NEW ORLEANS — For at least a while, it was hard again. In fact, for almost a full quarter, for the first time all season, quarterbacking didn't come easy for Joe Burrow.
Not like it's been the past four months, when Burrow smashed records and Alabama and the Heisman Trophy race and everything else that stood in his path—a renaissance at the position unlike anything before.
But the Clemson Tigers were up for the challenge in the national championship game, at least early on. They made Burrow look mortal, injecting doubt in a season in which it rarely existed.
For the first time all year, LSU trailed by double digits. And then, as has been the case all along, Burrow became his dominant self.
The final score, 42-25, seemed unlikely in the beginning. But then Burrow responded, putting the finishing touches on his masterpiece: the most dominant, overwhelming season college football has ever known.
"He's one of the greatest players in LSU history," head coach Ed Orgeron said following the win. "He's on a soapbox for the state of Louisiana and LSU. We are so grateful for Joe Burrow."
The pristine throws down the sideline, many of which fell perfectly in the outstretched arms of wideout Ja'Marr Chase, who finished with nine catches for 221 yards and two touchdowns. The backbreaking runs that always seemed to come at exactly the right time.
The touchdowns—all six of them—that erased the original deficit and then created a larger one that was too much for Clemson to overcome.
Playing the nation's No. 1 scoring defense, Burrow threw for 463 yards, ran for 58 more and accounted for all six of his team's touchdowns. Burrow acknowledged he was confused at first by the looks Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables was using to slow him. As the game progressed, the coverages became clear.
For the season, Burrow threw 60 touchdown passes and accounted for 65 touchdowns—more than any player in a single season in college football history. He totaled more than 6,000 yards of offense, turning this season into his own personal video game-like performance.
In his two College Football Playoff games, Burrow totaled 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions. His last interception came nearly two months and six games ago, all the way back on Nov. 16.
The end result was a season unlike any the sport has known. It's not something that simply can be summarized with his statistical dominance, though it's difficult to gloss over numbers this gaudy.
"It's hard to argue with it," LSU safety Grant Delpit said on the field when asked if his quarterback just had the greatest season in the history of college football. "Isn't it?"
It's the way Burrow, no matter the opponent or situation, seemed to thrive. The way he oozed confidence while destroying opposing defenses and box scores. Few players have ever captured the sport the way Burrow did.
In 2010, former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton dominated the SEC and eventually all of college football. He accounted for 51 touchdowns, ran for 1,473 yards and threw for 2,854 yards. Before Burrow's year, it was a season widely celebrated as the most dominant in recent memory.
Like Burrow, Newton cruised to the Heisman before winning the national championship. But Burrow's dominance was different. It came at a program that has struggled to create offense. It was somehow more overwhelming. More touchdowns. More numbers. Always more.
"From day one he was just an unbelievable teammate," wideout Justin Jefferson said. "And then he just played lights-out."
The addition of Joe Brady, the LSU passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach who is reportedly drawing interest from the NFL, coupled with Burrow's rapid development created a concoction too potent for any team to deal with.
The totality of it all was 15-0. A Heisman trophy. Jaw-dropping, video game numbers. And Monday night, a national championship. For Burrow, it will likely soon culminate in football fortune when he is almost certain to be selected No. 1 overall in the NFL draft.
But in the moment, what happens next feels insignificant. The greatness of Monday night and his season still is hard to capture with words. And as he stood on the national championship stage in the moments following the game, Burrow still struggled to convey all that has transpired since the season began.
"I think what we did tonight can't be taken away from us," Burrow said. "I don't know about the whole hero thing, but I know this national championship will be remembered for a long time in Louisiana."
With the trophy tucked under his left arm like a football, he thanked the trainers. He thanked the coaches. He thanked his teammates. He thanked the chefs and the equipment managers at LSU, pushing the spotlight on everyone but himself. It's something he has done frequently the past few months as his brilliance has grown in size and scope.
And while he might not be able to acknowledge his own greatness this season—the greatest season a quarterback has ever produced—there are plenty ready to do it on his behalf. At this point, it's a formality.
On Monday night, a night that will be celebrated in the state of Louisiana for generations to come, he left little doubt. His masterpiece was complete.