No. 1 LSU, No. 3 Clemson ready for title game clash

The LSU Tigers are ranked No. 1 in the country and has been the most talked-about team in college football this season.

Quarterback Joe Burrow won the Heisman Trophy in historic fashion, and he’s the main reason LSU is favored to beat Clemson in the College Football Championship on Monday night in New Orleans.

No. 3 Clemson is 14-0 — like LSU. But unlike LSU, Clemson is also the defending national champion, winner of 29 consecutive games, and looking for its third national championship in four seasons.

“It’s always good to have experience,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told reporters this week, “but we won the National Championship with a true freshman quarterback (Trevor Lawrence) last year. That was supposedly a disadvantage for us, so I don’t buy any of that stuff.”

Undefeated Lawrence a rare underdog

Lawrence is 25-0 as a starter, having taken over early last season. He threw two touchdown passes, ran for more than 100 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown, and drove the Tigers 94 yards to the winning touchdown with less than two minutes remaining in a 29-23 victory against No. 2 Ohio State in the CFP Semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl.

Trevor Lawrence
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

“He makes some big-time plays in big-time ball games and for a big chunk of yards,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “Obviously, he made some big gains against Ohio State, which helped them win the game.”

But just as LSU has gotten more attention than Clemson this season, so too has Burrow gotten more attention than Lawrence. Burrow broke the SEC single-season records for touchdown passes and passing yards.

“We have five NFL guys in routes every single snap, and it’s tough to cover,” Burrow said. “We’re a tough matchup for a lot of people, and then I just try to get the ball in (his receivers’) hands on time and accurately and then let them do the rest.”

Is Clemson’s D the X-factor?

While the offense is a marquee unit for LSU, Clemson’s defense has drawn the most attention during its championship runs, though both teams are obviously complete teams.

Clemson allows the fewest points of any team in the country (11.5 per game) and the second-fewest yards (264.1).

“You can tell that they have 11 really smart guys,” Burrow said. “They do a lot of different things on defense, and they have a really good coach (defensive coordinator Brent Venables) that makes it difficult.”

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The LSU defense was inconsistent for much of the season and bottomed out when it allowed 402 rushing yards and 614 total yards to Ole Miss in a 58-37 win in mid-November.

But in the four games since, LSU has allowed averages of just 86 rushing yards, 184 passing yards and 16.3 points.

“I think after the Ole Miss game, it was kind of a turnaround for us,” All-America safety Grant Delpit said. “I think we just kind of lit a fire and started playing LSU football after that.”

Home-game feel for LSU
Joe Burrow, LSU
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The home-state crowd figures to favor LSU just as the oddsmakers have favored them. But Clemson is the been-there-done-that team in this matchup.

“I’ve been blessed to be a part of all four National Championship appearances all the way back to my redshirt year,” senior linebacker Chad Smith said. “That’s pretty surreal.”

LSU has beaten six teams that were ranked in the Top 10 when they played. Clemson’s first game against a Top 10 team came against Ohio State, but it showed its championship pedigree by overcoming a 16-0 deficit to win.

“It’s a great matchup, the two best teams for this year, two great quarterbacks,” Swinney said. “That’s the way a championship game ought to be.”

–Field Level Media (@FieldLevelMedia)