When Monday night comes to a close, a National Champion will be crowned and the curtain will fall on the 2019 College Football season. So much excitement and sadness wrapped into one moment. Thankfully, for the 4th time in 5 seasons, the Clemson Tigers will be participating in said event in what can only be described as a pseudo road game versus the LSU Tigers. Y’all, Baton Rouge is right down the road from New Orleans. It’s like LSU playing Clemson in Charlotte and calling it a “neutral” site. Also, according to Vivid Seats, the Louisiana Superdome will be about 68% LSU. Yet, Clemson never really seems to care. Nonetheless, if you like offensive football then this shindig is definitely for you! I watched 8 of the 14 games LSU played this season and at times my neck began to hurt because I felt like I was watching a tennis match. Can Clemson slow down the Burrow Bullies? Can the Bayou Bengals lasso Lawrence and company? Will replay piss people off…again? So many questions that will be answered Monday night down in The Big Easy. Predicting this game, however, is anything but easy. There are some givens… Dabo will be talking about disrespect, Coach Orgeron will end every interview with “Go Tie-gaas!”, beads will be worn by most, gumbo will be consumed by the gallon and the Tigers will win. But which one?
By now, you are probably sick of hearing about Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow. But, give credit where it’s due cause his numbers are gaudy and they should be with receivers like Ja’Marr Chase, Terrence Marshall and Justin Jefferson. I have a feeling, though, that LSU Offensive Coordinator Steve Ensminger will try to run the ball between the tackles since RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire is as healthy as he’s been in about a month. Ohio State had success with it and that will force Clemson’s linebackers to creep towards the line which will create holes in the middle of the defense. That will open up space for TE Thaddeus Moss (son of NFL legend Randy Moss for us old folks) who is too fast for most linebackers but much bigger than most secondary players. The most impressive thing to me about Burrow is his accuracy. He can throw the football through very small windows. Also, LSU LOVES to throw the deep ball and Burrow can drop dimes in a bucket. Their “chunk play” numbers are video game like. The Bayou Bengals LOWEST offensive output this season was 417 total yards. Let that roll in your dome for a minute. You’re not going to stop LSU but there are ways to slow them down. Clemson has to get pressure with their front four. That will allow Isaiah Simmons the freedom to cover Moss and/or spy on Burrow. I expect Clemson to disguise coverage but bring pressure most of the time just to move Burrow “off his spot” so to speak. You can’t rush 3 and drop 8 or just sit in a zone against Burrow. Wanna know how I know? Ask Oklahoma. Bringing pressure, though, is tricky because LSU calls a bunch of screens so tackling in space and rolling off blocks will be huge. When Burrow does get in trouble, or needs a big 3rd down conversion, his tendency is to look for Jefferson. I’m sure Clemson will blanket Jefferson and force Burrow to go somewhere else. The dirty little stat LSU fans don’t like to talk about is the fact that Burrow has been sacked 30 times this year. LSU will move the ball but what happens when they get to the red zone? LSU is #1 in the country at converting touchdowns while Clemson is one of the best in preventing them. Something’s gotta give. Advantage LSU.
Did y’all know Trevor Lawrence had wheels? I did but even I was surprised with how effective he was on the designed runs. Trevor ended up being the leading rusher versus Ohio State which is good and bad. The Buckeyes made it crystal clear Clemson was not going to be able to run the ball between the tackles with Travis Etienne. Clemson also struggled with having to move parts around versus Ohio State due to Higgins and Ross getting banged up. Be prepared for more of the same because LSU’s defensive backs are all 6 feet plus and extremely physical. The Bayou Bengals play an intense, in your face press man most of the time so Clemson’s receivers will rarely get a clean release at the line of scrimmage. On the other hand, LSU doesn’t really have elite pass rushers which should give Trevor Lawrence time. I noticed on film that when the opposition had time in the pocket, LSU gave up a lot of post patterns and go routes. The LSU defense also seemed to struggle versus teams running RPOs with a QB with above average running ability (insert Trevor Lawrence). Having said all of this, the x factor for me is Louisiana native Travis Etienne. Oh, he remembers the last time Clemson played in New Orleans. Getting pummeled by Alabama left scars on Travis and I just have a feeling he’s gonna run like his hair is on fire. Teams have had success running off tackle versus the Bayou Bengals so I see that being the plan of attack for the Clemson running game. If RUN ETN gets going, that will help Clemson sustain drives and take time off the clock. LSU can’t score if they don’t have the ball. LSU CB Derek Stingley has 6 picks this season yet Trevor Lawrence hasn’t thrown a pick in his last 202 pass attempts which is a Clemson record and the longest active streak in the country. If, and it’s a BIG if, Trevor can continue that streak Clemson should be able to put up points in bunches. Advantage Clemson.
Ah yes, good ole special teams. Allow me to take a moment to issue a mea culpa to Will Spiers. I’ve ridden him like a rented mule all season and he showed out versus Ohio State. Hopefully, he can keep dropping bombs inside the 20 and not allow returns. The beat goes on for B.T. Potter. If Clemson got to 4th down on that last drive versus Ohio State, I really wonder if Dabo would have rolled B.T. out there. We will never know. What we do know is LSU has a similar issue. Placekicker Cade York is 21/26 on the season but his kicks tend to go left every time. If he has to kick from the left hash, that’s going to be a problem. He’s also shanked 4 extra points this season. LSU punter Zach Von Rosenburg has only 40 punts this season (Will Spiers had 52 by comparison which was lowest in the ACC) with 11 of the 40 going for 58 yards or more. He dropped 18 of his punts inside the 20 with only 3 touchbacks. That’s pretty darn good no matter who you are. I’m giving a slight advantage to LSU.
This will be the 4th time Clemson and LSU have gone paw to paw with the previous 3 being decided by 7 points or less. Some claim that the 1958 Sugar Bowl was for the National Championship which in reality isn’t true since LSU was already crowned Champs by the AP and Coaches Poll before that game was ever played. Plus, Clemson had 2 losses going into that game and had zero shot at the crown. If you include that game, however, then that means all 3 National Titles for LSU have been won in New Orleans. Clemson has played 3 postseason games in the State of Louisiana and has lost all of them. The Superdome can get extremely loud so false start penalties shouldn’t be a surprise. Speaking of penalties, those and turnovers will play a HUGE roll in the outcome. Sounds strange but I think the coin toss and the first drives will be crucial. Reason being, Clemson has allowed a total of 7 points in the 2nd half of their last three Playoff games. Also, LSU has scored on every opening drive this season but two (should have vs Florida but kicker missed an easy one). Both teams will feel the pressure and LSU is by far the more feisty, chirpier and emotional bunch. I go back and forth as to who I think wins this thing. Vegas says it will be the Bayou Bengals by 6.5. My heart says Clemson but my gut says LSU. I guess I’ll go with LSU 40 Clemson 35. Remember, though, I picked Alabama by two touchdowns last year and we all saw how wrong I was. ?