LSU students — followed shortly by other fans around the stadium — rushed the field in Tiger Stadium for the first time since the 2014 Ole Miss game Saturday night as the Tigers bounced back from their loss to Florida in as big a way as imaginable Saturday afternoon when they dominated No. 2 Georgia from start to finish for a 36-16 victory.
The Tigers have had some dominant performances this season, but none of them went without at least a little bit of drama. Miami looked to be coming back for a time, Louisiana Tech stormed back with a big third quarter and even Southeastern Louisiana gave LSU’s offense some trouble in the second half.
But there was not doubt which team looked better when Saturday’s game ended, and it wasn’t the team that entered as a preseason favorite to reach the College Football Playoff. It was the LSU Tigers.
“Obvioiusly, we used (the results of the Florida game) as motivation all week,” said LSU head coach Ed Orgeron after arguably the biggest win of his coaching career. “Great crowd, great LSU football, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Total team effort.”
One would be forgiven for thinking the dagger came when the Tigers drove down the field for a touchdown to take a 26-9 lead in the fourth quarter thanks in large part to a 19-yard rush by Clyde Edwards-Helaire and a 36-yard connection from Burrow to Justin Jefferson.
One would also be forgiven for thinking it came moments later when Ed Paris forced Hardman fumble that was recovered by Avery Atkins at the UGA 14.
But no, the real dagger came on LSU’s next drive after Georgia quickly scored a quick touchdown to make it 29-16, a two-possession game.
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow kept the ball on a read option play and nearly found pay dirt with a 59-yard run. One play later, running back Nick Brossette ran the ball in the end zone, giving the Tigers a 39-19 lead, putting all doubt to the outcome of the game aside.
Burrow completed 15 of 30 passes for 200 yards and tallied 13 rushes for 66 yards, two touchdowns and two pivotal fourth down conversions.
The performance came a week after struggling against the Gators, throwing his first two interceptions of the season while attempting to mount a comeback in the closing minutes.
Burrow said he had a sense of calm that he hadn’t previously felt entering the game.
“I kind of felt different this week,” Burrow said. “I felt comfortable and calm with the game plan. I felt confident in the guys. I hadn’t really felt that feeling yet. I can’t really put my finger on it, but it just felt different today.”
Orgeron also said things felt different this week. He had a sense that this week would turnout special.
“I felt it on the Tiger walk,” Orgeron said. “You could feel it all week. This was going to be one of those games for the LSU Tigers.”
The big play came in a game full of them for the Tigers as they dominated the Bulldogs for nearly four complete quarters to take down a team favored to make a trip to the College Football Playoff later this year.
LSU moved the ball effectively and frustrated one of the SEC’s most highly-touted quarterbacks in Jake Fromm with a good pass rush and better pass coverage.
It didn’t take long for the Tigers to gain control of the game, but perhaps the biggest play of the first half came on special teams.
After Georgia used an effective run game to drive down to the LSU 14 yard line before stalling out and lining up for a field goal attempt.
But instead of attempting the field, UGA attempted a fake that evoked memories of former LSU coach Les Miles – sans the success.
Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship didn’t even make it to the line of scrimmage before Grant Delpit got ahold of him and forced a fumble that was ultimately picked up by Devin White.
“They really kind of gave it away, to be honest,” Delpit said. “The line didn’t block how they usually block. I knew right there it was a fake. It was just a good awareness play.”
The call silenced Georgia’s previously raucous representation in the stadium, and LSU proceeded to drive down the field and get in the end zone with a 12-play, 84-yard drive capped off by a Joe Burrow QB sneak that put the Tigers up 10-0 early in the second quarter.
The bold play-calling continued in the second quarter, this time from the Tigers’ offense.
Twice on a drive during which LSU led 13-0, Orgeron and LSU opted to go for fourth down conversions a yard short of the first-down marker, and both times they got what they needed to continue the drive.
“That was the message we were going to send,” Orgeron said. “We were going to be as aggressive as we can. We were gonna take shots and go for it. Play to win the game the whole time.”
After getting into red zone, Georgia pushed the Tigers back with a big sack, forcing them to settle for a field goal that gave LSU a 16-0 lead it would take into the halftime break.
The LSU defense was the story of the half, allowing the Bulldogs to gain only 124 yards of total offense and limiting UGA quarterback Jake Fromm to 5 for 16 passing for 47 yards.
Georgia finally got on the board on the opening drive of the third quarter, in which he settled for a field goal after driving 52 yards down to the LSU 20 before a sack by Michael Divinity ended the drive.
LSU responded after Khristian Fulton picked up his first interception of the season to give the Tigers possession on the UGA 23. Still, the Tigers couldn’t get in the end zone and were forced to settle for their fourth field goal of the game to take a 19-3 lead.
Georgia finally got in the end zone in the closing seconds of the third quarter with a long drive that culminated in a 10-yard touchdown run by Elijah Holyfield. But LSU held the Bulldogs on a crucial two-point conversion play, maintaining a two-possession lead going into the fourth quarter.
After the Tigers went 3-and-out, it looked as though the Bulldogs were primed to make it a one-possession game when Mecole Hardman returned a put 27 yards to the LSU 38.
But the drive ended with a sack by Jacoby Stevens that pushed the Bulldogs back to the LSU 48, forcing UGA to punt.
That’s when LSU’s game-ending series of big, fourth-quarter plays came about, earning the Tigers as big a victory in Death Valley as the program has had in recent memory.
Things don’t get much easier for the Tigers moving forward. Now they must prepare for Mississippi State before enjoying an open date and hosting No. 1 Alabama.
But for the next 24 hours, LSU can enjoy the fact that it reminded the LSU faithful, the SEC and the nation that winning in Death Valley is no small task.