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National Championship: LSU vs. Clemson

Clemson has been there and will continue to be. We don’t know the next time LSU will be in this game. This urgency will push them over the edge.

SELU LSU 9718 059 by tammy Anthony baker is licensed under CC BY 2.0

National Championship: LSU vs. Clemson


Estimated Reading Time: 15 Minutes

Who: Clemson (14-0) vs. LSU (14-0)
When: 8 p.m EST., January 13, 2020
Where: New Orleans, Louisiana
Line: LSU by 5

Woah Nelly!

After the way too long sixteen day layoff, the 2020 College Football Playoff finally concludes tonight when the #1 LSU Tigers take on the #3 Clemson Tigers in this all-tiger Championship clash.

The teams had a bit of different path to reach the Championship. LSU’s perfect season continue with its offensive dominance on full display in their 63-28 thrashing of #4 Oklahoma. In the other game, Clemson continued to showcase their championship pedigree by sneaking by #2 Ohio State (29-23) in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl. Both teams will be playing for the right to carry their 4th National Title. Clemson is the defending National Champ and winners of two of the last three titles, while LSU has not won a title since 2007.

This game features several battles:

  • A future Hall of Fame Coach against the rugged coach whom the entire state of Louisiana wanted out the door two seasons.
  • The most epic quarterback clash in the history of college football (no exaggeration).
  • An array of play makers on both sides.
  • The team that has won their last 29 games vs. the team with the most wins against top 25 teams (7) in the country.

This game is being played just 70 miles outside of LSU’s campus, by the way.

Let’s get going!

WHEN LSU HAS THE BALL

LSU’s engine begins and ends with Quarterback Joe Burrow. Burrow, who was the forgotten transfer quarterback from Ohio State, turned darling of LSU football. He’s not impressive at all. I mean he’s just the Heisman trophy winner, future #1 pick, and the quarterback who is on the verge of the highest completion percentage ever. He had possibly the best season in College Football History as well.

Burrow manhandled the Oklahoma Sooners in the Sugar Bowl, finishing 29/39 with 493 yards, 7 passing touchdowns, and 1 rushing touchdown (mostly in the first half). His play has been a thing to behold and most are wondering if any defense can shut him down.

In addition to Burrow, LSU has such a great supporting cast. The cast was on display against Oklahoma, led by wide receiver Justin Jefferson. Jefferson, who is not even LSU’s top weapon, scorched Oklahoma with 14 catches for 227 yards and FOUR touchdowns.

Other LSU weapons include Ja’Marr Chase (The nation’s top receiver), receiver Terrance Marshall Jr. (Two touchdowns against Oklahoma), tight end Thaddeus Moss (99 yards, one touchdown vs. Oklahoma), running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (The “heart and soul” of LSU’s offense) and three other running backs who topped 150 yards on the season.

Clemson’s defensive coordinator Brent Venabales is aware of the challenge:

“They have answers to everything,” Venables said. “If you’re going to defend them you’re not going to trick ’em. You’ve got to out-execute them. You’ve got to play fundamentals, technique.

“You show up on Monday night and slop around this game, it’ll get ugly on either side of the ball.”

On the other side of the ball is the powerful Clemson defense led by the aforementioned Venables.

You can’t talk about Clemson’s defense without discussing their line play. Clemson lost all of their defensive lineman to the NFL: Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant and Dexter Lawrence. In their place, Xavier Thomas, Nyles PinckeyTyler Davis and Logan Rudolph have stepped in nicely.

It sounds like Coach is pretty pleased:

“I just couldn’t be more proud of our guys and how they’ve bought in and worked and believed when really nobody else did — probably me included,” said defensive coordinator Brent Venables. “I didn’t know, to be honest with you, how we would grow up and develop and those types of things.”

You also must mention star linebacker Isaiah Simmons. Simmons, a “jack of all trades” and future first round pick, has 97 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, two forced fumbles, three interceptions, six pass breakups, and a fumble recovery on the season.

Clemson’s defense will be LSU’s toughest test of the season. It sounds like Joe Burrow is aware of the challenge:

“I’m going to have to look him off,” said LSU star quarterback Joe Burrow, the 2019 Heisman Trophy winner. “I’m going to have to find him every play. Depending where they put him, they do a lot of different things. So you got to know where he is all the time to know what defense they’re trying to do, where they’re trying to move him to do different things.”

WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN

LSU hasn’t faced a defense the caliber of Clemson. Clemson hasn’t faced an offense the caliber of LSU.

This is simple: if LSU is able to continue what they are doing on offense, they will be fine.

The Clemson defense is going to have to be the antitheses of Oklahoma. The unit must continue to force third and long, keep the game close early on, continue their tackle for loss dominance, and get off the field.

I don’t believe this will happen early. The defense will recover after getting blitzed early, but I expect Burrow to continue his mastery against a very talented unit.

The nation’s No. 1 offense and the No. 2 defense are ready to battle.

Advantage: LSU Tigers

WHEN CLEMSON HAS THE BALL

Clemson is led by their stars: quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne. A casual fan might not have guessed this due to Coach Dabo Swinney’s brilliant game planning in switching up the stars’ roles.

