ATLANTA – Nobody burned down Atlanta this bad since the Civil War.
It took the Union army led by General William T. Sherman two days in November 1864 to do the job.
It took No. 1 ranked LSU led by General Joe T.D. Burrow and its relentless defensive forces just under four hours Saturday night in Mercedes Benz Stadium to do the same.
Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Burrow threw for a school-record seven touchdowns as unbeaten LSU issued No. 4 Oklahoma a 63-28 College Football Playoff semifinal beatdown in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl.
In a 14-0 season of amazing performances, this might have been the topper considering LSU offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger called the game of his life just hours after his daughter-in-law TV broadcaster Carley McCord died in a Saturday morning plane crash in Lafayette.
“I was the one that had to tell coach (Ensminger),” said LSU coach Ed Orgeron, whose Tigers will play in the Jan. 13 national championship in New Orleans against No. 3 Clemson, a 29-23 winner over No. 2 Ohio State in Saturday night’s late semifinal. “Here’s what he said: `Coach, we’re going to get through it.’ He was obviously distraught, but he called a great game today.”
The Tigers’ third 60-point performance of the season was the most points scored in the six-year history of the CFP and the most in a New Year’s Day Five bowl. LSU broke 25 CFP, bowl game, SEC and school records.
LSU never trailed and thanks to a Tigers’ defense that rendered Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts and a potentially explosive Sooners’ offense helpless, the Tigers scored touchdowns on eight of their first nine possessions including seven straight times.
Behind superb protection, Burrow completed 29-of-39 passes for 493 yards to seven different receivers and ran for 22 yards and a TD before calling it a night with 14 minutes left to play. All of his TD passes came in the first half when LSU led 49-14 at the break.
“To be honest, it wasn’t my sharpest game,” Burrow said. “This guy (Justin Jefferson) was bailing me out on a couple throws that I missed. Guys like Terrace (Marshall) and Ja’Marr (Chase) were bailing me out on misreads and being late with the football.
“That’s the kind of team we have. Someone doesn’t have their best game, the other guys step up.”
Wide receiver Jefferson simply ran past anybody in Oklahoma’s secondary who tried to guard him. He had 14 catches for 227 yards and four TDs.
“When someone’s hot, why not keep going to them?” Jefferson said. “So Joe just kept finding me on the field, just making those big plays.
The Tigers finished with 692 yards total offense, the second highest total in school history. And they did it despite slowing pace a bit in the second half after they rolled for 497 first-half total offense yards.
The pregame concern of LSU’s offense possibly being affected by the loss or limited use of injured running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire went unfounded.
Edwards-Helaire, who hadn’t practiced since sustaining an ankle injury on Dec. 17, played a handful of snaps and gained 14 yards on two carries.
Freshman redshirt Chris Curry, who been the last back in the Tigers’ four-man rotation, started in Edwards-Helaire’s spot and gained 89 yards on 16 carries.
“Everybody knows when you’re on this LSU roster as a running back, we know the standard we have to uphold, the standard we have to perform,” Edwards-Helaire said. “I expected Chris to do what he did. Chris expected to do what he did. Chris was exceptional.”
Curry didn’t know he would start until just before LSU’s first series when Orgeron told him “you’re in.”
“The style of runs that we’re running, his practice the last two weeks,” Orgeron explained why he started Curry. “Coaches came up to me today and said Coach, we think Chris Curry ought to be the first back. Y’all believe him in, put him in. He played well.”
Curry and the other Tigers’ running backs were confident they could get the job done whether Edwards-Helaire played or not.
“I had to step up, everybody had to step up,” Curry said. “It was a blessing tonight. I feel like everybody forgot about me but the coaches didn’t. I also thank Joe Burrow for speaking up and saying `Hey, let’s go with this kid right here.'”
Oklahoma didn’t have as many offensive weapons as LSU. Two of the Sooners’ four TDs came from Hurts, the transfer from Alabama where he led the Crimson Tide to wins over LSU in 2016 and 2017.
But from the Sooners’ first snap of the game when outside Tigers’ outside linebacker K’Lavin Chaisson recorded the first of his two sacks, Hurt spent the majority of his time running for his life and sailing incompletions towards the stands to avoid being sacked.
Hurts finished 15-of-31 for 217 yards passing and an interception, most of his yards after the Tigers led by 42 points at 56-14 following Burrow’s fourth down 3-yard TD run.
“The obvious difference is they’re scoring 50-something points,” Hurts said afterwards when asked about the current Tigers vs. the LSU teams he beat when he played for Alabama. “They’ve always had a really good defense, and they have this year. They’ve always had great players. They have a helluva offense. It’s all a credit to how efficient they’ve been. A lot of respect for them.”
Oklahoma, which had been averaging 43.2 points and 554.2 yards, tied its lowest scoring output of the season and was held to a season-low 322 yards total offense. The Sooners passed for 225 yards and ran for 97 yards.
“This is a caricature of how we have played,” LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said. “There’s various games throughout the year that they (the opponent) has 28 points, but at some point in the game they had only 100 yards and no points and we were up by 30. I wish we would have gotten more stops in that second half.”
LSU’s defense set the tone when it held the Sooners to minus seven yards on their first six offensive snaps of the game. Oklahoma managed to pull into a 7-7 tie with 7:34 left, but the Tigers responded with 28 consecutive points headed to a 35-point halftime lead.
“I felt like if we played well, we would be able to stand in there and trade blows with them, I really did,” said Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, whose Big 12 champions finished the season 12-2. “And we did early. But when you start making mistakes, combination of that and a talented team playing well, they go on a run like they like they do.”
As has been typical of the Tigers this season, LSU responded with a touchdown immediately after each of Oklahoma’s three TDs.
The one that may have been the biggest dagger came after Hurts’ 2-yard TD run cut LSU’s lead to 35-14 with 4:45 left in the first half. It culminated a 10-play, 75-yard drive in which Oklahoma’s offense seemed to have finally figured out the Tigers’ defense.
The Sooners were still slapping each other on their backs when LSU scored in just two plays and 27 seconds, a 13-yard Curry run and Burrow’s 62-yard TD pass to tight end Thaddeus Moss.
“Joe Burrow said at breakfast this morning he wanted to go for 70 (points),” Moss said. “Knowing Joe, he was upset scoring 63. He wanted to go for 10 touchdowns.”