8:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: LSU -5.5, Over/Under: 69.5
Finally, after weeks of waiting, College Football will decide a new National Champion, as the No. One Louisiana State Tigers battle the No. Three, reigning Champion, Clemson Tigers in the National Championship Game from Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. Though they’ve been a perennial fixture in the Top-10 and competed for this trophy on three occasions since the turn of the century, the inclusion of LSU (14-0, 1st in SEC) in this year’s National Final still feels like a breath of fresh air, and the reason for that is threefold. First and foremost, Senior Quarterback, Joe Burrow (77.6%, 5,209 YDS, 10.9 Y/A, 55 TD, 6 INT), is on the verge of concluding arguably the finest season by someone at his position, and quite frankly nobody saw this coming. The Ohio Native transferred from Ohio State back in 2018, and was far from sensational in his first term in Baton Rouge, completing just 57.8% of his Passes for 2,894 Yards on 7.6 Yards per Attempt, with Sixteen Touchdowns and Five Interceptions. Fans expected improvement in his final season with the school but not meteoric rise that has taken place in 2019. This brings us to the next reason for success, and his name is Ed Orgeron. If you look past the thick southern drawl that has made him a such a hit with the faithful in the southeast region of the country, you’ll see a genuine Head Coach, who has recruited masterfully, but lacks the ego that would have prevented so many of his contemporaries from swallowing their pride and handing the offensive playcalling duties to somebody far outside the program. In the better part of three seasons prior to 2019, the Tigers went 25-9 under his watch, though the Offense was far from explosive, ranking no better than 38th Overall, while the unit’s Total Yardage decreased incrementally with each passing term. And it’s with that said that Orgeron petitioned the New Orleans saints for an opportunity to poach a member of their Coaching Staff, ultimately acquiring the services of their third component for success, Joe Brady, who came on board as Co-Offensive Coordinator/Passing Game Coordinator, radically transforming Burrow and his rest of the Offense into an unabashed juggernaut. Ladies and gentlemen, despite their penchant for fielding some of the best talent in the country on an annual basis, LSU has never been this explosive on this side of the football, averaging a school record 48.9 Points per Game (1st Overall) on a staggering 564.4 Total Yards, with Burrow waltzing his way towards the Heisman, completing a surgeon-like 77.6% of his Attempts for 5,209 Yards on 10.9 Yards per Attempt, and Fifty-Five Touchdowns opposed to just Six Interceptions. His obscene total of Passing Yards and Touchdowns is an SEC Record, tossing four or more scores on seven occasions this season. In fact, he threw at least three in every contest but two. From projected Day Two Pick to the expected No. One Overall Pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Burrow saved his best for his toughest competition, shredding the likes of Texas, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, and Georgia on a stellar 78.6% passing for an average of 365.4 Yards on 10.0 Yards per Attempt, with Sixteen Total Touchdowns and a pair of Interceptions.
However, though Burrow took home the Heisman along with AP Player of the Year, Davey O’Brien, Maxwell and Walter Camp Awards, the Tigers were far from a one man band, with prolific Receiver, Ja’Marr Chase (75 REC, 1,559 YDS, 20.8 Y/R, 18 TD) winning the Biletnikoff Award, and versatile Safety, Grant Delpit (59 TKL, 3.5 TFL, 1.0 SK, 1 FF, 2 INT, 7 PD), earning the Thorpe Award, joining a host of LSU Defensive Backs to win that prestigious honor. Needless to say, this team is every bit as loaded as it sounds, with their superior talent on display in their startling 63-28 rout of No. 4 Oklahoma in the National Semifinal. This one was never close to being close, folks, as Orgeron’s charges pummeled the overmatched Sooners into submission, hanging forty-nine points on them in the First Half alone. Burrow had Seven Touchdown Passes in that period by himself, the first four of which went to the Tigers’ other Receiver, Justin Jefferson (102 REC, 1,434 YDS, 14.1 Y/R, 18 TD), who set a Playoff Record with 227 Yards and Four Receiving Touchdowns. Burrow’s day would be over shortly after rushing for another score early in the Third Quarter, ending the affair with 493 Yards and Eight Total Touchdowns, both of which are Playoff Records as well. That contest marked the fifth time this year that the Bayou Bengals authored over 600 Yards of Total Offense, and the third time they surpassed sixty points. It’s hard to fathom them getting any more dangerous, but they should be welcoming back versatile Tailback, Clyde Edwards-Helaire (199 CAR, 1,304 YDS, 6.6 Y/C, 16 TD), who missed that meeting with Oklahoma with a tender hamstring. The Junior led the Southeast Conference with Sixteen Rushing Touchdowns, but has really become a factor this season in the short passing