With Monday’s College Football Playoff Championship in New Orleans approaching, both No. 1 Louisiana State and No. 3 Clemson possess game-changing talent across both sides of the ball.
Clemson’s pass rush and Louisiana State’s secondary could combine to become one of the best defenses assembled.
Clemson’s Travis Etienne is a brilliant running back averaging 8.0 yards per carry while racking up 18 touchdowns. Louisiana State’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire, a 5-foot-8 bowling ball of a man, who moves the ball 6.5 yards each time he’s handed the rock.
He’ll even be at 110% on Monday according to his estimations at the team’s media availability on Saturday.
Each team has 1,000-yard receivers – heck, Louisiana State has two in Ja’Marr Chase (1,559 yards) and Justin Jefferson (1,434) while Tee Higgins’ 1,115 yards carries Clemson’s paw-print flag.
There’s going to be weaponry all over the field at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, wearing tiger stripes – in either orange and purple or purple and gold.
The funny thing is that the quarterbacks – a pair of dynamic talents – have been the focus of this game since Clemson’s immediate classic of a Fiesta Bowl win over Ohio State cemented an all-Tigers affair in the championship game.
But who would you take if you had to win this game? Heisman winner Joe Burrow, who has led Louisiana State to a 14-0 mark with an absurd set of statistics in 2019. The Ohio State transfer has merely passed for 5,208 yards and 55 touchdowns against just six interceptions. Anyone who doubted his Heisman pedigree heading into the Tigers’ Dec. 28 semifinal against Oklahoma had about 30 game minutes to eat their words.
A game’s worth of touchdowns (seven) and yards (403) was Burrow’s output in the first half. Against the Sooners, Burrow averaged just under 15 yards per attempted pass and 19.2 yards per completion with Jefferson on the receiving end of 14 passes for 227 yards and four touchdowns – averaging 16.2 yards.
For those lamenting the loss of EA Sports’ annual “NCAA Football” games, just live vicariously through the Louisiana State offense.
His night in Atlanta ended with 493 yards and responsibility for eight touchdowns – adding a rushing score as Louisiana State was well on its way to pasting a 63-28 beatdown on Oklahoma.
It isn’t the Joe Burrow Show in Baton Rouge, but he’s certainly been the key to Louisiana State’s meteoric climb to this stage with a passing game that has rivaled some of the game’s all-time best offenses.
“Well, they’re special. They look like our guys,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
“That’s what I just said over here. You could put them in Clemson helmets and put our guys in LSU helmets and nobody would miss a beat. We might be a little taller, but just elite playmakers. And Joe would be the – Joe is incredible. But he’s got greatness around him, too. (Clemson quarterback) Trevor Lawrence is incredible, but he’s got greatness around him, built from the inside, great offensive lines, great skill, and so those guys make plays. He trusts them, a lot of back-shoulder throws, a lot of high-point balls.
“He’s not afraid on scrambles to put it up.”
Burrow’s opposite – Lawrence – hasn’t put up the earth-shattering numbers while leading Clemson to a 14-0 mark and the ACC championship, but he hasn’t had to all that much. Clemson has been decidedly superior to almost every opponent, meaning that Lawrence’s totals of 3,461 yards and 36 touchdown passes could be much higher if his Tigers had played in more than two one-score games.
Then again, when a team outscores its opposition 634-161 over 14 games, narrow victories are decidedly not part of the Clemson aesthetic.
But Lawrence does hold a key card in his hand that Burrow hopes to draw one Monday night – a College Football Playoff championship and the national title that comes with it.
When asked about what he admires about Lawrence’s game, Burrow was ready to spit out the only number that matters to most quarterbacks.
“ (Lawrence’s record of) 25-0, that’s the biggest thing,” Burrow said. “He’s a winner. He’s a ballplayer. Seems to love playing football, finds ways to win.”
Louisiana State’s Ed Orgeron saw another key to Lawrence’s game that has aided Clemson in not losing a game in its 29 previous contests.
“He can make a decision on the line of scrimmage whether to hand it off, whether to throw it, short, easy throws,” Orgeron said “And then they’re going to take shots at those big receivers.
“He gets a one-on-one, he’s going to get the ball down the field, and then it shows you the type of championship quarterback he is that he started extending plays with his feet. I thought he took the Ohio State game in his own hands to win that football game, and you can see his determination and his grit and his courage, just like you see in our quarterback.”
If Monday’s title game is determined by quarterback play, then we’ll all be winners.