Whole Nine Sports

CFP National Championship Preview

National Championship

Clemson – Josh Engler

LSU – Brandon Olsen

It’s finally here. Like Christmas morning for a child, the College Football Playoff is one of the most exciting days of the year for football. This year, it’s #1 LSU taking on #3 Clemson in New Orleans.

Clemson Keys to Victory

Trevor Lawrence

1. Start Hot on Offense

Being able to come back against Ohio State was incredible, but nothing to plan on twice. Clemson’s offense needs to START hot and not slow down. This game can be theirs to lose if they start with a 7 point drive, in my eyes. Any less should be unacceptable. While there’s no doubt in my eyes that LSU’s defense will be just as challenging as Ohio State, an offense with the Big 3 of Lawrence-Etienne-Higgins should be able- and be held accountable – to score on command. A failure to do so will be incredibly disappointing.

2. Try out EVERYTHING on defense to shake Joe Burrow

Look – I’m talking about Venables here so I’m preaching to the choir. But when you have a QB with such incredible talent, I don’t think the solution is going to be blitzing like hell, nor is it commuting to pass coverage. You’re going to have to throw all the tricks in the bag at him to get him shook – something we’ve rarely seen this season. I’d expect a lot of zone blitzes, and taking advantage of Simmons’ versatility and have him line up everywhere during the game – from the slot, to man on tight ends, to safety coverage and blitzing alike. On a task which calls for creative brilliance, this is one team which I can actually guarantee is up for the task!

Clyde Edwards-Helaire

3. Stop the Run

JK Dobbins was a nightmare for the Clemson D, with 174 yards, a touchdown, and over 9.5 yards per carry. As a long time Clyde Edwards-Helaire Stan, while LSU may not have the same attack that Ohio State did, they are still immensely capable of running the ball. I couldn’t tell you with great certainty whether Ohio State found some sort of schematic advantage to take it Clemson, or if it was purely a talent gap. Regardless, this is one area where they cannot allow the opposing offense to have a repeat performance. But, just like facing Justin Fields, they cannot simply stack the box without letting the opposing QB pick apart their secondary. I’m sure Venables has been studying the tape like a medieval monk studies ancient manuscripts, so it will be something to keep your eyes on.

4. Keep Trevor Lawrence’s Pocket Clean

The return of Michael Divinity bolsters LSU’s already prominent pass rush, and we already saw how a strong defensive front gave Clemson fits just the other week. The job at hand? Do better. TLaw lead the team with 107 yards on the ground, with necessity being the main factor. Without him, Clemson would be preparing for the next season, not the Natty. He needs to be able to sit back and toss the pigskin, not put the whole offense on his back, and that starts with the offensive line. We know they did a great job limiting Chase Young, so they must repeat limiting a key defender as part of their game plan. This time? All eyes should be all on K’Lavon Chaisson. Stop him, and the rest will fall into place.

Dabo Swinney

5. Embrace the Power of the (Seeded) Underdog

They did it against Ohio State. They’re the underdogs again this week. Put this team under pressure, tell them that they don’t deserve it, and they’ll fight with the eye of the tiger (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist!). Plaster those tweets in the locker room. Play the clips of the color commentators. Let Clemson play with a chip on their shoulder and they’ll come out swinging.

LSU Keys to Victory

Isaiah Simmons

1. Know exactly where Isaiah Simmons is.

Whether you want to list him as a linebacker, safety, slot corner, it doesn’t matter. Isaiah Simmons is an absolute Swiss army knife that’s going to be moved all over the field defensively. Simmons is the key to this Clemson defense so nobody on LSU, whether it be Steve Ensminger, Joe Brady, Joe Burrow, or the offensive line, can take their eyes off of him.

2. Lock in on Trevor Lawrence.

A major reason that Clemson was able to beat Ohio State was to get Trevor Lawrence out of the pocket and moving around. LSU has shown a major weakness to quarterbacks that can get out and move, although they’ve improved as the year has gone on. Look for LSU to attack Trevor Lawrence whether he’s in the pocket or on the move.

Derek Stingley Jr.

3. Man-to-Man.

With the best secondary in the nation, LSU has the freedom to do some things that other teams don’t. One of those things is that LSU can line up every snap and play man-to-man defense on the outside. Kristian Fulton and Derek Stingley Jr. are two of the best cover men in football and while they’ll have their hands full, they also are more than capable of pulling it off. With K’Lavon Chaisson on the edge and Michael Divinity Jr. coming back to the team, the pass-rush should get there consistently too.

4. No mental mistakes.

This is one of LSU’s strengths but they have to make sure they don’t let up. No interceptions, no fumbles, no blown coverages. If there is a single team in the nation capable of doing this against Clemson, it has to be LSU. Luckily for them, Joe Burrow and Clyde Edwards-Helaire excel at the mental aspect of the game. Defensively, filling the lane on Travis Etienne and not abandoning coverage are the two top mental tasks.

Joe Burrow

5. Get the gat.

If there’s one thing that you have to love about LSU, it’s their swagger. Play “Get the gat”, play “Neck”, play the LSU hype videos. Whatever LSU has to do to mentally prepare for this game, it seems like they’re doing it and they’re building momentum before the game has even started.

Spread

Ed Orgeron

No. 1 LSU (-5.5) vs. No. 3 Clemson

Josh: I’m picking Clemson to cover. Even if they don’t win, this game is going to be an absolute showdown. Clemson will be very competitive, and again I feel this spread discounts their offense AND defense. This is more than a score minus a field goal. There’s a lot that can happen, and no matter who ends up on top, I feel confident it’ll be 5 or less points.

Brandon: As I said on this week’s preview episode of the Whole Nine Sports Podcast, I believe that LSU is going to come away from this game with a victory but I think Clemson covers the 5.5-point spread.

Points

Travis Etienne

Over/under 69.5 points

Josh: Maybe I sound crazy, but I’m going to grab the Over here. I think this is going to be an offensive slugfest. I think that this could end up as like a 40+ point each contest, and the odds of overtime are greater than any other games this year. I know other places are saying to aim lower, but for me – I am betting (and hoping) we see both of these offensives flourish.

Brandon: I’m agreeing with Josh here again in taking the over. Both of these teams are too good offensively to not be able to crack this over. LSU almost put up this O/U by themselves against Oklahoma and while Clemson has a significantly better defense, I think that LSU has a worse defense than Ohio State so we’ll be seeing more numbers be put up from Clemson.