While Lawrence’s passing numbers were good (18/33, 259 yards, 2 touchdown’s), Clemson coach Dabo Swinney decided to pull a card out of his pocket, unleashing Lawrence’s running game. Lawrence finished the night with 16 rushes for 107 yards with a 6.7 yards per carry and one touchdown. You may have seen this unbelievable rush:

Imagine Ohio State defensive players stunned at this defense and forced to attempt to tackle this 6 foot, six inch, 220 pound quarterback running at full speed down the field. This impressed LSU coach Ed Orgeron so much: “Trevor Lawrence would be a phenomenal pass rusher.”

Clemson’s other star Travis Etienne wasn’t so hot when it came to running the ball in that game. Coach Dabo Swinney had another idea in mind using Etienne primarily as a receiver. While his numbers (3 catches, 98 yards, 32.7 average, 2 touchdown’s) don’t look sensational at first, it was Etienne with the clutch (and nifty) 36 yard touchdown pass in the final minute, shutting the door on Ohio State’s season:

Clemson also has other weapons to look out for: running back Lyn-J Dixon (six touchdowns), wide receiver Tee Higgins (13 touchdowns), wide receiver Justyn Ross (56 catches), and nine other players with at least two touchdowns on the season.

THIS GAME MAY RIDE ON HOW LSU’S DEFENSE COUNTERS THIS OFFENSE

The other side of the ball is perhaps the weakest unit in this game. This unit’s performance might be where the “pendulum on which the national championship game vs. Clemson will swing.”

This LSU defense that didn’t look great in the early part of the season as Collegefootballnews.com’s Pete Fuitak details here:

It was if the battle against Ole Miss was the enough-is-enough moment. Clemson had one of those against North Carolina, and LSU had the back-to-back games against Alabama and Ole Miss on the road allowing 1,155 yards combined in the two games. Ever since then, this has been the D everyone was waiting for.

Arkansas did next to nothing the week after, Texas A&M was shut down to a dead stop, and Georgia was never allowed to play in the SEC Championship. It all started with more pressure from the front.

The defense recovered and finished the season allowing only 21.2 points and 343.3 yards per game. Their pressure up front accounted for 33 sacks on the season.

One issue to keep in mind is their inability to stop rushing Quarterbacks. In that game against Ole Miss, unknown Ole Miss Quarterback John Rhys Plumlee WENT OFF for a total of 221 rushing yards.

This makes you wonder if Coach Swinney was just warming Lawrence up vs. Ohio State.

WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN

If Lawrence has a performance like last year’s title game it’s over and we should hand the title to Clemson.

Clemson’s offense is going to have to control the clock and keep LSU’s offense off the field. Clemson must keep the ball in Lawrence’s hand, expecting a performance similar to last year to win this game.

If LSU is able to come out of the gates and blitz Clemson (As I stated above), I expect an early turnover from Clemson will change the tide of this game.

Advantage: Clemson Tigers

THE COACH’S CORNER

LSU Coach Ed Orgeron:

Ed Orgeron was on the hot seat only two seasons ago. This home grown coach and “tiger for life” turned this program around after that issue, and understands how important this game is for the state of Louisiana.

Q. How would you describe what’s at stake for LSU in this game, as a program?
ED ORGERON: Everything. Everything. Everything that we’ve done up until now is good, but it’s not great. We want to be great. To finish the season strong with a win is our goal, and that’s going to be a tough task. But we didn’t look at it as hey, man, we’ve got to go down there and win the National Championship, it’s going to be bigger than ever. We’ve got to play well enough to beat Clemson, and that’s been our focus. We’ve done that every week.

Clemson’s Dabo Swinney:

It’s not often that a coach is on the brink of greatness. Coach Dabo Swinney is at this spot in his career. Coach doesn’t have a loss in his last 29 games and has won two out of the last three national titles.

The word “dynasty”, however, doesn’t sit well with him:

“No. We’re a long way from a dynasty,” he said, launching into a longer explanation, choosing to use the word “consistency” instead. “I think we’re as good a program as there is out there, but we’re a long way from a dynasty. I think from a dynasty standpoint, Alabama is kind of in a category of their own. I mean, Coach (Nick) Saban may have won five national championships in (nine) years or however long he’s been there. It’s incredible the run that they’ve had.

But to be able to win two out of the last three, I think that certainly puts us in a place that’s pretty special.”

That’s pretty humble talk from a coach about to be in the record books. Two titles in a row will look awfully good…

MATCH UP TO WATCH

This one is fairly obvious.

Joe Burrow vs. Trevor Lawrence.

Burrow is second in the nation with 5,208 passing yards, first in the nation with 55 Touchdowns and only has 6 interceptions on the season. Burrow has led LSU to seven top 10 wins, including a domination of #4 Georgia in the SEC Championship. His dominance led to the Heisman trophy and an almost certain 1st pick in the NFL draft.

By the looks at it he’s already taking some pretty good advice:

On the other side of the ring is Trevor Lawrence. Coach Orgeron sounds impressed:

Orgeron: “Trevor Lawrence is a winner, obviously. He took the game in his hands against Ohio State. They’re going to make plays with a winner. But his footwork, his releases, his RPOs, his decision-making process, he has that ability to run the football. That was surprising to me to see his feet at 6-6, 220. The other coaches would have him playing defensive end rushing the passer.”

