Besides the obvious, there were 2 extremely encouraging developments for LSU heading into Clemson showdown
ATLANTA — If you’re an LSU fan, you were encouraged by the way Saturday played out.
Win a Playoff semifinal 63-28 and life is fantastic. It’s hard to be upset with much of anything. The record-setting day was, as a great person once said, “just how you draw it up.” Obviously there’s nothing wrong with saying the day’s events were encouraging.
But there were 2 somewhat overlooked things I found extremely encouraging going into Clemson. It involved 2 players who had 2 touches apiece after a pair of impressive, burst-onto-the-scene seasons in this LSU offense.
If you noticed Saturday, Ja’Marr Chase was often lined up in the backfield in certain shotgun formations. That happened as early as the 2nd play from scrimmage.
Why would an All-American receiver be in the backfield? It’s a wrinkle that we’ve seen Joe Brady use before. But it was done more often on Saturday because Clyde Edwards-Helaire was considered the “emergency back.” As we found out, that wasn’t entirely true. He was on the field on the 3rd play from scrimmage.
Oh, and he did this:
— Christopher Reiss (@NFL_ChrisReiss) December 28, 2019
That was 1 of 2 touches that Edwards-Helaire got all night. That was 2 more touches than some thought he’d get coming off the hamstring injury that he suffered in practice ahead of the Peach Bowl. Edwards-Helaire said after the game that it was pretty incredible that he was able to play at all given the severity of the injury and what it took to get him on the field.
And if we’re being honest, Edwards-Helaire really wasn’t needed Saturday. LSU realized that early, and Chris Curry became the workhorse back. In other words, getting the first-team All-SEC back on the field wasn’t a priority. Getting him fully healthy for the national championship — which he says he’ll be for sure — is the priority.
Why is that significant? Edwards-Helaire has been incredible in LSU’s biggest games this year. To be honest, I was worried about the idea of him either being turned to and not being at full strength to continue that, or him getting re-injured. Neither of those things happened. Instead, Curry played well and Joe Burrow threw a billion and a half touchdowns.
Speaking of those touchdowns, none of them went to the Biletnikoff winner. Only 2 of Burrow’s 29 completions went his way.
Chase, who said before the game that Oklahoma had a lot of fast guys but that 1 or 2 are “pretty slow,” didn’t back down from those comments. Especially not after Justin Jefferson’s record-setting day.
“I don’t have to take nothin’ back I said. I mean it,” Chase said on Saturday. “(Jefferson) proved it today, right? Bracket me, he’s open. Bracket him, (Terrace Marshall) is open. Gotta find somethin’.”
I mean, he’s not wrong. Jefferson got 18 (!) targets Saturday. He could have had 20-plus catches had LSU thrown the ball and kept Jefferson in the game. Oklahoma was so focused on Chase that in addition to not putting additional coverage on Jefferson, it didn’t put any coverage on Thad Moss when he ripped off his 62-yard touchdown.
Let’s keep that in mind. LSU just had a video game-like day throwing the football, and the non-Burrow guy who accounted for more production than anyone in that offense had 2 catches and 0 scores.
Can that happen against Clemson? Probably not. Can LSU expect to put up 63 points against the top scoring defense in America without a healthy Edwards-Helaire? I wouldn’t bet on that, either.
But it was easy to forget that amidst all the big-time games this year, this was the first real do-or-die game for the Tigers (LSU with an Alabama loss absolutely still had a Playoff path). And that game was essentially treated like a mid-September Group of 5 game. Adjustments were made and LSU rolled like it always did.
In a matchup against a team with as much big-game experience as Clemson, I have to think that matters. What makes the Tigers great is so much more than just having Burrow playing at this all-world level. It’s that they truly do have so many different ways that they can tweak this offense to win games.
On Saturday, Clemson faced an Ohio State team that struggled to get scoring drives going once J.K. Dobbins went down. Granted, he came back in and still totaled 221 rushing yards. The Buckeyes don’t have quite as many weapons capable of taking over a game as LSU. Is a healthy Edwards-Helaire every bit as capable of taking over a game against Clemson? In my opinion, yes. If that’s what LSU needs to do in order to win a ballgame, he has that ability.
That’s not necessarily my way of saying that LSU is unbeatable. This is still Trevor Lawrence and the defending national champs facing off against an LSU defense that’s been better as of late, but hasn’t always looked championship-caliber. But is this LSU offense virtually unstoppable? That’s fair to say at this point.
Saturday provided 2 encouraging reminders of that.