AUSTIN, Texas — No. 6 LSU topped No. 9 Texas 45-38 in a wild showdown Saturday night at Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium. The win featured an explosive Tigers offense that racked up 575 yards on the night, solidifying them as a legitimate national championship contender.
Quarterback Joe Burrow was the star of the show, going 31-of-39 passing for 471 yards and four touchdowns in the biggest game of his two-year career at LSU. He found Justin Jefferson on third-and-17 for a 61-yard touchdown to push the lead to 44-31, and ice the game away. Tigers receiver Ja’Marr Chase was Burrow’s favorite target on the night, catching eight passes for 147 yards on just nine targets.
Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger did all that he could to keep his team in the game, going 31-of-47 passing for 401 yards and four touchdowns. He added 60 rushing yards and one touchdown in a losing effort. Devin Duvernay was his go-to wide receiver on the night. The senior caught 12 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns for the Longhorns.
What did we learn deep in the heart of Texas?
Welcome to the new age: LSU has been a dinosaur since its last SEC title in 2011. Former coach Les Miles flat-out refused to evolve with the times and produce an offense that was capable of putting up 40 points per game and going score-for-score when the defense let him down. It was more of the same during the first two-plus years of the Ed Orgeron era. Then passing game coordinator Joe Brady came along, and everything changed. The Tigers are playing fast, getting their ultra-talented wide receivers the ball in space and dictating the pace of the game on offense, not defense.
Better late than never.
This feels like new territory for a program that has been on the brink for nearly a decade but unable to break through that glass ceiling. That ceiling, of course, is painted crimson and white, and built by Nick Saban. Could this be the year? Through two games, there’s plenty to suggest that it is.
Joe Burrow is a baller: The senior signal-caller closed his 2018 strong, and nothing has changed through two games in 2019. He has nine touchdown passes on the year and thrown just 12 incompletions. He routinely threaded the needle on Saturday night in Austin despite facing enormous pressure from a Texas defense that tried its best to heat him up with exotic blitzes as often as possible.
LSU has never had a quarterback like this. Burrow, with the help of Brady and his modern passing attack, has become as much of a threat as any quarterback in the country. Yes, as much as Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts. Can he keep it up? It sure looks like it. He isn’t afraid to take a hit and drops dime even when he knows that he’s about to get laid out. Simply put, Burrow is one of the best quarterbacks in college football right now, and he proved it against a defense that just kept coming all night.
Texas is, indeed, “back”: Burrow got the glory, but Ehlinger put his team on his back and kept them in this one for a full four quarters. With only one true running back — Keaontay Ingram — on the depth chart, Ehlinger was asked to shoulder the load by coach Tom Herman and he delivered. He didn’t just deliver on the stat sheet — he delivered body blow after body blow to an LSU defense that, at times, looked like it couldn’t take the punishment.
It didn’t earn Texas the win on Saturday, but the Big 12 might be a different story. The conference that has become known for its wide-open, exotic offenses will have to deal with a Texas team that can get into shootouts and inflict pain with its quarterback leading the charge. Or, to put it simply, a team that’s on par with four-time defending conference champion Oklahoma.
It’s no longer “Oklahoma and everybody else” in the Big 12. Texas has leveled the playing field, which makes them a true College Football Playoff contender despite this loss. Ehlinger proclaimed that Texas is “back” after beating Georgia in the Sugar Bowl in January. The LSU game on Saturday night confirmed that he was right, and it’s not going anywhere.
Ed Orgeron has proved to be the right hire: A lot was made about LSU’s flirtation with Herman during the coaching search that ultimately resulted in Orgeron’s promotion to full-time coach prior to the 2017 season. Through two seasons, it was hard to say if he was the right hire. Two games into the 2019 season, it’s clear that he was the right man for this job, even though Herman is probably the right man for the Texas job (and would have been just fine in Baton Rouge).
This is Coach O’s team. It has taken on his personality, his fire, his energy and his passion for the program. What’s even more impressive is that Orgeron looked in the mirror, saw what was wrong and fixed it. He backed up a Brinks truck to keep defensive coordinator Dave Aranda in town, recognized a problem with the offense and took a chance on the 29-year-old Brady, who clearly is wise beyond his years. Then he backed off — like every good head coach should do.
One of Orgeron’s favorite sayings is “one team, one heartbeat.” His heart is beating the loudest, and it’s finally working.
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