NEW YORK, N.Y.- It’s almost here. After what feels like forever and a day since the College Football Playoff semifinal games took place, the national championship is right around the corner. The best matchup we’ve seen both on paper and on the field is set to take place in New Orleans as the top ranked LSU Tigers takes on on the defending champions and third ranked Clemson Tigers.
So which team has the edge going in? Both have identical 14-0 records and have star power all over the field. Below are three keys for each team on how they can leave New Orleans hoisting the championship trophy.
Three Keys To A LSU Win:
Touchdowns, Not Field Goals: Watching the Fiesta Bowl easily hammers home this point. Ohio State moved the ball up and down the field against Clemson, but continuously settled for field goals, which kept Clemson around. LSU has to score touchdowns once they get inside the 20, which hasn’t been a problem for them this season. LSU has been deadly in the red zone, owning the most efficient red zone offense in the country, scoring at a 97% clip. The Tigers have entered the red zone 70 times, scoring a touchdown 55 times. This is a trend that must continue, especially considering that LSU has already faced three teams with a better red zone defense than Clemson, which is tied for 16th in the country. Red zone efficiency will be a huge key to this game and is a category that favors LSU.
Defensive Confidence: Throughout the year, the Tigers defense has been a question mark and left many, including myself, believing that the defense was holding them back from being a championship level team. Things have changed as LSU has shored up their defense. A big reason for that has been availability, as safety Grant Delpit recovered from an ankle injury, K’Lavon Chaisson is back to 100% and Michael Divinity Jr. will return from suspension to suit up for the Tigers. The narrative has changed dramatically as since the Ole Miss game, where significant doubts that the defense would hold LSU back from winning a national title, the Tigers have allowed just 270.2 yards per game and 14.2 points per game. The Tigers aced their biggest test of the season, holding a potent Oklahoma offense to 200 fewer yards and almost two touchdowns less than their per-game average. The defense is playing with an extreme confidence that will carry into Monday’s game.
Feed Clyde Edwards-Helaire: The “do it all” back has been virtually unstoppable this season. The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman wrote a great article this week, asking coaches who faced LSU this season how their offense has been so unstoppable. Aside from Burrow, the coaches highlighted Edwards-Helaire as who gives defenses the most problems. The junior running back has rushed for 1,304 yards while adding 50 catches for 399 yards and 17 total touchdowns. Edward-Helaire is a matchup nightmare as he’s a bruiser between the tackles, can speed past linebackers in coverage, run over the cornerbacks who try to tackle him and juke past the safeties that try to corral him. The premier running back should be close to full health after injuring his hamstring in practice leading up to the semifinal game against Oklahoma. If he’s in the mix early and often, it could be a frustrating night for Clemson.
Three Keys To A Clemson Win:
Complete Effort: While LSU has played both elite offenses and defenses at different points this season, they have yet to face a team that has both an elite offense and defense. Clemson poses that challenge as their defense is tied for first in the nation in yards per play allowed while the Clemson offense is third in total offense. This balance can put pressure on LSU like they’ve never experienced this season. The best defense against Burrow this season has been offense. While not their specialty, long drives by Clemson can not only can keep the potent LSU offense off the field, but wear down their defense to open up some big plays in the second half. While LSU is more battle tested this season, Clemson has the advantage coming out of that Ohio State game of knowing what it takes to win a game in which all three phases are needed to perform at their highest level.
Flex Offensive Firepower: Did we all forget that this is the same Clemson offense that shredded Notre Dame and Alabama for a combined 1,020 yards and 74 points in the two Playoff games last year? For all of the hype and attention Burrow and this LSU offense has received, let’s not sleep on this juggernaut of an offense that resides in South Carolina. The Tigers rank third in the country in total yards, fourth in scoring offense and 11th in rushing offense. They have superstars at every level offensively as Trevor Lawrence is the presumed number one pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Travis Etienne leads the nation at eight yards per carry while both Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross are legitimate No. 1 receivers. LSU has only faced one offense similar to Clemson’s in Alabama and allowed 41 points. LSU has elite offensive talent, but Clemson has a real chance to give the Tigers a taste of their own medicine and put on an offensive explosion in the Superdome.
Ride The Underdog Wave: Speaking of the Superdome, this national championship game will have a totally different feel than most because of its close proximity to LSU’s campus. Located just over an hour away, New Orleans will be flooded with fans clad in purple and gold. No coach has worked the underdog role more than Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney. Dabo lives to be the underdog and has “Little Ol’ Clemson” playing their best when they have a chip on their shoulder. Already underdogs in terms of the betting line and essentially playing a road game in New Orleans, Dabo gets to fire up the disrespect card one last time this season.
So Who Gets It Done?
The storybook season for Joe Burrow and LSU is leading me to believe more and more that Monday night in New Orleans will be a coronation for the Tigers. I mean even Hollywood couldn’t even write this script of an Ohio kid transferring in and after a decent first year teams up with a young passing game coordinator to produce the single greatest college football season we’ve ever seen from a player and possibly even a team if they can finish the job.
What’s made me a believer isn’t Burrow or passing coordinator Joe Brady, but the LSU defense steadily improving and peaking at the right time. This combination of a historic offense coupled with a confident defense is enough for me to drink the kool-aid and believe that LSU will get it done Monday night.