game, hauling in Fifty Receptions for 399 Yards and a score, as Brady has made excellent use of him in creating mismatches with outmatched Linebackers. Defensively, there may not be a better Secondary in the country, with the aforementioned Delpit flanked by Cornerbacks, Kristian Fulton (32 TKL, 1 INT, 13 PD) and Derek Stingley Jr. (36 TKL, 1.0 TFL, 6 INT, 15 PD), with the latter emerging as arguably the top Corner in the country despite only being a Freshman; since besting No. One Alabama back in early November, the Frosh has allowed opposing Quarterbacks to complete just 9-of-32 Passes his way for Ninety-Nine Yards, a Touchdown, and Two Interceptions, with a Passer Rating of just 51.9, all the while credited with an absurd Twenty-One Disrupted Dropbacks (Sacks, Interceptions, and Batted or Tipped Passes). Furthermore, LSU’s Pass Defense has been on an absolute tear of late, relegating the last three Quarterbacks that they’ve faced, Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond (39.1), Georgia’s Jake Fromm (91.0), and Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts (100.7), to their personal worst Passer Ratings of the term, a collective average of 77.9 Percentage Points lower than their respective Season Averages. While this group as a whole may not be at the level of some of their predecessors, they’ve shown the ability to raise their game to ridiculous levels, particularly during that aforementioned stretch, in which their opponents have mustered a meager Completion Percentage of 42.0% on a scant 5.4 Yards per Attempt, with One Touchdown and Six Interceptions.
Meanwhile, for the fourth time in five seasons, Clemson (14-0, 9-0 in ACC) finds themselves in the National Championship Game, looking to become only the second team (outside of Alabama in 2011-2012) to win back-to-back Undisputed National Titles since Nebraska did it back in 1994-1995. Indeed, Dabo Swinney has built a powerhouse in South Carolina, placing the program alongside the likes of College Football’s royalty in recent years, with a potential third trophy in such a brief period of time likely placing the Tigers as the dominant school of this present era. So how is it that they can possibly be branded as underdogs heading into this meeting with LSU, you ask? Well, as we detailed earlier, their opponents have been VERY good this season, though the defending champs haven’t been far behind in 2019. This season featured Clemson spending the first half of the term finding themselves, wearing the visage of a group that appeared somewhat complacent, oftentimes playing to the level of their competition. By now, we all know how weak the Atlantic Coast Conference was as a league, and following a narrow 21-20 scare at North Carolina back in late September, Swinney’s charges responded by annihilating all comers; in their final seven outings of the Regular Season, they bested their competition by a ridiculous 353-61 margin, en route to hammering No. 22 Virginia 62-17 in the ACC Championship Game. The Offense in particular, really found it’s form during this stretch, averaging a staggering 51.8 Points per Game on 586.3 Total Yards, while enjoying a very healthy Plus-17 Turnover Differential. Sophomore Quarterback, Trevor Lawrence (67.6%, 3,431 YDS, 9.3 Y/A, 36 TD, 8 INT), really distinguished himself during this period as well, overcoming a sloppy start to the campaign, completing 61.7% of his Attempts for 226.2 Yards per Game on 8.3 Yards per Attempt with Eight Touchdowns in comparison to Five Interceptions. Eventually he would once again look like the kid that torched both Notre Dame and Alabama in succession during last year’s Playoff; since then, Lawrence has completed a far more efficient 70.9% of his Passes for an average of 255.6 Yards on 9.8 Yards per Attempt, with a whopping Twenty-Eight Touchdowns opposed to just Three Interceptions, rushing for four more scores to boot. As you can imagine, he has just as many weapons surrounding him as does his counterpart, with a pair of 6-4 Receivers, Justyn Ross (61 REC, 789 YDS, 12.9 Y/R, 8 TD) and Tee Higgins (56 REC, 1,115 YDS, 19.9 Y/R, 13 TD), routinely tormenting opposing Defensive Backs with their sheer size, while Amari Rodgers (28 REC, 418 YDS, 14.9 Y/R, 4 TD) has exploited the areas left unattended to in their wake. Junior Tailback, Travis Etienne (192 CAR, 1,536 YDS, 8.0 Y/C, 18 TD), too got off to a slow start, following a 205-Yard, 3-Touchdown performance in the Season Opener with four consecutive outings relegated below 80 Yards. However, just as his Quarterback did, he too would eventually round into form, averaging 129.8 Rushing Yards with Twelve Touchdowns to close out the season. Though his rushing numbers are slightly less impressive than those posted in 2018, Etienne became a much bigger force in the passing game this year, hauling Thirty-Two Receptions for 396 Yards and Four Touchdowns, which will likely endear himself to NFL Scouts in the coming months to follow tonight’s tilt. These newfound receiving skills would play a major role in Clemson’s trek to another National Final, which we’ll get into very shortly.
