This truly is a golden era for Clemson football. For the 4th time in the last 5 years, Clemson is playing for the National Championship. But for the first time in those 5 years, they are not facing Alabama. Last year Clemson went into the championship game and the vibe I got from most of the pre-game chatter was whether Clemson could possibly keep up with a historically good Crimson Tide offense. This year I was hearing the same thing about about LSU’s offense and although most weren’t saying it directly, the vibe was definitely one of Clemson’s facing a nearly insurmountable task. How would it turn out this year?
LSU won the toss and deferred. Clemson started at the 25 after the touchback. They started with a ctach and pitch but LSU played it well. Trevor Lawrence then hit Justyn Ross and on the next play a screen to Travis Etienne down to the LSU 27. Amari Rodgers took a bubble screen down to the 24. Lyn-J Dixon probed the left edge of the LSU defense and lost a yard. On 3rd & 8, Lawrence was sacked. Clemson decided to punt rather than go for a FG and Will Spiers pinned Joe Burrow and company at the 6. On the first play Clemson nearly had Burrow for a sack but he wriggled free and launched a pass downfield to his TE, but the play was called back on a lineman downfield. On the next play Isaiah Simmons knocked a pass down. A.J. Terrell did the same on the next play on a slant. On 3rd & 13, LSU threw it short and got nothing. For a game headlined by two explosive offenses, the defenses had made a statement on the first two possessions.
Clemson took over at the LSU 42. Etienne picked up 5 off the right side on 1st down. Lawrence targeted Rodgers on a slant but it was well defended and on 3rd & 5 he looked for Higgins down the right sideline, but they couldn’t connect. Spiers pinned LSU at the 4. For all the complaining I’ve done about Spiers, he had certainly started off quite well in this game. LSU tried to run, but Clemson stuffed them. They picked up some yardage on the next play but the 3rd down pass fell incomplete. The punt didn’t look great but it took an LSU bounce and rolled to the Clemson 33.
On the first play, Lawrence hit TE Braden Galloway who showed his athleticism and had a long run into the red zone, but the officials called Tee Higgins for a blindside block. At the LSU 40, Lawrence scrambled down to the 31. On 2nd & 1, Lawrence threw a strike to Higgins and a penalty on LSU moved the ball down to the 6. A direct snap to Etienne nearly got to the goal line but he got stopped about half a yard short. Lawrence faked it to Etienne and the LSU defensive end stalled just enough for Lawrence to get around him and score. At the 6:34 mark of the 1st quarter, your Tigers were up 7-0. B.T. potter’s kickoff went out of the end zone. LSU got a 1st down but Clemson got to Burrow for a sack. On 2nd & 13, the pass fell imcomplete and on 3rd down Burrow scrambled away from pressure but couldn’t connect with his receiver. The punt rolled out of bounds at the Tiger 25.
Lawrence went back to Higgins down the right sideline and LSU was called for pass interference. Etienne picked up 6 and Clemson went tempo but Lawrence overthrew Rodgers on a short out. On 3rd & 4, he tried to hit Ross on a slant but the pass was incomplete. The punt was returned to the LSU 30. LSU moved the ball a bit running and then Burrow launched a strike down the right sideline and A.J. Terrell got beat and fell down, letting the LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase walk into the end zone. With 2:20 left, gthe score was tied 7-7.
Clemson started with what looked like a busted play as Etienne was stuffed for a 4-yard loss. Lawrence picked up 8 on a run up the middle setting up 3rd & 6. Lawrence scrambled right and got it to Galloway for the 1st down. I kept thinking Clemson needed to keep getting the ball to him. Etienne picked up 6 on 1st down and Lawrence picked on the 1st down with some good running up the middle as the 1st quarter expired. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch at this point to say that Lawrence is like having a 2nd running back in the backfield. Rodgers picked up 5 on a jet sweep and on 2nd down Lawrence rolled left and had Ross on the sideline but he overthrew it. On 3rd & 5 he was nearly sacked but flipped it forward to Dixon, but it was 3 yards short. Potter came in for the 52-yard FG and he nailed it. Clemson led 10-7 with 14:20 left in the half. From the 25, Burrow took off and got out to the 45. After that, the Clemson defense stiffened and forced a punt. LSU covered it at the Clemson 4.
Lawrence hit Ross on a nicely run route out the 28. Etienne got loose on the outside for 29 yards and then had a good run up the middle to the LSU 36. Higgins took a reverse to the left and scored. At 10:38, Clemson was up 17-7. A couple of plays later, after a long pass, LSU was on the Clemson 3, as Terrell was beaten again. Clemson got them to 3rd & goal and Burrow ran it in up the middle (with assistance from a hold on Simmons it looked to me). With 9:17 left, Clemson was up 17-14.
Etienne ran wide right but couldn’t get anything, but on the next play he did, picking up a 1st down and a 15-yard penalty as an LSU defender ripped his helmet off. An incomplete pass to Rodgers (who took a tough hit) and a 1-yard pass to Etienne set up 3rd & 9. Lawrence couldn’t connect with Higgins and Clemson had to punt. Spiers’ punt was fielded at the LSU 13. LSU’s offense got rolling and moved into the red zone after the officials missed an out of bounds call on a long pass. Burrow hit Chase again over Terrell for the score. A.J. was having a tough night. With 5:19 left in the half, LSU led for the first time 21-17.
