Examining which under-the-radar players or factors could be crucial to deciding the national title
Clemson is 60 minutes away from back-to-back national championships and the program's third over four years. Coach Dabo Swinney's team is once again near the top of the nation in the key defensive categories, and an explosive offense is averaging 40 points a game behind quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne. Clemson pulled off a huge comeback to beat Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, and while Swinney's program is a slight underdog, this team will be ready for the showdown in New Orleans on Monday night.
While all eyes will be on Lawrence, Etienne and receivers Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross, a couple of under-the-radar players always break out with performances that could help decide the winner of the national championship. Which players or other aspects could be an x-factor on Monday? Here are five things to watch:
5 Clemson X-Factors That Could Determine National Title
Braden Galloway, TE
Galloway was suspended for the entire 2019 regular season after a positive test for a banned supplement at last year’s Cotton Bowl. However, he returned to the lineup against Ohio State and played 33 snaps. Galloway didn’t record a catch, but the tight ends on the roster haven’t been featured much in the passing game this season. With another week to work with the offense as a major contributor, could Galloway be a bigger factor on Monday night?
Trevor Lawrence’s Running Ability
Clemson’s coaching staff knows how to pick and choose their spots with Lawrence’s rushing ability. The sophomore has exceeded his totals from last year (514 yards in 2019 to 177 in ’18). However, he’s only posted double-digit carry totals three times – North Carolina, Louisville and Ohio State – in 2019. Lawrence posted a career-high 16 attempts versus the Buckeyes and recorded a 67-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. This is the last game of the season, so there’s no need for Clemson’s staff to hold back on Monday night. Expect Lawrence to continue utilizing his legs on designed runs or as needed when the pocket breaks down due to pressure.
B.T. Potter, K
Field goals have been a bit of an adventure for Clemson this season. Potter is 12 of 20 for the year and has missed three of seven from 40-49 yards. He’s also missed four from 39 yards or less. However, Potter also nailed two kicks of 50 or more yards. With a tight game expected, Clemson needs an accurate performance out of Potter on Monday night.
Isaiah Simmons, LB
Simmons might be the ultimate x-factor on Monday night. The junior earned first-team All-America honors from Athlon Sports after a terrific junior campaign and enters the matchup versus LSU with 95 tackles (14 for a loss), seven sacks and six pass breakups in 2019. Simmons could be utilized all over the field as a pass rusher, run stuffer, linebacker in coverage or helping stop the pass as a safety. If you need evidence as to why Simmons is so important to Clemson’s defense, check out this breakdown of his position by snap in 2019:
Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons is the only Power 5 player with at least 6 Sacks & 3 INT this season:— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) January 9, 2020
Where he lined up on the field for 720 snaps in 2019:
R safety- 27
L safety- 14
L slot- 154
R slot- 124
L OLB- 79
R OLB- 61
R ILB- 32
L ILB- 31
L CB- 8
R CB- 4
Amari Rodgers/Diondre Overton/Joseph Ngata, WR
It’s no secret Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross are the top targets for quarterback Trevor Lawrence. This duo has accounted for 117 of the team’s 308 receptions in 2019. But if LSU uses standout cornerbacks Kristian Fulton and Derek Stingley against Higgins and Ross, there should be opportunities for Rodgers/Overton/Ngata/Cornell Powell and Frank Ladson to make plays on the outside.