LSU comes into the National Championship game as 5.5 point favorites over Clemson
Six months of hard-fought football has finally brought us to the 2020 National Championship Game. Number One LSU has been on a roll since the start of the year, but they will have to take down the third ranked Clemson Tigers if they want to reach immortality. With all that in mind, it’s time to take a look at these teams and see who has the edge headed into tonight.
Let’s be realistic here, the Clemson Tigers are not the sexy pick in this matchup. The Tigers had a very comfortable regular season, playing in the ACC which had a down year outside the state of South Carolina. In fact, during ACC play, Clemson only found themselves in a single game decided by one score, a 21-20 victory over North Carolina. Beyond that lone game, the Tigers dominated every team they faced during the regular season. However, when the end of the year came, Clemson found themselves ranked third in the country behind Ohio State and LSU despite having an undefeated record. That would not be enough to silence the Tigers, who staged an amazing comeback against the Buckeyes in the college football playoff, winning by a final score of 29-23. Now, Clemson faces its toughest test of the season as they travel to the Superdome to take on the number one team in the nation.
You can’t talk about Clemson without mentioning their electric young Quarterback, Trevor Lawrence. The 6’6″ sophomore had a somewhat shaky start to the season as he threw eight interceptions in the first seven games of the year. Eventually though, Clemson’s quarterback found his composure and has been on a tear since the last weekend of October (25 total touchdowns, 0 interceptions). In fact, Trevor Lawrence has only had one game since October 26th where he posted a QBR below 90. This kid is clutch, and you can’t talk abut his clutch gene without mentioning the comeback win he orchestrated against the second ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. After Clemson went down 16-0 in the second quarter, the Tigers would turn things around and eventually win the game thanks in part to three total touchdowns by Trevor Lawrence. If the Tigers want to win the game tonight, Lawrence may have to go toe-to-toe statistically with this year’s Heisman Trophy winner.
It’s not all on the Quarterback though for Clemson. Some people can argue that RB Travis Etienne is the most important player on this Tigers team. The junior Running Back has been key to the Tigers offense all season long, rushing for more than 1500 yards. It’s not just the ground game that makes Etienne such a dynamic player. Interestingly enough, Etienne had fewer rushing yards this season than he did last year. However, the Louisiana native has been a major asset in the passing game in 2019. Etienne recorded 32 receptions this season that went for 396 yards! To give some perspective, Etienne recorded just 17 total receptions for 135 receiving yards in his first two seasons at Clemson. I will expect Etienne to be a big part of both the passing game and the rushing game if the Tigers hope to come out on top in tonight’s game.
In the end though, it will likely be the Clemson defense that will play the biggest role in National Championship Game. Led by coordinator Brent Venables, this Clemson defensive unit may be the best one we have seen in the Dabo Swinney era. The Tigers are only allowing opponents to score 10.6 points per game! Only one team since 2010 has allowed fewer points per game (2011 Alabama Crimson Tide – 8.2 points per game). What may be most impressive about this defensive unit is the fact that they are performing at such a high level after losing several players to the NFL Draft. Five starters from Clemson’s 2018 were drafted to the NFL last season, yet the defense has improved in points per game allowed (13.1 to 10.6). It all starts in the secondary for the Tigers, who allow 138.5 passing yards per game, the fewest in the country. Also, ten players have recorded at least one interception for Clemson this season. The heart and soul of the Tigers’ defense is linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who has done it all for Clemson this year. Be sure to look for Simmons to be on the end of plenty of big plays in this game. Clemson will have to have their best defensive game of the season if they hope to repeat as National Champions this year.
LSU is no stranger to the national spotlight. This will be the seventh game of the season that the Tigers will play against an opponent ranked in the top ten. The Tigers have outscored their previous six ranked opponents 256-165. It is impossible to not mention the absolute beatdown LSU gave to the fourth ranked Oklahoma Sooners, a game where the Tigers scored 49 points in the first half alone. You can expect LSU to be ready for this game. The Tigers have not taken any opponent lightly this season under Ed Orgeron, who is 39-9 since taking over as head coach of LSU in 2016. Orgeron will face his biggest test as a coach tonight when LSU squares off against the reigning National Champions.
Teams have had up and down performances against the LSU defense, but the Tigers have managed to bend and not break so far this season. Other schools have been able to put up a decent amount of points on the Tigers (21.2 points per game allowed), but the defense has made the big plays in close games when they needed to. The Tigers defense came through big against Alabama, forcing three turnovers and a turnover on downs in a game that ended up being 46-41. LSU also forced two turnovers against Auburn, eventually leading to a 23-20 victory. The defense will need their big names to make big plays in tonight’s game. Derek Stingley Jr. and Grant Delpit will need to be locked-in in the secondary if the Tigers hope to win. Furthermore, if sophomore linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson can get a sack or two and make Trevor Lawrence uncomfortable, then LSU could make this an incredibly difficult game for Clemson.
All in all though, the conversation about LSU’s success starts and ends with Heisman trophy winner Joe Burrow. Everybody knows that Burrow leads the nation in passing touchdowns (55) and passing yards (5208), but what gets forgotten about is how well he spreads the ball around accurately. So far, Burrow has completed passes to 19 different receivers at a completion rate of 77.6%. That would break the record for completion percentage in an NCAA season if he is able to keep up this pace tonight. Factor in Joe Burrow’s ability to rush the ball when necessary (310 yards this season), and you have a recipe for a nearly unstoppable offense, just ask the Oklahoma Sooners. Joe Burrow is the most important player in tonight’s game. The Tigers will go as far as Burrow takes them.
This will likely be one of the best games of the season. I don’t see a blowout happening like LSU-Oklahoma. I also don’t expect there to be a huge comeback like the Ohio State-Clemson game. This is going to be a back-and-forth affair with lots of scoring from both sides. I have confidence that Clemson will cover the 5.5 point spread. Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne are a nightmare to matchup against for any team. However, I still like LSU to win this game. I think Joe Burrow will have to orchestrate a game-winning drive similar to what Jameis Winston did with Florida State in 2013. It will be the cherry on top of what has been a historic season for Joe Burrow and LSU.