Dan Wolken, USA TODAY
Published 7:15 a.m. ET Dec. 8, 2019 | Updated 7:18 a.m. ET Dec. 8, 2019
USA TODAY Sports’ Paul Myerberg breaks down college football’s all-time greatest championship games from the BCS era.
ATLANTA — As LSU players ascended stairs to the temporary stage in the middle of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a highlight reel of past SEC championship games began playing on the scoreboard up above. The thousands of LSU fans who stuck around for the trophy presentation after the Tigers’ emphatic 37-10 win over Georgia were paying attention, cheering wildly when 2001, 2003, 2007 and 2011 came up before the video finally arrived at 2019.
But in a sense, those not-so-long-ago SEC title teams at LSU seem like they’re from a different planet than this one. As these Tigers go into the College Football Playoff for the first time, the question all of college football should be asking is this: Can LSU’s offense be stopped?
Once known as a program that regularly underachieved on offense and usually wasted mountains of future NFL talent, the Tigers have never looked more like a juggernaut. They’ve never had so many answers. They’ve never seemed as unstoppable as they did Saturday, laying waste to a Georgia team that hadn’t given up more than 20 points to anyone all year long.
“I’ve been in this league a long time, and I don’t know that I’ve seen the combination of things they’ve got,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said.
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With Ohio State struggling for a half in the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin, there should be no debate. LSU enters the Playoff not only as the likely No. 1 team – the selections will be made at noon ET Sunday – but the team that should strike fear in the hearts of every opponent because of an offense led by quarterback Joe Burrow and passing game coordinator Joe Brady that has had answers for everything thrown at it this season.
Opponents have tried to blitz Burrow this season and it hasn’t mattered. They’ve tried to play zone, and it hasn’t mattered. Georgia even tried to drop seven or eight players into coverage Saturday and it didn’t matter. Burrow, who is going to be a runaway winner of the Heisman Trophy next week, has picked apart every kind of defense thrown at him this season.
Even with a month to prepare, is Clemson or Oklahoma or whomever going to really fare any better?
“Joe just makes unbelievable plays every single game,” receiver Justin Jefferson said. “When we’re 13 and 0 and coming out with wins like this, why not feel unstoppable? Our confidence is very high right now and that’s what we need coming into the playoffs.”
When a team reaches this level of college football, they’ll invariably get picked apart. It just comes with the territory. Everyone’s looking for a weakness, for something an opponent can exploit.
But with LSU, the offense has been bulletproof for 13 straight weeks. There’s no denying it anymore, no legitimate way to nitpick it or look for a weakness. Burrow has completed 78% of his passes for the season and hasn’t thrown for fewer than 300 yards since Oct. 12 against Florida — a game in which he still completed 21-of-24 passes and LSU scored 42 points.
If Georgia was the biggest test of the season defensively, all you can say at this point is good luck to the rest of the teams vying for a national championship.
“You know, I think as we go into the playoffs, the competition is going to be stiffer, obviously,” head coach Ed Orgeron said. “We’ll find out. I think it’s a combination of (Burrow’s) athletic ability and the talent that we have on offense, and again, I think there’s some fantastic play calling going on. Then again, Joe makes some plays on his own. He can extend plays with his feet. He has a great connection with his receivers. None of that stuff surprises me. These guys have a will to win.”
If you’re Clemson or Oklahoma or Ohio State, the question you have to be asking today is: What else can you do to try to rattle Burrow or get him out of rhythm? He hasn’t had a single bad game the entire year. And at this point, he’s basically seen opponents try almost everything to try and slow him down without a whole lot of success.
If you want to pressure him, he’s quick and athletic enough to escape the rush. If you sit back in coverage and give him time to throw, he’ll stand in the pocket and wait for a receiver to get open, which is a pretty good bet when you have a talent-laden group like Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall and Thaddeus Moss.
If there’s a weakness in the system, nobody has found it yet.
TOUCHDOWN LSU. pic.twitter.com/osciqHq8Nd
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 7, 2019
“We watch film, and we go in and see something (opponents) haven’t done all year,” Burrow said. “It happens time and time again every single week. I tell my coaches, why do we even watch film anymore? We see something new. We might as well go out there cold turkey. So I think we have a great coaching staff and they make the adjustments that have enabled us to be successful.”
Only one team this year – Auburn – has held LSU under 30 points. By now, it’s no fluke. And it’s unlike anything LSU fans have ever seen.
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A program that was once maligned for its offense has become an unstoppable, incandescent force of nature. LSU has had a lot of great football teams over the last couple decades, two of which have won national titles. But as Saturday’s romp over Georgia showed, they’ve never seen anything like this.