Higgins made a nice catch on the sideline but review said he didn’t maintain possession to the ground. Etienne took a shovel pass for the 1st down and Lawrence launched a long pass down the middle to Ross, but he was hit as he threw, and the ball sailed past everybody. Clemson got to 3rd & 12 but Lawrence couldn’t connect with Higgins on an out route. Clemson covered the punt at the LSU 5 with 3:38 left. LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire had a nice run but Burrow was sacked on the next play to put LSU at 3rd & 19. Derion Kendrick committed pass interference and gave LSU a 1st down. They moved into Clemson territory as Burrow scrambled up the middle two plays in a row. A little later, Burrow took off and moved the ball down to the Clemson 6. On the next play, LSU TE Thaddeus Moss was uncovered in the end zone and Burrow hit him. With 10 seconds left it was LSU 28-17. Lawrence kneeled it and went in for halftime.
LSU got the ball to start the 2nd half. Clemson forced a 3rd down and buried Burrow, forcing the punt. LSU was called for interfering with the punt catch and Clemson got the ball at midfield. Etienne picked up a couple of yards on 1st down. Lawrence hit Higgins over the middle to move the ball down to the LSU 36. Lawrence scrambled and LSU committed a face mask penalty to put Clemson at the 15. Etienne picked up 5 and then got down to the 3 to set up 1st & goal. On the next play he punched it in and Clemson went for two. Lawrence found Rodgers in the end zone to make the score 28-25 at 10:49 in the 3rd quarter.
LSU started at the 25 and Clemson got to Burrow on 1st down. On 2nd & 15, Burrow hit a receiver over the middle for 13. Nolan Turner nearly had an interception on 3rd down but couldn’t hang onto it. LSU punted it down to the Clemson 18. Lawrence rolled right and hit Ross for 11 yards. An incomplete pass to Joe Ngata set up 2nd & 10. Etienne got 3 on a short pass and on 3rd down Lawrence missed Higgins on a crossing route and the ball bounced high but fell incomplete. Trevor was having some accuracy issues tonight.
LSU started at their 32 and Burrow took off up the middle for a 1st down. A couple of plays later Clemson got good pressure on Burrow but he got it off to Chase and poor pursuit enabled him to get down into the red zone. James Skalskie was called for targeting and had to leave the game. On the next play Moss was poorly covered again (although I think LSU got away with a pick) and Burrow hit him for the score. LSU was up 35-25 with 5:13 left in the 3rd quarter. Lawrence ran for 6 yards on 1st down and on 2nd down he appeared to throw an interception but LSU had committed pass interference. Clemson had the ball at their 45 but committed a false start. LSU then blew up a middle screen to Etienne. On 3rd & 16 Lawrence threw another high pass and Spiers came in to punt.
LSU returned the punt to their 32. Burrow scrambled and dumped the ball off to a receiver who ran to the Clemson 33. Clemson was able to hold them after that and forced a FG attempt and it sailed wide right. Could this be the momentum changer that Clemson needed. After being out of the game after a hard hit to his thigh, Higgins returned. An option play to Etienne lost 2 yards. A 2nd down pass over the middle to Higgins fell incomplete. On 3rd down, Lawrence again threw a ball high to Ross, but he couldn’t come down with it. The punt was fielded at the LSU 43.
Edwards-Helaire had a good run after a catch and was pushed out of bounds, but an LSU lineman hit Simmons out of bounds and was called for the late hit. LSU moved down the field down to the Clemson 25. Burrow proceeded to hit a receiver down the sideline as Derion Kendrick was beaten in press coverage. Clemson’s corners were continuously futilely chasing LSU receivers from behind all night. Clemson’s inability to get good pressure on Burrow was also hurting them. Etienne took the kickoff back to the 30. Lawrence overthrew Ross yet again on 1st down. On 2nd down he hit Ross on a short out that got the 1st down. He looked for Rodgers but LSU committed pass interference putting them at the LSU 48/ Lawrence appeared to hit Higgins for a score, but he was called for offensive pass interference (but the defender was grabbing jersey as well). Lawrence was sacked for a yard loss, setting up 3rd & 26. Scrambling, he couldn’t get the ball to Ross. Clemson punted down to the LSU 10.
LSU took to the running game with about 9 minutes left, and that did not bode well for Clemson as the clock was becoming a concern. The Clemson defense seemed to lose energy after Skalskie was ejected. Clemson’s defense held and LSU punted, but there was only 4:46 left on the clock. The writing was on the wall. Lawrence scrambled for a 1st down and then hit Higgins over the middle out near midfield. He then scrambled for another 1st down but he fumbled and LSU recovered. It was over at that point as LSU only needed to run the clock out and that’s what they did against a listless Clemson defense.
The Superdome has not been good to Clemson in recent years. That LSU offense was one for the ages, but I still feel that Clemson did not play very well. Lawrence was off all night. The lack of a pass rush from the interior line hurt Clemson more than many may realize. You can’t lose the talent of the Power Rangers and not have it catch up with you. But LSU came out and played a great game and deserve all the credit for this win. Clemson will have to reset like they did after the loss to Alabama in the Superdome two years ago. Let’s hear your thoughts on the game and how Clemson needs to respond to get back to this game next year. Thank you for making us part of your Clemson football experience and we hope to see you back here next year.