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The LSU Tigers are national champions.
Led by Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, the nation’s top-ranked team finished off a remarkable season in front of a partisan New Orleans crowd. Burrow surpassed 500 yards of offense while guiding LSU to a 42-25 win over the Clemson Tigers.
Clemson took an early 17-7 lead behind a strong defensive effort, but the defending national champs could not sustain the execution. LSU’s juggernaut of an offense proved too much.
Burrow’s performance highlights the winners and losers of LSU’s victory in the championship game.
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Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables pulled a page out of Auburn’s playbook and challenged LSU with three linemen, one linebacker and seven defensive backs.
And early on, Clemson executed almost perfectly.
LSU punted on three straight drives to begin the game, managing a combined 17 yards with three negative plays. Although a penalty negated a 38-yard completion on LSU’s opening possession, Clemson generated pressure on that snap, too.
After ceding a long touchdown on the fourth drive, Clemson responded with a four-play defensive possession the next time out.
Short of a defensive score or takeaway, Venables could hardly have designed a better start.
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Clemson had four possessions before LSU scored, and three of the drives reached LSU’s 37-yard line. However, the ACC’s Tigers managed only seven points.
On a 3rd-and-8 at LSU’s 25, Trevor Lawrence took a 10-yard sack that knocked his team out of comfortable field-goal range. Clemson started the next drive at the 42 and began with a five-yard run, but the offense didn’t advance any further and punted.
Lawrence scored on the third possession to put Clemson ahead. But knowing how explosive LSU’s offense can be, the missed opportunities stood out immediately as glaring mistakes.
And, looking at the 42-25 final score, that remained true.
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Because Clemson had locked down the middle of the field, LSU’s offense needed to attack the sidelines. That calls for low-percentage throws, but LSU was fortunate it had Ja’Marr Chase to make that strategy work.
The sophomore wideout toasted A.J. Terrell for a pair of 50-yard catches, including a 52-yard score. He added a 56-yard reception that set up Burrow’s short run for a touchdown two possessions later and caught a 14-yard score on the next drive.
Chase entered the locker room with 162 yards and two scores on only six receptions. He was, without question, the No. 1 reason LSU held a 28-17 lead at halftime.
Once the rest of LSU’s scoring attack began producing, it was over. Chase totaled a record 221 yards and two scores on nine catches.
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Coaches sometimes say “burn the tape” after an ugly loss. Clemson corner A.J. Terrell might want to do exactly that.
All of Chase’s first-half production happened against the junior, who is listed as the No. 56 draft-eligible prospect in the 2020 class by B/R’s Matt Miller. Terrell also missed two tackles in run support on Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
It was, put simply, a horrible half for Terrell.
The attention now shifts to whether he’ll declare for the 2020 draft or return for his senior season at Clemson.
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Clemson entered the national championship allowing a meager 5.5 passing yards per attempt. And early on, that showed.
Nevertheless, Burrow simply did what he’s done all season. No matter the opponent, no matter the stage, LSU’s offense still managed to take control of the game.
Burrow tossed five scores, setting the FBS record for single-season touchdown passes with 60. He passed former Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan, who threw 58 in 2006. The LSU signal-caller averaged 9.4 yards per attempt.
Start printing those Cincinnati Bengals jerseys, folks. Burrow is undoubtedly headed for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft.
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Ohio State fans probably felt a little justice had been served after Clemson benefited from two controversial calls in the Fiesta Bowl.
Early in the fourth quarter, Lawrence heaved a pass to Tee Higgins down the left sideline. The star receiver broke away from an LSU defender for a 48-yard touchdown, potentially trimming LSU’s lead from 42-25 to 10 points within 11 minutes remaining.
But the play didn’t stand; an offensive pass interference negated the play. Clemson punted three snaps later.
While it might not have ultimately mattered, the very questionable call eliminated any fleeting chance of a comeback.
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LSU only tallied two sacks yet consistently created uncomfortable situations for Lawrence.
Aided by lockdown coverage from Derek Stingley Jr. and a superb effort from much of the secondary, LSU’s defensive front had plenty of time to pressure Clemson’s star quarterback. LSU’s disruption led to a night of overthrows from Lawrence.
All those incompletions slowed drives, and Clemson trudged to a 1-of-11 finish on third down. The inability to sustain possessions cost Clemson immensely in a high-scoring game.
LSU’s defense had a rough stretch to begin November, but the unit became a complement worthy of a championship team.