TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Two years ago, Ed Orgeron stood outside the same visitors locker room at Bryant-Denny Stadium and talked about the future. There were no moral victories after LSU was beaten by Alabama 24-10, he said. His Tigers needed to get better in all areas, and he was the man to do just that.
“We’re comin’,” he said in that thick Cajun accent of his, “and we ain’t backing down.”
There was conviction in his voice that belied the facts, chiefly that the Crimson Tide had won seven straight in the series. No one outside of Baton Rouge,Louisiana, would have told you back then that the Tigers were anywhere close to the Tide’s level. They had a talented defense, sure, but the offense was perpetually stuck in the mud and continually held them back.
A few months later, that started to change. Orgeron and Joe Burrow ate crawfish together during a recruiting visit, and the two felt a connection. The quarterback was looking for a second chance after things didn’t work out at Ohio State, and Orgeron was all too happy to oblige.
It wasn’t fireworks at first, of course. LSU and Burrow were shut out by Alabama at home 29-0 the following season, falling short of expectations once again. But Orgeron had one more move up his sleeve. In late January, he hired a little-known assistant coach from the New Orleans Saints to revolutionize his offense. A 29-year-old Joe Brady entered the building, and these Tigers have never been the same.
On Saturday night, the combination of Burrow and Brady — along with star running back and Baton Rouge native Clyde Edwards-Helaire — gave Orgeron what he was looking for all along as No. 2 LSU beat No. 3 Alabama 46-41 to snap the Tide’s 31-game home winning streak. There were tears in Orgeron’s eyes afterward as he gathered his team at midfield to celebrate. Fans shouted at Brady to stay for one more year. Burrow was carried away on his teammates shoulders as the Heisman Trophy front-runner.
Orgeron entered the media room and asked, “We got a party?”
Not quite. It was something even more meaningful: validation.
“Been a long time comin’,” Orgeron said. “We’re there tonight.”
“They beat us for eight years, we got tired of hearing their stuff … it was time.”
-Coach O was emotional after LSU’s first win over Alabama since 2011. pic.twitter.com/O0Lr5kIg5l
— ESPN (@espn) November 10, 2019
For the better part of 10 weeks, the college football world watched and waited, reserving judgment even after LSU beat Texas during a marquee early season matchup. Then it took down Florida. Then Auburn. The Tigers scored points at a never-before-seen pace and rocketed up to No. 2 in the rankings.
But the question was always the same: What about Bama? Could LSU keep it up against the big, bad Crimson Tide?
We have the answer now. LSU has caught — and passed — its SEC West rival.
Not even Nick Saban could stop what these Tigers had become. The Tide’s legendary head coach couldn’t even muster a sideline blow-up as it all went down in front of eyes. For much of the game, he simply crossed his arms tightly across his chest, looked at his feet and paced, searching for solutions where there were none.
His defense could do nothing about Burrow, who completed his first 13 passes, dropped dimes as if it were nothing, then escaped and ran for crucial yards whenever the pressure became too much. It was perhaps the most impressive single performance of the season, as Burrow wound up completing 31 of 39 passes for 393 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for 64 yards in 14 attempts.
The offensive scheme Brady installed during the offseason — a blend of the spread and West Coast, with the run-pass option mixed in — worked to perfection. It unleashed wideouts Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr. who ran unencumbered through the Bama secondary for touchdowns. For a change of pace, it sent Edwards-Helaire, all 5-foot-8 of him, rumbling between the tackles for 103 yards and three touchdowns, then slipped him out of the backfield where he pulled down nine receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown.
Joe Burrow has gone from anonymous backup at Ohio State to the Heisman front-runner with coach Ed Orgeron and LSU. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
When the LSU defense bent and Alabama pulled within a touchdown in the fourth quarter, Burrow looked around on the sideline and saw no panic. They didn’t go into a shell and try to run out the clock the way they had so many times in the past. Instead, on third down, they went five wide and went for it, and succeeded. Burrow ran for a brilliant first down and Edwards-Helaire rumbled into the end zone, taking the air out of Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Edwards-Helaire was a bundle of nerves as he went to the sideline, sensing the magnitude of what had just happened. Then he saw one of the strength coaches, former LSU fullback Connor Neighbors, feeling it too. Pretty soon, the floodgates opened and tears couldn’t be stopped.
“Being a guy from Baton Rouge, coming here, playing for my home city, state — I grew up 20 minutes from campus — I can’t explain it,” he said, recognizing the weight of those eight straight losses to the Tide and all the players who came before him. “I can’t put it in words for you. It was just an overwhelming feeling.”
Burrow grinned from ear to ear when it was all over.
Orgeron grabbed him on the field and reminded him of that crawfish dinner where it all started. Burrow had completed a transformation from anonymous Ohio State backup to Heisman favorite at LSU, and he said he never doubted himself for a moment.
“I knew I could play on this stage,” he said.
“I don’t have a vote,” Orgeron said of Burrow and the Heisman. “But If I got a vote, I’m giving it to him.”
In the haze of the locker room celebration afterward, Burrow tried to refocus. Like Orgeron, he wasn’t ready to say that beating Bama was the end of anything.
“This isn’t our goal,” he said. “We’ve got more ahead of us.”
He didn’t elaborate, but his wideout Justin Jefferson would later on.
Jefferson, whose brother Jordan once quarterbacked these Tigers, said his team is coming for the grand prize now.
“It’s time to bring a national championship back to LSU.”