LSU vs Clemson: Complete Guide to 2020 National Championship Game

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 9, 2020

LSU vs Clemson: Complete Guide to 2020 National Championship Game

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    Richard Shiro/Associated Press

    Dabo Swinney and his Clemson Tigers are seeking the program's third national championship in four seasons, but the top-ranked LSU Tigers stand in the way.

    Behind Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow, LSU has returned to the sport's biggest stage for the first time in 12 years. Burrow enters the contest with 5,208 yards and 55 touchdowns, sitting just three scores shy of tying the Football Bowl Subdivision's single-season record.

    LSU will attempt to hand an elite signal-caller his first career loss.

    Trevor Lawrence is 25-0 as a starter at Clemson, which is riding a 29-game winning streak as the reigning champions.

    Bleacher Report has you covered with all important details for the contest, highlighting everything from viewing information and season recaps to NFL prospects, injury reports and key storylines.

Game Information

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    When: Monday, Jan. 13, at 8 p.m. ET

    Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome; New Orleans, Louisiana

    TV: ESPN

    Live stream: WatchESPN

    Spread (via Caesars): LSU -6

    Total (via Caesars): 69.5

How LSU Made It Here

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    In a word: offense.

    Burrow ranks second nationally in yards per game (372) and attempt (10.9), and he leads the FBS with 55 passing scores. The senior has also scampered for 311 yards and four touchdowns, adding a valuable mobile element to the attack.

    His favorite targets are Ja'Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson, who've each caught an FBS-high 18 touchdowns. Chase has 75 receptions for 1,559 yards, while Jefferson boasts 102 grabs for 1,434 yards. For good measure, each of Terrace Marshall Jr., Thaddeus Moss and Clyde Edwards-Helaire has 40-plus catches.

    Early on, LSU unveiled the revamped scoring attack to great success while surviving a trip to Texas. The scheduled stiffened in October, but the Tigers held off Florida and Auburn before earning a marquee win at Alabama to open November.

    LSU closed the regular season with three comfortable wins, smacked Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and crushed Oklahoma 63-28 in the Peach Bowl.

    Entering the national title, LSU leads the country in yards (564.1) and points (48.9) per game.

How Clemson Made It Here

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    Richard Shiro/Associated Press

    Clemson ran all over Georgia Tech in the opener before navigating a less-than-stellar September. Lawrence threw five interceptions in the first three contests, and the Tigers needed to stop a two-point conversion with 1:17 remaining to avoid an upset at North Carolina.

    That scare in Chapel Hill basically served as the turning point.

    After an idle weekend, Clemson became a monster. The Tigers notched eight straight wins of 30-plus points, ending with a 62-17 triumph over Virginia to win the program's fifth straight ACC title.

    While always a net positive despite his interceptions, Lawrence shook the sophomore slump midway through the year. He's thrown for 1,897 yards and 22 touchdowns with zero picks in the last seven games, adding 327 yards and three scores as a runner.

    Clemson's offense has attracted most of the attention, yes. In addition to Lawrence, the unit has running back Travis Etienne (1,932 scrimmage yards, 22 touchdowns) and superb receivers in Tee Higgins (56/1,115/13) and Justyn Ross (61/789/6).

    But this defense is undeniably special.

    Clemson has allowed more than 17 points just twice and never more than 23which happened in the 29-23 triumph over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. The defense ranks second nationally in yards allowed per game (264.1) and play (4.2).

Top 2020 NFL Draft Prospects

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    In a matter of months, Burrow has soared from a late-round afterthought to the widely expected No. 1 pick of the 2020 NFL draft.

    Several of his LSU teammates will likely also be selected in the opening rounds, including cornerback Kristian Fulton and safety Grant Delpit. Clemson's top draft-eligible players are Higgins and superstar defender Isaiah Simmons, a converted safety who leads the defense with 95 tackles, 14 for loss and seven sacks.

    Bleacher Report's Matt Miller listed five players from both LSU and Clemson in his latest big board top 100.

    2. Joe Burrow, QB, LSU

    5. Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson

    12. Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson

    15. Grant Delpit, S, LSU

    23. Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU

    31. K'Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, LSU

    40. Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU

    56. A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson

    59. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

    62. John Simpson, IOL, Clemson

Injury Report

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    LSU

    Brooks Kubena of the Advocate reported wideout Terrace Marshall Jr. and right guard Damien Lewis missed a third straight practice. LSU coach Ed Orgeron said Marshall "should be OK." However, per Kubena, Lewis' status is uncertain after leaving the Peach Bowl on crutches and with a walking boot on his left foot.

