Clemson brings its 29-game winning streak and quest to win back-to-back national titles to New Orleans on Jan. 13 for a showdown against LSU to decide the 2019-20 college football national champion. Coach Dabo Swinney has elevated Clemson into an annual title contender. The Tigers have won at least 10 games every year since 2011 and have earned a trip to the CFB Playoff for five consecutive seasons. Clemson has claimed two out of the last three titles, beating Alabama 35-31 in the 2016 season and won 44-16 over the Crimson Tide last year.
Clemson had a relatively easy path to an ACC title and playoff berth, as Swinney’s team was rarely tested in 2019. The Tigers won 12 out of their 13 regular-season games by 14 or more points, including a 62-17 victory over Virginia in the ACC Championship Game and a 45-10 win at Louisville in mid-October. Clemson faced its toughest test of the season in the Fiesta Bowl over Ohio State. The Tigers fell behind 16-0 but rallied thanks to timely stops in the red zone and two turnovers by the Buckeyes. A four-play, 94-yard drive delivered the winning score with just two minutes left, while the defense intercepted Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields in the end zone to secure the trip to New Orleans.
As usual, both sides of the ball are a strength for Clemson. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne are two of the best players in college football. And on defense, coordinator Brent Venables continues to develop standout groups on an annual basis.
College football’s 2019-20 season concludes on Monday, Jan. 13 with the national championship game in New Orleans. Why will Clemson defeat LSU and claim the title? Here are five reasons why Dabo Swinney’s Tigers will win it all:
5 Reasons Why Clemson Will Beat LSU for the National Title
1. Trevor Lawrence Can Match LSU’s Offense Score-for-Score
LSU’s offense enters Monday’s game ranked first nationally by averaging 48.9 points a game. While Clemson’s defense is among the best in college football and will win its share of battles, Dabo Swinney’s offense has to get on track early and often to hoist another national championship trophy. Despite the slow start against Ohio State, Clemson still averaged 6.7 yards per play and every scoring drive extended 75 or more yards.
It’s no secret Clemson needs its offense firing on all cylinders to win on Monday night, and this unit is more than up to that task. The Tigers rank fourth nationally in scoring (45.3 ppg) and fourth in yards per play (7.5). Quarterback Trevor Lawrence had an uneven (but still very productive) start to the 2019 campaign. However, the sophomore put all of the pieces in place in the second half of the season to finish with 3,431 yards and 36 touchdowns to just eight picks. Lawrence has connected on 67.6 percent of his throws and has not tossed an interception since Oct. 19 versus Louisville.
Lawrence’s big-time arm and ability to torch a defense through the air is no secret, but the sophomore has added another weapon to his approach this year. Lawrence has utilized his legs on designed runs more this season, as he’s accumulated 514 yards and eight scores on 93 carries. The sophomore ran for 107 yards (including a 67-yard touchdown in the first half) against Ohio State.
LSU’s offense is going to put up its share of yards and points on Monday night. However, with Lawrence at the helm and playing at a high level late in the year, Clemson can match Burrow score-for-score.
2. Big Plays from Travis Etienne
Clemson running back Travis Etienne is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. The junior has only 192 carries this season, but he’s made the most of those opportunities. Etienne has recorded 1,536 yards and 18 touchdowns and averaged a healthy eight yards per carry. He’s also a reliable safety value for Lawrence out of the backfield, catching 32 passes for 396 yards and four scores. Ohio State held Etienne in check, limiting him to just 36 yards (a long of eight) on 10 carries. However, Etienne’s versatility and big-play ability were on display by catching three passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns – including the game-winner – versus the Buckeyes.
Considering Etienne is from Louisiana, there will be no shortage of motivation for the national championship game. LSU’s defense has been tough against the run all year, limiting teams to just 3.6 yards a carry and 118 yards a contest. The numbers on coach Ed Orgeron’s group are skewed a bit, as LSU surrendered 402 yards against Ole Miss and did not allow more than 150 to another team this season. Take out the poor performance against the Rebels and LSU is holding teams to 3.01 a rush and 104.2 a contest.
Containing Etienne is going to be a tough matchup for LSU. All it takes one crease and the junior can take a carry 60 yards for a score.
3. A Healthy Tee Higgins + Ross and Rodgers
Clemson had to play a chunk of the Fiesta Bowl without No. 1 receiver Tee Higgins due to injury. Higgins managed to return in the second half and ended the game with four catches for 33 yards. With two weeks to prepare for the national championship, Higgins should be at full strength and an even bigger part of the gameplan for quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
The SEC is home to two of the nation’s best receiving corps with Alabama and LSU, but Clemson isn’t too far behind. Higgins caught 56 passes for 1,115 yards and 13 scores, while Justyn Ross caught 61 balls for 789 yards and eight touchdowns. Amari Rodgers recovered quickly from a torn ACL in the spring to grab 28 receptions for 418 yards and four scores. This unit has plenty of depth in the form of Diondre Overton (22 catches), Joseph Ngata (17), and Frank Ladson (nine). Additionally, tight end Braden Galloway returned to the field in the Fiesta Bowl after serving a one-year suspension.
LSU has one of the top defensive backfields in the nation, as cornerbacks Derek Stingley and Kristian Fulton and safety Grant Delpit are three of the top players at their position. This unit has allowed only three teams – Texas, Florida and Alabama – to reach at least 300 passing yards. However, as those games showed, this secondary isn’t invincible. With Lawrence throwing to Higgins, Ross and Rodgers, Clemson can put a lot of stress on LSU’s standout secondary.
4. Brent Venables
Clemson’s defense consistently ranks among the nation’s best thanks to the coaching and development of talent under Venables. The Tigers had experience returning for 2019 but entered the year with just four returning starters and lost a handful of key contributors in the trenches. Despite that turnover, Clemson remained among the nation’s best on defense. Venables’ group enters the national championship ranked first in the nation in scoring defense (11.5 ppg) and second in yards per play allowed (4.2). Clemson also enters this matchup ranked first in the nation in pass efficiency defense and is holding offenses to just 3.1 yards per rush.
The Tigers may not have the elite standouts in the trenches that the 2018 group possessed, but freshman Tyler Davis and junior Justin Foster have combined for 18.5 tackles for a loss this fall. Linebacker Isaiah Simmons is among college football’s top players, as his versatility gives Venables plenty of options all over the field. The secondary is anchored by the senior safety duo of K’Von Wallace and Tanner Muse, while cornerback A.J. Terrell earned first-team All-ACC honors this season.
With two weeks to prepare, Venables will have Clemson’s defense prepared for LSU’s offense.
5. Still the Champs… Can Deliver In Clutch Situations
The knock on Clemson throughout the 2019 season was a weak schedule and whether or not this team would respond when tested. The Tigers aced that exam last week when they rallied to beat Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl and advance to the national championship. While the Tigers didn’t have the strength of schedule of LSU or Ohio State, this team has the talent and experience to deliver in the clutch. And after a close victory last week, there should be no doubt about whether or not Clemson is battle-tested for a matchup like it will have against LSU.
While LSU is favored, don’t forget Clemson is the defending champs. The Tigers have won two out of the last three national titles and have a 29-game winning streak. Swinney’s team thoroughly dominated Alabama in last year’s national championship and won’t be intimidated going into New Orleans against LSU.