History will little note nor long remember that the 2019 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl began with a quarterback sack.
Yes, certainly, LSU did play a modicum of defense Saturday in one of the most overwhelming routs in the brief history of these college football playoffs. But, hey, who celebrates the brakes on the Daytona 500 winner?
It was the Tigers turn this day to perform the ceremonial ousting of Oklahoma, and they went about the task with an offensive glee unknown to this stage. They turned up the dial on their fearsome offense past the point-a-minute setting, broke off that nob, and the effect bordered on laughable: A 63-28 victory in a meeting between reputedly two of the game’s top four teams.
Oddsmakers who had established LSU as a 13.5-point favorite only missed the mark by three touchdowns.
By halftime, LSU already had scored a dozen more points (49) than it did in the entirety of its SEC Championship victory over Georgia 21 days ago in this same building. Before the half was done, the Tigers already had seven touchdown passes in their account, leaving the Sooners, now 0-4 in the last five years as a playoff team, in a state of shock at the break. This proud program doesn’t give up that many passing touchdowns in a whole game, like ever, in 124 years.
Is there an award higher than the Heisman? What LSU quarterback Joe Burrow did Saturday – 493 yards passing, seven passing touchdowns, one more touchdown by foot - should be of some interest to the Nobel committee.
And he likely cemented his place as the NFL’s first pick come the draft, if he is not made commissioner before that.
Are there deeds done in a relatively new building that may never be seen again, even if this one stands longer than most in Atlanta? When the great scoring tsunami was done, Burrow had thrown for his seven touchdowns before catching his breath in the second half and Justin Jefferson had caught four of them (both Peach Bowl and New Year’s Six bowl records). As Jefferson kept screwing Oklahoma defensive backs into the artificial turf, it was difficult to keep in mind that he isn’t even this team’s headliner at wide receiver (that’s Ja’Marr Chase who leads the country in receiving touchdowns).
It was, it must be noted, not all touchdowns and jubilation for the Tigers this day.
Just hours before the game, they were broadsided by tragedy when the daughter-in-law of the team’s offensive coordinator was killed in a small-plane crash outside Layfayette, La.
A sports broadcaster in that southern Louisiana town, Carley McCord was en route to Atlanta for the Peach Bowl Saturday morning when the private plane she was in crashed shortly after take-off from Layfayette Regional Airport. She was among five reportedly killed in the crash. McCord was the wife of Steve Ensminger Jr., son of the Tigers OC of the same name. From the coaches box on high at Mercedes-Benz, the elder Ensminger worked the playoff semifinal that same evening.
Ensminger’s offense, which had produced so many peaks this season, somehow found a quite different, even more breathless, altitude Saturday against the Sooners.
The difference between the two teams was spelled out clearly at the beginning. With the first possession of the game, Oklahoma went three-and-out, suffering a net loss of six yards as Hurts was sacked on the first play from scrimmage by LSU linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson.
And, then, following a shanked punt of 23 yards, it was the Tigers turn to got three-and-in, a specialty of theirs. Their third play of the day was a 19-yard touchdown pass from Burrow to Jefferson. In literature, that’s what’s called foreshadowing.
If there were moments that might have been seen as pivotal for Oklahoma in the early going – a pass interference call the Sooners didn’t get; a razzle-dazzle play that lacked both and resulted in a Jalen Hurts interception; the inability to build on the one early highlight, a 51-yard pass from Hurts to CeeDee Lamb that set up a touchdown tying the score at 7 – those just shrank into meaninglessness as LSU geometrically added to the scoreboard.
Here’s a brief play by play of the first half for the Tigers, for those of you who hunger for detailed specifics: TD; TD; TD; TD; TD; TD; TD.
And it wasn’t like all those first-half scoring passes were simple little pitches. Four of them traveled 30 yards or more, including a 62-yard play to Thaddeus Moss.
For all that, Burrow’s most impressive play in that first half may have been one that would bring back certain horrible flashbacks to Georgia fans. On a third-and-2 near the close of the first quarter, Burrow was flushed from the pocket and sent scrambling toward his own sideline. Surely, he’d just throw it away. He had no clear vision downfield, and was just a step or two from being ushered out of bounds. Anyone else would throw it away. But Burrow, as Georgia learned, doesn’t waste plays, and this time he lofted a perfect 24-yard completion to Terrace Marshall Jr. Burrow would finish out an 86-yard scoring drive – giving LSU a 21-7 lead – before the first quarter was done.
Oh, and the Tigers had won the pregame coin flip and opted to defer. Up 49-14, they got the kickoff to start the second half. That was like another tax break for the wealthy. All the Tigers did with that opportunity was drive 74 yards in 13 plays – a relative forced march for this offense – with Burrow carrying the ball the final three yards for yet another touchdown.
For the first time in four appearances at Mercedes-Benz – the previous three with Alabama – Hurts, the Heisman runner-up to Burrow, experienced a loss. He finished with 217 passing yards and two rushing touchdowns. An OK day by most measures, but not when the other guy is burning down the place.
At the opening kickoff, the building seemed decorated evenly in Oklahoma and LSU colors. Which meant empty seats where once Sooner backsides rested began showing up in startling numbers by the third quarter.
And Burrow’s day was done early, with 9:39 still to play. LSU was by then a most comfortable semifinalist. All that remained was to identify who next – Clemson or Ohio State – would dare try to drink from the firehose that is this offense.
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