    Kubena added running back Chris Curry, who replaced an injured Clyde Edwards-Helaire against Oklahoma, has worn a non-contact jersey in two practices. Edwards-Helaire (hamstring) is no longer mentioned in injury reports, though.

    Though he wasn't injured, Michael Divinity will return for the national title game. The linebacker hasn't played since October because of a fourth positive marijuana test, per Glenn Gulibeau of the Lafayette Daily Advertiser. But he will "definitely" play, according to Orgeron.

    Junior safety Todd Harris Jr. exited a mid-September game with a season-ending knee injury.

                   

    Clemson

    David Hood of Tiger Net notes receivers Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross wouldn't elaborate on their various ailments in the Fiesta Bowl but both expect to play. Defensive tackle Nyles Pinckney said he "got banged up" but should be ready for LSU.

    Blake Vinson and Bryton Constantin are also out, though neither previously held a major role.

Key Storylines

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Can LSU Complete a Dream Season in Louisiana?

    Putting the final touch on an undefeated season would be exciting enough. But for the Tigers to reach 15-0 in New Orleans would be special and practically unforgettable.

    Following the victory in the Peach Bowl, Orgeron attempted to keep the moment in perspective for his team.

    "Obviously, we feel it's going to be an advantage playing at home and we love that it is at home," he told reporters. "But that's not going to win the game for you."

    Nevertheless, what has the makings of a storybook season could not be ending in a better place for LSU.

                 

    How Will Clemson Attack LSU's Defense?

    Lawrence has proved he's a capable runner at Clemson and has utilized his mobility more as a sophomore. However, the Fiesta Bowl showed an entirely different side of Lawrence, who carried the ball on designed runs an inordinate number of times. 

    It worked, though.

    Lawrence tagged Ohio State for a career-high 107 yards, which included a crucial 67-yard touchdown. He completed 18 of 33 passes for 259 yards with two scores and zero interceptions, extending his turnover-free streak to seven games.

    But was utilizing his mobility the plan all along? Or was it a reaction to the situation? Clemson basically played the first half without Higgins, and Ross twice exited the field in clear discomfort.

    Especially given the hits Lawrence absorbed in the semifinal, a more traditional game plan is fair to expect. On the other hand, we would've said that before Clemson played Ohio State too. Lawrence's role is a compelling storyline.

                  

    Will LSU Overwhelm Clemson Too?

    Clemson ranks second nationally in both yards allowed per game (264.1) and per snap (4.2). The Tigers have collected the second-most takeaways (30), third-most tackles for loss (111) and 12th-most sacks (42) while ceding an FBS-low 11.5 points per game and the second-lowest red-zone touchdown rate (35.7).

    That's the long version of saying this defense is ridiculously good. It is, by every measure, an elite unit.

    LSU simply has not cared about such things.

    Florida, Auburn, Alabama and Georgia all ranked among the top 25 in yards allowed per play and top 20 in scoring defense. In those four contests, LSU still averaged 7.1 yards per snap and 37.0 points.

    Clemson is easily the most complete team LSU has faced. But this Burrow-led offense is capable of thriving anyway.

Prediction

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Not feeling great about it. Might be hilariously wrong. Possibly a reflection of a preseason prediction and too proud to change.

    Clemson, though, is the pick.

    More than anything, consider this a vote of confidence in Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables. In previous College Football Playoff games, he's consistently limited the opportunities for an opposing offense to attack downfield.

    Is Burrow capable of the precision necessary? Absolutely. But he's also a smart player who understands the other options; Clemson will sacrifice shorter passes in exchange for tightening up in the red zonea "bend, don't break" approach. Burrow's challenge would then be executing in a small field. Again, doable. Just tough.

    The wild card is whether LSU can counteract it with an efficient running game. While the total numbers look solid, most of LSU's best competition limited the offense to 4.2 yards per carry or worse. Clemson has allowed only 3.1 yards per rush.

    LSU's cornerback duo of Derek Stingley Jr. and Fulton presents a major challenge. Still, Lawrence is fully capable of carrying Clemson to a victory with a little help from Etienne on the ground.

    Prediction: Clemson 31, LSU 30