National Championship Preview

It all comes down to this. Two Tigers and only one prize between the two of them in the National Championship. With the final game of the 2019-2020 college football season coming down between the LSU Tigers (14-0) and Clemson Tigers (14-0), everything will be on the line for both storied programs. Here is a position-by-position breakdown between the two teams and who has the edge at that position.

Head-to-Head Record:

-LSU leads all-time series 2-1

-Last matchup: 2012 Chick-Fil-A Bowl (Clemson 25, LSU 24)

Season Recap:

The LSU Tigers find themselves in their first National Championship since 2011 after winning the SEC West, SEC Championship and Peach Bowl this season. The story of two Joe’s in passing game coordinator Joe Brady and quarterback Joe Burrow. Burrow is well-known at this point, as the former’s transformation of an antiquated offense into an explosive juggernaut made Burrow an eventual Heisman winner. Ed Orgeron, Louisiana native and head coach of the Tigers, also finds himself in his first ever National Championship game. With the offense being explosive all season (its 48.9 points per game is first in the entire FBS) and the defense taking a step forward over the past four games, the Tigers donning the purple and gold look to cap off the season with one more win, which would give them their third national championship win this millennia and their first undefeated season since 1958 (11-0). 

– While LSU has the second-best win streak in college football right now (15 straight victories), Clemson has the first, as the Tigers in orange have won 29 consecutive games dating back to the beginning of last season. Despite talk of Clemson’s schedule being weak during the regular season, the Tigers still capitalized and averaged over 45 points per game while only allowing 11.5 points per game, first in the entire FBS. With head coach Dabo Swinney leading star quarterback (and future first-overall pick) Trevor Lawrence and his running back mate in Travis Etienne to prominence, the Tigers look to cap off another undefeated season with their third national championship victory in four years.

Quarterback:

– Two future first-overall picks headline this year’s National Championship. Burrow, the former Ohio State Buckeye in his second year at LSU put it all together this season, as he was first in the FBS with passing touchdowns (55), second in passing yards (5,208) and second in yards per game (372.0). Burrow’s completion percentage of 77.6 also ranks first in the FBS and is on pace to beat the FBS completion percentage record of 76.7 set by Colt McCoy in 2008. Lawrence, meanwhile, was able to finish the season strong after a slow start in Lawrence standards, as he finished with 36 passing touchdowns, fifth in the FBS. One aspect in his game he has improved on this year has been his dual-threat capabilities (his 93 rushing attempts, 5.5 yards per rush, and eight rushing touchdowns are all career-highs), a trait that played a significant part in Clemson beating Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl (his 16 carries for 107 yards and one touchdown led the team) . While Lawrence is a perennial talent that could be one of the best quarterbacks to go through the NFL Draft in one year, it has been a magical year for Burrow that gives LSU the slight advantage here.

Edge: LSU

Running Back:

– While both LSU and Clemson have depth pieces on this front, we will look at each back that has achieved the most production on the year. LSU brings Clyde Edwards-Helaire to the table, who acts as a swiss army knife in regard to his rushing, receiving and blocking capabilities. After playing in a limited role in the Peach Bowl due to a hamstring injury, Edwards-Helaire looks to be close to 100% for the National Championship. Meanwhile, Clemson brings in power-rusher (and even receiver) Travis Etienne, who averaged 8.0 yards per carry and 12.4 yards per reception. While Helaire is very productive given his position in a more predominant air raid offense LSU implements, Etienne brings more explosiveness on both sides of the ball, which, when paired with Lawrence, makes for a deadly dual-threat combination. Should Clemson win this game, a big part of that will be because of Etienne both finding holes in the offensive line and finding balls in the air.

Edge: Clemson

Wide Receiver:

– Excluding running backs and tight ends, both teams bring a three-wide tandem at wide receiver that are all capable of producing at an elite level. On the LSU front, Burrow’s primary targets are Justin Jefferson, Terrace Marshall Jr. and Biletnikoff Award winner Ja’Marr Chase. Meanwhile, Clemson brings Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross and Amari Rodgers. Chase and Jefferson (a former two-star recruit are both second and third in the FBS yards (1,559 and 1,434), respectively. Jefferson’s four touchdowns in the Peach Bowl was a record for that game. In regard to Marshall, if not for injuries earlier in the season it is possible, he could have come close to 1,000 yards as well. While Clemson’s marquee receiver in Tee Higgins (a future first-round pick) will be a tough nut to crack for the LSU secondary, LSU’s receivers are more dynamic and will force the Clemson secondary to play in single coverage and man-to-man.

