NEW ORLEANS — Faced with its largest deficit in a season that now is forever perfect, LSU won the College Football Playoff national championship game, 42-25, and ended defending champion Clemson’s winning streak at 29 games on Monday night.
Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow, who had transferred from Ohio State in search of a chance to play, delivered a performance for the ages.
“This is what I wanted to do from the time I was 5 years old,” he said as he held the championship trophy.
Burrow threw for five touchdowns and ran for one for LSU, which overcame an early 10-point deficit. He completed 31 of 49 passes for 463 yards and ran for 58 yards on 14 carries.
In LSU’s two playoff victories, Burrow completed 60 of 88 passes for 956 yards and 12 touchdowns. He set Football Bowl Subdivision records with 60 touchdown passes and 65 total touchdowns, surpassing Hawaii’s Colt Brennan, who had set both records in 2006.
Burrow became the 16th Heisman winner to play for a national champion, the fifth in the last 11 seasons and the first since Alabama’s Derrick Henry in 2015.
In the din of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, before a sellout crowd of 76,885, LSU became the second modern-era major-college team to win 15 games, one season after Clemson achieved the feat.
“They earned it,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Simple as that.”
LSU denied Swinney a spot on the very short list of coaches who have led teams to three national titles in four seasons since The Associated Press poll was introduced in 1936. With a win, he would have joined Nick Saban of Alabama, Tom Osborne of Nebraska and Frank Leahy of Notre Dame.
Instead, LSU coach Ed Orgeron, a child of Louisiana, became the architect of a Mardi Gras celebration in January. As he held the championship trophy, he had tears in his eyes.
He had been a successful interim coach at Southern California, but a 6-2 record in 2013 was not successful enough for him to get the permanent job.
“When I didn’t get the job at USC, I said, hey, maybe you’ll be an assistant the rest of your life,” Orgeron said. “I just loved coaching. But everything fell into place, and we’re just getting started.”
Clyde Edwards-Helaire ran for 110 yards on 16 carries for LSU. Sophomore receiver Ja’Marr Chase caught nine passes for 221 yards, including touchdowns of 52 and 14 yards. Junior tight end Thaddeus Moss caught scoring passes of 6 and 4 yards.
LSU gained 628 yards against a Clemson defense that had allowed an average of 264.1. Clemson, which had converted 46.5% of its third-down plays this season, was 1-for-11.
Clemson took a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard run by quarterback Trevor Lawrence after a five-play, 67-yard drive. With 6:34 to go in the first quarter, Clemson had gained 121 yards and LSU had gained 6. The defending champions were beginning to show signs of controlling the game.
All that came undone during a breathtaking stretch of 17 minutes, 20 seconds in which LSU scored 28 points on three touchdown passes and a rushing TD by Burrow.
LSU did not advance into Clemson territory until its fourth possession, but when it happened, it happened quickly and often.
From the LSU 48, Burrow’s 52-yard throw to Chase, up the right sideline, beat Clemson cornerback A.J. Terrell to tie the score at 7-7 with 2:20 to go in the first quarter. Chase blew kisses into the din and the feeling in the building began to change.
Still, Clemson took a 17-7 lead on a 52-yard field goal by B.T. Potter and a 36-yard reverse run by wide receiver Tee Higgins.
But LSU responded immediately with a 3-yard touchdown run by Burrow that was set up by a 56-yard pass to Chase. After a Clemson punt, an 87-yard drive led to Burrow’s 14-yard pass to Chase for a 21-17 LSU lead.
Then came a sequence that inspired the LSU fans and sent their team to a 28-17 halftime lead. A pass-interference call against Clemson cornerback Derion Kendrick in a third-and-19 situation from the LSU 21 created the opportunity. Burrow’s 29-yard run carried LSU to the Clemson 6 with 14 seconds to go. Then Burrow’s third scoring pass of the night, to the wide-open Moss, gave him 270 passing yards in the half and put Clemson’s winning streak in jeopardy.
At the end, Swinney became a consoler, guiding his players through disappointment for the first time since the Sugar Bowl semifinal loss to Alabama on Jan. 1, 2018. Swinney held Lawrence’s head with both hands after a fumble with 3:53 to go that ended any Clemson hope.
Lawrence completed 18 of 37 passes for 234 yards.
“I think the worst thing is you don’t get to go back and play with this group,” he said.
His record as a starter: 25-1.
“I told him I loved him,” Swinney said quietly. “ . . . He’s never lost a game. And he’s not going to lose many. I’ll tell you that right now.”