The college football playoffs are over and the stage has been set for an epic match-up between the No. 1 LSU Tigers and the defending national champion No. 3 Clemson Tigers on Jan. 13 in New Orleans.
The bayou Tigers cruised into the title game with an almost laughable 63-28 dismantling of the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners. After forcing a three-and-out on Oklahoma’s first possession, LSU needed a mere three plays to score the first points of the game and then it seemed like they scored every three plays form there until halftime.
Heisman winner Joe Burrow set multiple CFP records with 407 yards passing and 7 touchdowns – in the first half! He went on to score a rushing touchdown in the third quarter to account for 8 total touchdowns in the game, also a CFP record.
Wide receiver Justin Jefferson joined Burrow in the record books with four receiving touchdowns, all coming in the first half, on his way to 227 yards through the air.
The Tigers defense harassed Jalen Hurts all night, preventing him from establishing any rhythm through the air, and the little damage that Hurts did was with his legs as he broke the Oklahoma single-season quarterback rushing record with a total of 1,293 yards.
Clemson, on the other hand, earned their berth the hard way. Down 16-0 after the first quarter, the Tigers looked on the verge of being disaster when quarterback Trevor Lawrence went to the turf in pain after a vicious hit by the Ohio State defense.
Instead, Lawrence gathered himself together, got back in the pocket and led his team downfield for the first Tiger touchdown of the game. On the Tigers last drive of the half, he took the game into his own hands, demonstrating amazing speed for a 6’6”, 220-pound quarterback, and rumbled 56-yards for his second touchdown of the first half.
The Clemson defense, after holding the Buckeyes to three red-zone field goals in the first two quarters, buckled down in the third and gave the Tigers the opportunity they needed to take the lead going into the fourth quarter.
Ohio State finally broke through the goal line late in the fourth quarter, taking a 23-21 lead with 3:07 left on the clock, and, again, looked as if Clemson’s season was coming to an end.
For the second time that night, Lawrence calmly took the field and brilliantly executed the two-minute offense to march the Tigers 94-yards in slightly more than a minute, scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a Tebowesque jump pass to Etienne from midfield. A successful two-point conversion on the next play ensured that Ohio State needed a touchdown to win the game.
Justin Fields answered the challenge for Ohio State as he took the field and efficiently led his team to the Clemson 29-yard line with a series of quick, accurate passes, but, with 37 seconds left, Fields threw an interception, only is second of the season, and the Tigers ran out the clock to win what will be remembered as one of the best playoff games in college history by a final score of 29-23.
For Clemson, the win should silence some of the criticism that has followed them all season but, much to Dabo Swinney’s delight, they will still be able to claim the disrespected underdog title heading into their title defense.
For LSU, their win only added to the growing legend surrounding Burrow and the expectation is that his success will continue on Jan. 13, with most pundits projecting another blowout on the way to the team’s first national title since 2008.
In the end, despite the overwhelming amount of offensive talent taking the field, this game is going to come down to defense. Will the unsung heroes of Clemson’s top-ranked defense be able to contain the Heisman winner at the helm of the number on scoring offense?
Will LSU’s much improved 2019 defense be able to stop a Clemson team that has outscored their opponents by an average of 32.5 points a game while racking up nearly 550 yards a contest?
The answers to both of these questions will be yes on Monday night, and this game should challenge the current wisdom by becoming a defensive battle from start to finish. Ultimately, the home-field advantage of playing in the Superdome will tilt the game in LSU’s favor.
NCAA BCS Championship Prediction: LSU 34 Clemson 28