By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL/Designated Writers
In what qualifies as a major news flash, it’s been quite a different LSU football season in 2019 in comparison to before. Namely, there’s been nothing to complain about. By this time of year, there’s always been some kind referee call that had the red-hots calling the SEC office or some injuries to deal with or a transfer or coaching upheaval.
Instead, none of that.
Everything has fallen into place for the Tigers this year as they prepare to take on Clemson for the national championship on Monday. There has not been one scintilla of luck involved and please don’t think that I’m trying to imply that there has been.
But there has been more than their share of good fortune fall the Tigers’ way in 2019. To their credit, they have capitalized on every bit of it. Let’s go over 10 things that has made it the road well paved to the title game.
- JOE BRADY FORGOT TO PUT HIS PHONE ON SILENT: I’m guessing he probably would have answered the phone eventually it had been on vibrate, but getting him to leave the New Orleans Saints and become the passing game coordinator may be the biggest difference-maker assistant coach hire in the history of college football. (Got a better one?) Credit Head Coach Ed Orgeron for allowing it to happen. Not all head coaches will do that.
- THE SCHEDULE: Hard to imagine in a year LSU had to go to Alabama that the SEC schedule would be considered easy, but half of the SEC was awful and LSU got Auburn and Florida at home. Before anybody knew how good Joe Burrow was, LSU was going to be a pre-season favorite in every game it played except Alabama.
- TEXAS WAS OVERRATED: LSU got a lot of love by beating a Texas team that was strictly living off a Sugar Bowl win over uninspired Georgia last year. Nobody noticed that the Longhorns had to replace eight defensive starters. LSU was able to play the we-beat-a-top-10-team card when, in fact, Texas was anything but.
- INJURIES/LACK OF INJURIES: Yes, there was a time in which the Tigers had injuries — every team does — but they came at the perfect time. After the Texas win, they basically had five weeks off to get healthy for the next real game, which was Florida. There may be a mosquito bite or a hangnail right now, but LSU is extraordinarily healthy.
- TIGER (QUARTERBACK) BAIT: Forgetting that the whole “tiger bait” chant is the reverse of what it actually means, LSU got to face two unproven quarterbacks at home in big games. Florida’s Kyle Trask couldn’t even start on his own high school team and didn’t sniff the field his first two years for the Gators. After Feleipe Franks got hurt, Trask had to step in and then he got hurt against Auburn before he had to limp into Tiger Stadium on Oct. 12. (He actually played pretty well.) Auburn quarterback Bo Nix was in high school a year ago; on Oct. 26, he was in Tiger Stadium. Let’s just say that wasn’t Tim Tebow or Cam Newton who came running out of the visitor locker room.
- ROLL TIDE … TO THE TRAINING ROOM: Say what you want about Tua Tagliavoa’s injury, but Alabama still put up 41 on LSU. But the real injury news that benefitted LSU was on the Alabama defense. If the Tide was going to win, it was going to have to do it with defense. But not with this bunch. The Tide lost both starting linebackers before the season and a defensive lineman during the season. Then it kept getting worse. It was already going to be a challenge for Alabama on defense in 2019, but the front defensive seven that went against LSU was simply too inexperienced to know what hit it.
- MIDNIGHT PAIN IN GEORGIA: Let’s be honest — Georgia wasn’t going to beat LSU even if Herschel Walker had been brought back (he’s still in pretty good shape, by the way). But the Bulldogs’ best running back was basically out (player very little) with an injury, the best receiver didn’t play and the second-best receiver only played a half. Meanwhile, the game plan of coach Kirby Smart, wasn’t.
- HALF-COOKED: A bad first half by Ohio State in the Big 10 championship game meant that LSU got the No. 1 seed and Ohio State was the No. 2 seed. One got to play the defending national champion in the semifinal and the other got to play the alleged best from the rest of the field, thinly disguised as Oklahoma. Maybe they deserved it anyway, but getting the No. 1 seed over a team that won a conference title game by double digits certainly qualifies as good fortune.
- THE MATCH GAME: Hard to say yet whether this is good fortunate — call it pre-fortune — but simply judging by the other semifinal, LSU will be getting the easier matchup. Ohio State might not necessarily have been the better team, but by all appearances, the Buckeyes would have been a tougher matchup for LSU. Particularly because Ohio State had two important characteristics: great defensive backs and a road-grater offensive line. Not to mention the ability to pressure the quarterback with just four rushers. On the other hand, Clemson clearly has better skill position talent than Ohio State, so who really knows?
- BIG EASY TRIP: By now, you know the title game rotation and it is purely luck of the calendar. But this will be LSU’s fourth national championship game this century and all have been basically a par 5 away from campus. It’s debatable how much difference that makes, but you’d certainly agree that if you are LSU, you’d rather play in New Orleans than not play in New Orleans.