NEW ORLEANS — Joe Burrow, having just thrown his fifth touchdown of the night, sauntered toward the LSU sideline and pointed to his left ring finger before embracing Ed Orgeron.
There was nothing on that finger yet, but there will be soon enough.
It’s ring season in Baton Rouge and LSU is the 2019-20 national champion.
Burrow accounted for six touchdowns in another virtuoso performance from the Heisman Trophy winner as No. 1 LSU pulled away from No. 3 Clemson 42-25 to win its first College Football Playoff National Championship — fourth overall — at the Superdome on Monday night.
“He means the world to me,” Orgeron said of his transcendent quarterback. “He’s one of the greatest players in LSU history. He’s on a soapbox for the state of Louisiana and LSU. We are so grateful for Joe Burrow.”
“This was a long time coming,” Burrow said, a victory cigar close by. “I’m kind of speechless right now. This was fun. It feels good. I don’t know what else to say.”
LSU will go down in history as one of the best offenses and most dominant teams ever assembled. So much of the season were awe-inspiring blowouts, but Orgeron’s crew demonstrated the heart of a champion when it found itself in a heavyweight fight for the first time in two months.
Taking out the defending national champ and a burgeoning dynasty like Clemson (14-1) was a fitting end for an LSU (15-0) season that saw the Bayou Bengals beat seven teams ranked in The Associated Press top 10. They did it in style by hanging 628 yards of offense on the best defense in college football.
Neither team started particularly fast, but Clemson delivered the game’s first haymaker. Plenty of nervous folks in the Superdome were wondering if months of routing opponents had left LSU with something of a glass jaw.
After all, LSU hadn’t trailed in any game since Auburn on Oct. 23. It hadn’t trailed by more than seven points at any point during the season, and yet suddenly LSU found itself down 17-7 in second quarter.
Its vaunted offense was under siege as Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables dialed up more and more pressure. Its defense was getting gashed on the edge by the likes of Clemson running back Travis Etienne of Jennings and wide receiver Tee Higgins.
Nobody wanted to say it, but there was anxiety that this dream season could meet the kind of nightmarish end that played out in this same building eight years ago.
But that was never going to happen to this team. Not with Burrow and Orgeron leading them.
“There was no rah-rah stuff on the sidelines,” Burrow said. “There was no saying we have to get going. We knew what we had to do. We have a bunch of mature guys, and we knew we just had to execute better. That’s what we did.”
“Character,” Orgeron added. “Integrity. Great players, great coaching staff and a will to win.”
It had been two months since LSU dealt with that kind of adversity, but there was no panic. Burrow ran for a touchdown on a beautifully called a quarterback draw and threw his second touchdown pass of the game to Ja’Marr Chase to put LSU ahead.
LSU couldn’t have pulled it off without a Herculean effort from its sophomore receiver. Chase, playing in his hometown, caught nine passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns. He, as much as Burrow, was the catalyst as LSU chased down and ultimately passed Clemson.
LSU appeared to cease control of the game with another score before the half. Burrow hit Thaddeaus Moss for a touchdown with 10 seconds left in the second quarter to put LSU up 28-17.
That throw proved costly, however. Burrow took a hard hit to his ribs, and he didn’t seem like his normal self to start the third quarter.
He’d may have had the wind knocked out of him. Clemson pounced with a touchdown drive to get within 28-25, and it seemed like the momentum had shifted for good.
Instead LSU answered back, led by Burrow, as it has anytime an opponent managed to stand toe-to-toe with the champs.
LSU scored the game’s final 14 points to put away a Clemson team that had won 29 games in a row. Burrow threw touchdowns to Moss in the third quarter and Terrace Marshall in the fourth to put the championship on ice.
All the while LSU’s oft-criticized defense pitched a shutout over the final 25 minutes of game time. Dave Aranda’s group held Clemson to a paltry 1-for-11 on third down and prevented Trevor Lawrence from throwing a touchdown.
A Lawrence fumble — forced by All-American safety Grant Delpit and recovered by freshman cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. — set off a wild celebration in the Superdome. That was the moment when guarded optimism gave way to jubilation within even the most skeptical LSU fan.
“This was all about LSU,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “They were the better team. The best team won tonight. That’s the bottom line. All you can do is tip your hat.”
LSU has its fourth national championship in program history, the third since 2003. All three of those were coronated right here in New Orleans.
That made it all the more special for the coach who grew up in Louisiana and the quarterback who came south looking for a new place to call home.
“We love the state of Louisiana,” Orgeron said, tears in his eyes, as he hoisted the trophy. “This one is for everybody. One team. One heartbeat.”
“To do this in New Orleans is even more special,” Burrow added. “This is going to be remembered for a long time.”