TUSCALOOSA, Alabama – Two years ago, Ed Orgeron was standing in front of the same Bryant-Denny stadium booth and was talking about the future. There was no moral victory after LSU was beaten by Alabama 24-10, he says. His Tigers needed to improve in all areas, and he was the man who needed it.
"We're coming," he said in his thick Cajun accent, "and we're not going back."
There was a conviction in his voice that belied the facts, mainly that the Crimson Tide had won seven times in a row. Outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, no one would have told you at the time that the Tigers were close to the tide level. They had a talented defense, of course, but the offense was perpetually stuck in the mud and held them back all the time.
A few months later, this began to change. Orgeron and Joe Burrow ate crayfish together during a recruitment visit and both felt a connection. The quarterback was looking for a second chance after things did not go as planned in Ohio State and Orgeron was happy to oblige.
It was not a fireworks at first, of course. LSU and Burrow were excluded by Alabama at home 29-0 the following season, which is once again below expectations. But Orgeron still had a gesture in his sleeve. At the end of January, he hired a little-known assistant coach from the Saints of New Orleans to revolutionize his offense. Joe Brady, 29, entered the building and these Tigers have never been the same.
Saturday night, the combination of Burrow and Brady – with the young lady running and Baton Rouge native Clyde Edwards-Helaire – gave Orgeron what he was looking for from the beginning, while LSU # 2 was beating No. 3 Alabama 46-41 to break the series of 31 consecutive home victories of the tide. Orgeron had tears in his eyes as he gathered his team in the middle of the field to celebrate. Fans shouted to Brady to stay another year. Burrow was taken on the shoulders of his teammates as a Heisman Trophy favorite.
Orgeron entered the media room and asked, "We party?"
Not enough. It was something even more significant: the validation.
"I've been here a long time," said Orgeron. "We are here tonight."
"They beat us for eight years, we got tired of hearing their stories … it was the moment."
-Coach O was moved after LSU's first victory over Alabama since 2011. pic.twitter.com/O0Lr5kIg5l
– ESPN (@espn) November 10, 2019
For nearly 10 weeks, the world of college football watched and waited, reserving its judgment even after LSU beat Texas in a scoring game early in the season. Then he shot down Florida. Then Auburn. The Tigers scored points at a pace never before seen and climbed to second place.
But the question was still the same: what about Bama? Could LSU survive the big and nasty Crimson Tide?
We have the answer now. LSU caught – and adopted – his rival from SEC West.
Even Nick Saban could not stop what these Tigers had become. The legendary head coach of The Tide has not even been able to blow his sideline as everything has collapsed in front of the eyes. For most of the match, he just crossed his arms, looked at his feet and walked in search of solutions where he did not have any.
His defense could not do anything against Burrow, who completed his first 13 passes, dropped the coins as if it were nothing, then escaped and ran under crucial conditions every time the pressure became excessive. It was perhaps the most impressive performance of the season, as Burrow completed 31 of 39 passes for a total of 393 yards and three touchdowns, before scoring 64 yards in 14 attempts.
The offensive scheme that Brady set up during the off season – a mix of spread and west coast, with the mixed-password option – worked to perfection. He unleashed the misfires Ja Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr., who ran safely in Bama's high school for touchdowns. To change pace, Edwards-Helaire, who was 5 feet 8 feet, rumbled between the tacklers for 103 yards and three touchdowns, then slipped out of the field, scoring nine receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown.
When LSU's defense was bent and Alabama hit a touchdown in the fourth quarter, Burrow looked around him and did not see panic. The Tigers did not throw themselves into a shell and did not try to use the clock as they had done so many times in the past. Instead, at the third descent, they crossed a width of five meters and went to pick her up and were successful. Burrow ran for a brilliant first run and Edwards-Helaire climbed into the end zone, catching air at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Edwards-Helaire was a group of nerves as he headed for the sidelines, feeling the magnitude of what had just happened. He then saw one of the force coaches, the former LSU side-back Connor Neothers, feeling it as well. Soon, the valves open and the tears can no longer be stopped.
"It's a guy from Baton Rouge who comes here and plays for my hometown, my state. I grew up 20 minutes from the campus. I can not explain it, "he said, recognizing the weight of these eight consecutive losses for the Tide and all the players who came before him. "I can not tell you in words, it was just an overwhelming feeling."
Burrow was smiling from one ear to the other when everything was over.
Orgeron caught him on the ground and reminded him of the crayfish dinner where it all began. Burrow had completed his transformation from an unnamed replacement of the state of Ohio into Heisman, LSU's favorite, and he said he never doubted himself for a moment.
"I knew I could play on this stage," he said.
Joe Burrow praises his support system for allowing him to succeed against Alabama, but admits that LSU is aiming for a championship.
"I do not have a vote," Orgeron said of Burrow and Heisman. "But if I have a vote, I give it to him."
In the haze of the changing room, Burrow tried to refocus. Like Orgeron, he was not ready to say that beating Bama was the end of everything.
"This is not our goal," he said. "We have more ahead of us."
He did not elaborate, but his wide Justin Jefferson would be later.
Jefferson, whose brother Jordan has already been the quarterback of these Tigers, said his team was running for the grand prize:
"It's time to bring a national championship back to LSU."
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