5 early thoughts on LSU-Clemson in National Championship Game
The stage is set, and my goodness, it’s star-studded.
Tigers vs. Tigers. Death Valley vs. Death Valley. Alabama haters vs. Alabama haters.
Sooooooo many similarities. Where do we begin?
Well, for starters, I’m bummed that we have another 2 weeks to wait for this game. A 16-day buffer should create more buildup than ever, right? Nah, who are we kidding? This game doesn’t need buildup. It’ll sell itself.
Fear not, though. I can sell it for you.
Here are 5 early thoughts on the showdown in New Orleans:
1. The QB matchup for the ages
Joe Burrow vs. Trevor Lawrence? Please and thank you. The preseason Heisman favorite will face off with the actual Heisman winner. It’ll be the 2020 No. 1 pick vs. the 2021 No. 1 pick. This should be all sorts of fun.
Why? Because all these guys do is show up in big-time games and deliver. I mean, think about it. Burrow’s Tigers just dropped a combined 100 points on a pair of top-4 teams at a neutral site while Lawrence is the defending national champ who has yet to lose as a starter.
Speaking of that, let’s not forget how absurd that is. Burrow is going to dominate the headlines because in this strange world, the fifth-year guy is the new, fun thing and Lawrence is considered old news. What Lawrence is doing is incredible even with the watered down ACC this year.
The combination of these signal-callers with this group of receivers is wonderful.
2. I still haven’t figured out how Clemson/anyone defends LSU’s receivers
With all due respect to Ohio State, Clemson has a different type of matchup ahead with LSU’s bunch. Justin Jefferson’s biggest gripe on Saturday was that he was pulled early in the second half before he could catch his fifth touchdown. As Ja’Marr Chase told me after the game, Oklahoma tried to bracket him, and all Burrow did was pepper Jefferson with targets. Eighteen, to be exact.
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LSU is so good that the Biletnikoff winner was essentially a non-factor for the vast majority of that game, and LSU’s wideouts still accounted for 6 touchdown catches. It’s stupid.
What makes LSU so good? Is it the system? Yes, and no. As Joe Brady says, LSU doesn’t have 1-on-1 matchups, it has 1-on-0 matchups.
These Tiger wideouts, along with Terrace Marshall, always keep moving. When it was 3rd down deep in their own territory and Burrow looked like he was being forced out of bounds by the Oklahoma defense, Marshall kept moving and caught that wild floater from Burrow to keep the drive — and rout — alive.
Defending that for 60 minutes seems impossible.
3. LSU is more battle-tested this year, but …
Clemson’s strength shouldn’t be tested anymore just because the ACC was bad. Beating that Ohio State team — even with an extremely fortunate call — is still an impressive feat.
And listen. Remember last year? We said that Clemson was going to be in trouble against a team like Alabama, who faced quality foes down the stretch. As much as the college football world has been annoyed by Dabo Swinney, the guy knows how to develop his team over the course of a season against lukewarm competition.
Looking back now, yes, we can say that Clemson wasn’t as good early in the season. Was it boredom? Was it a championship hangover? I don’t know. What I do know is that a team that is full of guys who haven’t been to a national championship is facing a program that’s going there for the fourth time in 5 years.
Let’s not sit here and break down résumés from games that happened 3 months ago. That’s out the window now.
4. What LSU can learn from Alabama and Ohio State
So remember last year in the national championship when Alabama repeatedly fell on its face on 3rd-and-short? In my opinion, it changed the momentum of that game. On Saturday night, Ohio State struggled when it got into the red zone.
Ohio State got inside Clemson’s 25-yard line 5 times: 3 field goals, 1 TD, 1 INT.
We can talk about the officiating, but Ohio State blew its chances and let Clemson go 94 yards for the winning TD and that was the difference.
— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) December 29, 2019
Inches matter. Finishing off drives matter.
Has LSU struggled with that concept? Not in the slightest. But to beat a team that hasn’t lost a game in 2 years, those things can and will matter.
That’s all the more reason that I think Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s health matters. The LSU running back wasn’t needed on Saturday, though he did log 2 impressive early carries. He said he was amazed that he was as close to 100% as he was considering the severity of the injury. He said he expects to be back to 100% in a couple weeks.
Edwards-Helaire is the guy who can finish off runs, and as LSU fans know all too well, he’s been the difference late in some of these games against quality foes. For what it’s worth, Clemson struggled immensely to slow down J.K. Dobbins, who still went off despite a mid-game ankle injury.
If LSU is going to dethrone Clemson, it’ll be because it avoided the shortcomings that doomed Alabama and Ohio State.
5. It’s the matchup we deserve
I know. You wanted Burrow vs. his former team. It would’ve been great theater. But you know what? You would’ve gotten sick of that storyline by Day 2, much less over the course of 16 days.
Wouldn’t you rather have a better between-the-lines matchup? In a national championship game, yes, give me the better matchup.
There are storylines galore with this one. Like, how will Louisiana deal with the state-wide hangover that’s bound to ensue, win or lose. Or, which one of these quarterbacks will make a tank more beneficial? Or, can Swinney pull one more on the SEC?
Ya see. The storylines are there. The fireworks should be, too. These teams have been all sorts of dominant, especially down the stretch. We deserve a chance to watch them battle it out.
Can it be Jan. 13 yet?