Preview: No. 1 LSU Set for CFP National Championship Game vs. Clemson

by Cody Worsham | Digital Media Reporter
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Preview: No. 1 LSU Set for CFP National Championship Game vs. Clemson

NEW ORLEANS — Twelve years since its most recent national championship – and in the same city where it’s finished all three title-winning seasons – No. 1 LSU looks to cap off a perfect campaign in the College Football Playoff National Championship, as the 14-0 Tigers take on No. 3 Clemson in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Kickoff is set for 7:15 p.m. CST on the LSU Sports Radio Network and ESPN. Alternate game coverage will be broadcast on a number of ESPN platforms through its MegaCast (links below), which includes 15 presentations of the game.

LSU is on the verge of completing a historic season which already includes six top-10 wins, an SEC Championship, and a Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl title. A win over Clemson would establish a new record for top-10 victories in a season and would mark LSU’s third-straight win over a top-five foe away from home, following wins over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl.

Leading LSU’s charge has been a record-setting offense highlighted by Heisman winning quarterback Joe Burrow. Burrow, who won the award by the widest margin in its history, has completed 371-of-478 (77.6%) of his passes this season, with 55 touchdowns – including a CFP record seven in the first half of the Tigers’ win over Oklahoma – and just six interceptions. He could set the national mark for completion percentage and passing touchdowns (Burrow needs three to tie Colt Brennan’s record of 58 and four to break it) on Monday.

“I’ve never been around a player like Joe, and obviously he’s very talented and he’s a leader, but day in and day out, he’s the same guy,” head coach Ed Orgeron says. “Very focused, focused on the task at hand. It’s about execution and winning and being great. Last game he threw, what, eight touchdowns, and he wasn’t satisfied. I mean, that’s him.”

Burrow is armed with a number of targets, including three receivers who have already matched or surpassed the previous LSU record for touchdown catches in a season, which stood at 12 before the 2019 campaign. Biletnikoff winner and Unanimous All-American Ja’Marr Chase (75 catches, 1,559 yards, 18 touchdowns) and Justin Jefferson (102 catches, 1,404 yards, 18 touchdowns) share the national lead with 18 scores, while sophomore Terrace Marshall Jr. (43 catches, 625 yards, 12 touchdowns in 11 games) ranks in the top five in the SEC.

Also powering the Tiger attack are running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (199 caries, 1,304 yards, 16 touchdowns) and tight end Thaddeus Moss (42 catches, 534 yards, 2 touchdowns). Both Moss and Edwards-Helaire (50 catches, 399 yards) set school records for receptions at their respective positions.

Paving the way up front is the best offensive line in the country. Led by center Lloyd Cushenberry III and right guard Damien Lewis – who is expected to play after picking up an injury against Oklahoma – the Tiger front five won the Joe Moore Award as the best offensive line in the country. They do the dirty work in front of an attack that ranks first nationally in scoring offense (48.9 points per game) and total offense (564.1 yards per game).

“Obviously with our offense, we have seen new defenses that we haven’t practiced against sometimes,” Orgeron says, a nod to the wrinkles opposing defenses have thrown at offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger and passing game coordinator Joe Brady late in the season. “Sometimes we’ve seen the same defense. I think this game is going to come down to adjustments made during the game. Obviously Clemson has had a lot of time to practice, we’ve had a lot of time to practice. Sometimes people put in something new, sometimes they don’t. They may run the same stuff. We’ve watched every play they’ve run, they’ve watched every play we run, so we are going to be prepared.”

The LSU defense is playing its best football of the season in its last three games. Against two top-five opponents and an SEC rival, the Tigers have allowed just 182 passing yards per game and 76 rushing yards per game. Holding down the trenches is a six-man rotation of defensive linemen spearheaded by senior captain Rashard Lawrence.

On the edges, redshirt sophomore K’Lavon Chaisson is providing pressure on opposing offenses, with five sacks and 15 pressures in his last three games, both of which rank tops in the country over that stretch. Senior Michael Divinity Jr. will return to the lineup to offer more pressure off the edge, while linebackers Patrick Queen (77 tackles, 9.5 for loss) and Jacob Phillips (105 tackles) look to slow down Clemson’s run game.

The Tiger secondary has proven it’s the best in the country. Thorpe Award winner Grant Delpit and three-time SEC Defensive Player of the Week JaCoby Stevens (85 tackles, 8.5 for loss) anchor the back at safety, while all-Americans Kristian Fulton and Derek Stingley Jr. (21 passes defended, six interceptions) lock down the outside at cornerback. Nickel Kary Vincent Jr. has emerged as a stopper in the slot, as well, intercepting four passes for LSU.

Clemson brings plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence (3,431 yards, 36 touchdowns, 8 interceptions), running back Travis Etienne, and receivers Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins are the stars of an offense that ranks third in yards per game and fourth in points per game. Defensively, the Tigers – led by All-American safety Isaiah Simmons – are the top-ranked scoring defense (11.5 points per game) and rank second in total defense (264 yards per game).

History is up for grabs in a city where LSU has grabbed it before. A 1959 Sugar Bowl win led by eventual Heisman winner Billy Cannon over Clemson capped off the Tigers’ 1958 national title season. In 2003, Marcus Spears and Matt Mauck led LSU over Oklahoma in the Louisiana Superdome. Most recently, the 2007 Tigers knocked off Ohio State in the Big Easy for the program’s third national championship.

The only thing missing from a storybook season is a fitting conclusion.

“It’s very special,” Orgeron says. “It’s very special for us to drive down the interstate yesterday with a great motorcade. I know our players were looking forward to that. Ever since we knew the National Championship was going to be in New Orleans it was a goal of ours to earn the right to be here, and now we’re here and we’ve got to do something about it.”

Streaming Links

  • Pregame Shows
    – 5 p.m. CT – Championship Drive on ESPN | ESPN2
    – 6:30 p.m. CT – CFP Game Studio on ESPN | ESPN2 | ESPNU | ESPNEWS
    – 7 p.m. – Pregame Showcase on ESPN | ESPN2 | ESPNU | ESPNEWS
  • Main Telecast on ESPN
  • Field Pass on ESPN2
  • LSU Hometown Radio on SEC Network
  • Coaches Film Room on ESPNU
  • Command Center on ESPNEWS
  • Data Center on ESPN Goal Line
  • Sounds of the Game on ESPN Classic
  • Refcast | Skycast | All-22 | Techcast on ESPN App
  • Clemson Hometown Radio on ACC Network
  • Postgame on ESPN
    College Football Final on ESPN2