LSU had the better depth. The better speed. And, on this night, the better quarterback.
Joe Burrow picked apart Texas’ defense all night — on short passes, on mid-range passes and on deep passes — and No. 6 LSU went on to a 45-38 victory on Saturday night at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
Much of the 98,763 in attendance left disappointed, the realization that the No. 9 Longhorns might not be “back” quite yet. They had goal-line issues on offense in the first half, and the defense couldn’t deliver a game-changing stand in the second half.
So all the national storylines and love coming out of this showdown is going toward Burrow and LSU following a 573-yard offensive night.
“How about our offense, man?” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “[We had] 573 total offensive yards, 102 rushing, 471 passing, three receivers over 100 yards. I think that’s the first time that’s happened in LSU history.”
Burrow finished 31-for-39 for a career-high 471 yards. He’s the first LSU quarterback to throw for 400 yards passing against an AP-ranked opponent since Rohan Davey in the 2002 Sugar Bowl against Illinois, and just the third LSU player to throw for 400 yards passing in a game.
Burrow finished with four touchdowns and one interception, and refused to let the Tigers surrender the lead. The Longhorns’ offense put up impressive points and numbers, but played catch up all night.
“Heckuva college football game,” Texas coach Tom Herman said. “As good of an atmosphere as we have seen at DKR.”
Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger finished 31-for-47 for a career-high 401 yards with four touchdowns. The Longhorns finished with 530 yards of offense, the second-most yards LSU has allowed in the last four-plus seasons, but that won’t soften this blow.
Texas wanted to make a statement on Saturday, beating an SEC power in the programs first matchup in Austin since 1954. But the Longhorns played from behind most of the night, trailing 20-7 at halftime.
Ehlinger wasn’t sharp on a few passes early on, but led scoring drives on all five possessions of the second half, including three straight TDs to open the half.
Texas pulled within two points twice, but LSU always answered. And the Tigers made plays when they needed to late.
LSU had a 37-31 lead and faced a third-and-17 from its own 39 with 2:38 left. Burrow evaded pressure and found Justin Jefferson, who sprinted down the left side line for a 61-yard TD. That clinched the game, putting LSU ahead 45-31.
“Thank God. Thank God,” Orgeron said of the third-down play. “I knew when they get the ball back, we couldn’t stop them. Just to be honest, we couldn’t stop them. I think if they’d have got the ball back I think it would have been a different story.
“It was a phenomenal call, a phenomenal catch, a phenomenal play.”
Said Herman: “We wanted to pressure him to obviously get a sack or incompletion to keep the -- had they had to punt, to give our offense a pretty reasonable chance to go down and score.
“Our whole mantra this whole game was to empty the chamber, play to win. We weren’t going to back away from that.”
Texas scored a late TD on a 15-yard pass to Duvernay with 22 seconds left, but couldn’t come up with an onside kick.
Texas will surely play the what-if game in the days to come, particularly on its first quarter struggles at the goal-line.
UT failed to put points on the board despite running eight plays inside the LSU 5 on two series in the first half.
On a fourth-and-goal from the 2, running back Keaontay Ingram dropped a wide-open TD pass. Then, after the defense bailed the offense out with a takeaway, the Longhorns couldn’t punch it in from the 1.
LSU stuffed Ingram for no gain on third down and Ehlinger for a 2-yard loss on fourth down.
“Listen, we came in this game to play to win,” Herman reiterated.
Texas eventually found the end zone on a 55-yard TD from Ehlinger to Brennan Eagles to take a brief lead in the second quarter. But Burrow led the Tigers on a TD drive and they never trailed the rest of the way.
“To win this game in that type of atmosphere gives us a lot of confidence in our football team,” Orgeron said. “Because you know what, we’re going to come against some opponents just as good or better and we have to go on the road and win like that.”
Said Herman: “This is game two of a marathon. We wanted to win this game, certainly, very badly. We prepared to win. I loved our plans. We’ve got to do a better job coaching our guys to execute those plans at an elite level.
“Obviously it hurts. It hurts a lot, but I think they all realize that all of our long-term goals are still out there.”