A JERSEY GUY: Clemson's Potential Historic Run is History
NEW ORLEANS--The march in many ways was historic, characterized by the toppling of such college football icons as Notre Dame, Alabama and Ohio State with as much ease as 26 other schools with less pedigree.
For two complete regular seasons, Coach Dabo Swinney's Clemson team flashed its credentials and dared anyone to prove they were more talented, more dedicated or more focused.
No one could, as the Tigers put together a 29-game winning streak as well as a sustained run of success which produced two national championships in three seasons.
The Tigers found a way to win, whether it was against lightly regarded Atlantic Coast Conference opponents such as Syracuse or North Carolina, or previously unbeaten blue bloods such as Notre Dame, Alabama or Ohio State in playoff competition.
But on Monday night in front of a raucous sellout crowd of 76,785 at the Superdome, most of them ready to crown a home state, if not home town, favorite, Clemson stared into the eyes of another group of Tigers and blinked.
LSU was bigger, faster and better and even hungrier than Dabo's boys, who had shrugged off the criticism of playing too soft a schedule in too weak a conference and won time after time.
The final score was 42-25 in a CFP championship game, which re-established the Southeastern as the alpha male in the world of college football, and ended a historic 15-0 season for LSU, Coach Ed Orgeron and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Joe Burrow.
The sun will come up on the bayou on Tuesday and the sky will be LSU and SEC blue once again.
There was no reason for bowed heads in the Clemson locker room. Or at least an extended period of disappointment.
The Tigers conducted themselves like champions, taking a 7-0 lead at the start, which might have proved a false positive reading from the 40 percent of the Superdome crowd wearing orange on Monday night. Clemson's record in the 50 previous times it had scored first was 50-0.
Now it is 50-1, primarily because on this night, Burrow, this year's No 1 projected NFL draft pick, was much better than Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who very likely will be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft, perhaps setting up a potential Brady vs. Manning NFL battle for the next decade.
But those are future battles.
Burrow, as he has done in this Heisman-winning season, was spectacular with 463 passing yards and 5 TD passes, which was a mismatch against Lawrence who was shut out of TDs and limited to 237 yards.
It was a milestone event for Lawrence, who found himself in a losing locker room for the first time since high school.
It also put the rest of the Tigers into the unusual situation of trying to explain not only a loss, but a one-sided defeat, which got away from them after taking a 17-14 lead well into the second quarter.
The words, as the emotions, were muted, best expressed by Swinney, who had elevated himself to the upper tier of coaches with a string of double-digit win seasons, as well as the two-season winning streak.
"Tonight was about LSU,'' said Swinney, who can take more than a little solace knowing that 85 percent of his top 50 players in the depth chart were freshmen or sophomores, including Lawrence, which will bolster an incoming recruiting class, regarded as a consensus No. 1."But what this team accomplished was really special. They (LSU) just did what they needed to do to win.
“It's just an unreal year. I mean, incredible. It's just an incredible year, two years. Won 29 games in a row. It's been a long time since I've stood in front of a team with a loss.
But this team in particular, just really special. Coming into this year, 80 freshmen and sophomores out of 120, to get back to this point, I'm just super proud of them. It's incredibly difficult to even get here and super hard to win it. That's for sure.''
Lawrence was more direct in his immediate reaction to his first loss in a college locker room.
"Yeah, it sucks.' he said. "I think the worst thing is you don't get to go back and play with this group. So for me that's the worst thing, just those seniors, especially the guys up front, some of the wideouts. It's just going to -- we're going to be fine. We'll be back. But it just sucks not getting to finish the way you wanted to with those guys.''
Lawrence also took responsibility for the loss, or at least some of it.
"Like I said, at the quarterback position if you're going to win games like this, you've got to play really well, and I just didn't do that tonight,'' he said.
Swinney also offered comfort to his QB, who will be back next year for what almost will be his final season at Clemson.
”I just told him to keep his head up,'' said Swinney. I told him I loved him and that, hey, listen, you've got -- this is a great opportunity to lead and to respond. You know, he's had so much good. We all have. We've had so much just unbelievable success, so many great things, and he's never lost a game. I mean, he's -- and he's not going to lose many. I'll go ahead and tell you that right now. He ain't going to lose many. He's going to be a hard guy to beat forever because he's special. And he had a tough night tonight. For whatever reason, just didn't have his best night.
But I just -- man, I wouldn't trade him for nobody. I love that guy. That's it. I just told him, hey, keep your head up. You've got a great opportunity here to respond. It's easy when everything is good. So just told him I'm proud of him and appreciated his fight, his grit, his will, and hey, that's ball. Listen, he was giving everything he had, and it was a good play by them knocking it loose.
We go over there and love on him when he throws touchdown passes, I'm going to love on him when he had a mistake, too, because his effort was tremendous. Again, just didn't have our best night tonight, but man, I love Trevor Lawrence. I wouldn't trade that guy for nobody. And he is special. I know exactly how he'll respond. He'll get right back to work, and we're going to have a really, really good football team next year. We've got tons of guys back, got 15 mid-years there, and this is a bad moment, but even if we'd have won it and it was a great moment, it's still just a moment.
Swinney then changed focus a bit.
It stings tonight'' he said. "Really just -- I don't ever plan to lose. It just stinks. But listen, this is about LSU. I mean, they earned it. Like I said, I'm really happy for Coach O. I've got a lot of respect for him and their players. They earned it. Nobody gave them anything, they went and earned it. So tip your hat to them. This was their night.
But it wasn't our night, but man, what an unbelievable year. What an unbelievable decade, to be honest with you. Just an unbelievable decade. Excited about starting this new one.
We'll learn from it. We'll get better. Certainly there were some things that were there where we had our chances, but just didn't do enough tonight. Give them credit.''