Edge: LSU

Tight End:

– Former NC State Wolfpack transfer Thaddeus Moss spearheads LSU at the tight end position. The junior has 534 yards receiving on the year and two touchdowns in addition to providing good blocking capabilities on the edge for Burrow to capitalize on in the bootleg or for Helaire to find a hole or the edge. Clemson’s Tight Ends have played more of a blocking role, with junior J.C. Chalk being the leader on the team in receptions from a tight end with 60. Braden Galloway provides good reinforcement for Clemson’s core, but when looking at the entire package, LSU has the edge here due to Moss’s consistent production on both sides of the ball.

Edge: LSU

Offensive Line:

– Given the fact that LSU’s offensive line won the Joe Moore award, in addition to the non-stop compliments from Burrow for it, you would think the edge goes to LSU here. However, this is actually a lot closer than people give it credit for. Given that this looks to be a battle between the quarterbacks, it is best to look at sack rate, which looks at the chance of a sack on the quarterback. Clemson’s sack rate is actually better than LSU’s, sitting at 2.9% compared to LSU’s 6.0%. Even still, both quarterbacks are extremely comfortable sitting in the pocket with their five linemen trenched in front of them. Should the lines collapse, though, both quarterbacks are maneuverable and talented enough to make some noise with their feet. The edge for this facet of the game will be a draw, as both teams on offense couldn’t do nearly enough without both of their offensive lines putting in the work.

Edge: Even

Defensive Line/Linebackers:

– The front seven for LSU gets a much-needed boost for the National Championship, as Michael Divinity Jr., one of the key components to LSU’s blitz packages earlier in the season, will return after missing the last six LSU games due to violating the team’s drug policy. Divinity, combined with other front seven forces including veterans in K’Lavon Chaisson, Patrick Queen and Rashard Lawrence, should make for solid pressure on Clemson’s stout offensive line. Meanwhile, the captain of Clemson’s front-seven has to start with future Top-10 pick Isaiah Simmons, who won the Butkus Award due to leading Clemson’s entire front-seven in total tackles (97) and sacks (6.0). His three interceptions were also second among all defensive players on Clemson. Reinforced with other players, including Tyler Davis, James Skalski and Chad Smith, Clemson’s defense features more tackling and sacking power than LSU, which could prove to be the difference-maker in stopping LSU’s high-octane offense.

Edge: Clemson

Defensive Backs:

While the offense gets talked about on both teams, the secondary for both teams is sneaky good that should make for good television on top of the points that will inevitably be put up in the endzone. In addition to future first-rounders in Grant Delpit (who won the Jim Thorpe Award for the best defensive back in the country) and Kristian Fulton, LSU has true-freshman Derek Stingley Jr. patrolling down-field, who led the team in passes defended (15) and interceptions (six). Clemson brings solid players of their own in Tanner Muse (who led the team in interceptions with four) and Nolan Turner, LSU’s secondary is deep with star power that could prove critical to limiting Higgins and picking off Lawrence.

Edge: LSU

Special Teams:

– While this game looks to be determined by scoring traditional touchdowns as opposed to punt returns and field goals, ball placement from good punts could prove detrimental to either team that is playing from behind. LSU brings true-freshman Cade York to make its kicks, who is 83-87 for extra points and 21-26 in field goals. Clemson brings a revolving door of kickers, led by B.T. Potter and Stephen Sawicki, who are a combined 83-83 for extra points. The blemish? They are a combined 13-22 in field goal attempts. On the punting side of the ball, LSU averages 38.10 yards per punt, whereas Clemson averages 40.29. Regarding kicking and punting returns, LSU puts Edwards-Helaire and Stingley in those situations, with both averaging 17.8 and 9.7 yards per return, respectively. Clemson, meanwhile, puts wide receiver Joseph Ngata and Amari Rodgers in those situations, with the pair averaging 23.2 and 8.9 yards, respectively. Both teams are about even in these areas when you put the whole special team package together. However, Clemson gets the very, very slight nod given their experience at this stage before.

Edge: Clemson

Final Take:

– Both teams bring immense talent and phenomenal coaching to the biggest stage of the college football season. While Clemson’s defense is elite, it has not faced an offense like LSU. While Clemson’s defense will make some stops, LSU’s offense will bring the heat early and not let off the gas pedal, with the defense doing enough to inhibit Lawrence and Etienne. As a result, LSU will end Clemson’s winning streak and net Lawrence with his first college loss, which will cap off a magical season for the Bayou Bengals.

PREDICTION: LSU

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