While their counterpart tonight disposed of their previous opponent with frightening ease, the Tigers did not enjoy that luxury as they faced No. 2 Ohio State, who engaged them in arguably the game of the year. Indeed, the 29-23 affair had it all, with a litany of NFL Prospects making plays throughout the night in a proverbial slugfest between true heavyweights. The Buckeyes dominated early, taking a commanding 10-0 lead midway through the First Quarter, as Clemson appeared lethargic offensively from kickoff. The Big Ten Champions would add a pair of Field Goals in the early stages of the second frame, extending their lead to sixteen before momentum would change on one play. With their first few drives netting very little ground gained, the ACC Champions saw their Quarterback take a big hit from Cornerback, Shaun Wade, who after review was ejected from the contest for targeting. Lawrence himself looked dazed after the collision, leaving the field for a few plays, before ultimately returning to the field where he would take over the game. Clemson would go on to score twenty-one unanswered points to take the lead in the Third Quarter, with Lawrence finding Etienne for a Fifty-Three Yard Touchdown Reception which saw the Tailback take a short pass over the middle of the field and weave his way through a number of Defenders en route tot he End Zone. The Buckeyes would retake the lead, only for the Tigers to regain it on the strength of the same combination, as Lawrence connected with Etienne once more, this time for a 34-Yard score. With just over 1:00 left on the clock, Ohio State drove back down the field, but saw their comeback bid fall short as Junior Safety, Nolan Turner (38 TKL, 2.0 TFL, 1 FF, 2 INT, 7 PD), jumped a route in the End Zone as his Receiver slipped, ending the affair with a walk-off Interception. In the end, Lawrence completed just 18-of-33 Passes for 259 Yards and Two Touchdowns, but really made things happen with his legs, leading the team with 107 Yards and a Touchdown on Sixteen Carries. At 6-6, 220 lbs, you may not think that the Sophomore is capable of moving with such ease, but he was able to put his head down on a number of occasions and plow his way through the Defense on a number of crucial occasions. Etienne, who only gained Thirty-Six Rushing Yards on Ten Carries, was a mismatch throughout the Second Half as a Receiver out of the Backfield, totaling a whopping Ninety-Eight Yards and a pair of scores on just Three Receptions. And then there was the Defense, which despite allowing a season-high 516 Total Yards, including 196 Yards on the ground, bended but rarely broke. In this regard, Junior Linebacker, Isaiah Simmons (97 TKL, 14.5 TFL, 7.0 SK, 2 FF, 1 FR, 3 INT, 6 PD), looked like the most impressive player on the field, playing a myriad of positions, even dropping back into deep coverage as a Free Safety, where raced to the right sideline to snare his third Interception of the campaign. On the night, Simmons logged Four Tackles and that aforementioned Interception, though made a pair of key tackles of Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins, who was running wild in the First Half. With the Junior Tailback breaking free and racing towards the End Zone, the Defender tripped him up just before he could reach the Goal Line, with the Buckeyes eventually settling for a Field Goal. A jack of all trades, Simmons is equally adept in coverage as he is rushing the passer, and he could well be the player to decide just how much success Burrow & Co. have tonight.