Jr. to Jim Thorpe Award winner (and eventual first-round pick) Grant Delpit, the defense would become a force that would quell the criticism and use it as motivation.
Lastly, the person to lead them all in Orgeron. Vibrant and never boring, the head coach proved he was exactly what LSU needed to return to the most elite stage of college football.
15-0. A historically dominant season capped off with a National Championship victory.
It’s true. This isn’t LSU’s first championship victory this millennium.
But it certainly is the most touching, as the Bayou Bengal would regain its deafening roar and solidify itself as one of the elite programs in college football once more.