Things didn’t start easy for Lawrence. Since the two interception first quarter vs. Louisville, Lawrence is 152-of-196 (77.5 completion percentage) for 2,125 yards, 25 touchdowns and no interceptions. Prior to the Ohio State game he threw 169 consecutive pass attempts without an interception.

The most important thing about Lawrence is that he is a winner. Lawrence is allergic to losing, winning 70 of his last 71 games played including high school.

You have the darling of the college football season, who has literally been perfect vs. the quarterback who just won’t lose.

Something has to give.

NFL DRAFT PROSPECTS IN THIS GAME

Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons:

As I stated above, Simmons has 97 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, two forced fumbles, three interceptions, six pass breakups and a fumble recovery on the season. He leads his team in the first four categories listed.

All of those numbers have led to a multitude of awards, including the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and the Butkus Award (Top linebacker).

“He’s going to run probably a 4.4 or better,” Swinney said. “He’s got a 41-inch vertical.”

Clemson running back Travis Etienne:

The first trait that stand out about Etienne is his extraordinary speed. He has a sprinter’s speed, making him a threat to take any touch of the ball the length of the field for a touchdown. With his first-step quickness and burst to the hole, Etienne gets to the second level in a hurry and will explode down the field. He is so fast that he can take away angles from defenders as the runs away from the defense. Once Etienne breaks into the open field, he doesn’t get caught from behind as he is too fast to catch.

On top of being very fast, Etienne has very good running back traits, like patience to let holes develop, vision to see lanes about to come open, and good body lean to run behind his pads. While Etienne is not a big back, he does flash some nice contact balance to maintain his feet after contact, and he has a nose for the end zone. At the college level, there have been some plays on which he picked up yards after contact and ran through some tackles. With the bigger and stronger defenders of the NFL however, Etienne will not be a back who runs over tacklers and picks up a lot of yards after contact.

Etienne is natural and fluid in the passing game. He catches the ball with his hands and is able to run some good routes. In the NFL, he has the potential to become a good receiving back who is a dangerous weapon to rip off yards in chunks on check downs to the flat.

LSU’s wide receiver Jordan Jefferson:

He made only a single catch as a freshman, but as a sophomore, he broke out with 54 receptions for 875 yards and six touchdowns. Jefferson has been a superb weapon for Joe Burrow in 2019, producing a lot of big plays for the Tigers’ point-machine offense. Entering the college football playoff, Jefferson has 88 receptions for 1,207 yards with 14 touchdowns.

There is a lot to like about Jefferson for the NFL because he has the skill set to be an effective starting receiver. He has mismatch height and length with solid hands, leaping ability, and body control downfield. Those things make Jefferson very dangerous to make receptions over defensive backs and come down with contested catches even when he is covered. Jefferson high points the ball and is a dangerous red-zone weapon. While he is not a burner, he has enough quickness to get downfield and challenge defenses. He is a weapon to work the sideline and be a tough wideout to defend on back-shoulder throws, fades and slants.

LSU defensive end K’lavon Chaisson:

Chaisson has excellent bend coming off the edge that comes with a very good step that shows off how good his upfield burst is. He shoots out of his stance low while being able to dip his shoulder and run the track without losing speed. He has very good hip flexibility that allows him to play in pass coverage as well as an underneath defender.

Missed his sophomore season after suffering an ACL injury in the first game, he hasn’t played a lot of football. The inexperience shows up in his lack of refinement as a pass rusher who needs to equip himself with more counters and learn how to use his hands. K’Lavon Chaisson is an exciting prospect who provides versatility with elite upside that should make him a first rounder come April.

PREDICTION

Let’s consider the advantages:

LSU: It’s as close to a home game as you can get for them, the team has extreme confidence, they have the top quarterback and wide receiver in the nation, a severely underrated secondary and are battle tested with seven top 25 wins.

Clemson: This squad is experienced and unfazed by this moment, the coach is going to be a legend, they know how to win in close games, they have a quarterback who doesn’t lose, the top running back in the nation, and dominant defense.

Sometimes you have to go with your gut.

This game is 70 miles from LSU’s campus. The gumbo will be overflowing, players won’t be able to hear, and the home field advantage will be evident early. Clemson has never seen anything like this before.

I think we are in for a bit of a surprise similar to last year’s National Title game. The crowd will play a huge factor after LSU gets an early lead. LSU will get an early touchdown, force a key turnover and blitz out to a 31-14 half time lead. Clemson will get within 10, only hold LSU to 10 second half points but can’t figure out Burrow, who will deliver a death blow late.

Joe Burrow will win the QB battle:

  • Burrow will have 4 total TD’s.
  • Lawrence will have 2 total TD’s, 1 interception and 86 rushing yards.

Clemson has been there and will continue to be. We don’t know the next time LSU will be in this game. This urgency will push them over the edge.

LSU WINS THE NATIONAL TITLE

LSU 41, CLEMSON 24

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