Examining which under-the-radar players or factors could be crucial to deciding the national title
LSU is one win away from capping one of the best single-season college football runs by a program in recent memory. The Tigers take on Clemson in the national championship in New Orleans on Monday night as a slight favorite and look to claim the program's first title since 2007. A high-powered offense led by quarterback Joe Burrow and a standout group of receivers leads the way for coach Ed Orgeron's squad. However, the defense played well down the stretch and was a big reason why LSU claimed the No. 1 seed for the CFB Playoff.
While all eyes will be on Burrow, receivers Ja'Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson, cornerback Derek Stingley and safety Grant Delpit, 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 LSU X-Factors That Could Determine the National Title
Michael Divinity, LB
Divinity tied for the team lead in sacks (five) last season and was slated to be a key cog in the linebacker rotation once again in 2019. However, he did not play in three out of the first five games and was later suspended for six contests in early November. Divinity’s suspension is up, as he’s eligible to make a return in the national championship. The senior has recorded three sacks and four tackles for a loss in limited time this year and should provide a boost to the pass rush on Monday night.
Thaddeus Moss, TE
Moss has quietly emerged as a key cog in LSU’s passing game over the second half of the season. After catching just 14 passes through the first seven contests, Moss has 28 over the last seven matchups. He caught four passes for 99 yards and a touchdown against Oklahoma and had six grabs versus Alabama. Moss is arguably the best tight end Clemson has faced this year, and his emergence adds another weapon for Burrow in a standout receiving corps.
Red Zone Scoring
A key part of Clemson’s win over Ohio State was its defensive stops in the red zone. The Buckeyes reached the Clemson 23-yard line five times on extended drives, yet scored only one touchdown to three field goals and one interception. LSU ranks No. 1 in the nation in red-zone scoring (97.1%), but Clemson’s defense ranks 16th nationally in red-zone defense by holding teams to touchdowns on just 35.7 percent of those trips (best among Power 5 teams) and scores on 75 percent overall. If Clemson holds LSU to field goals, that’s a huge win for coordinator Brent Venables. But if LSU is scoring touchdowns, it’s tough see how coach Ed Orgeron’s squad won’t have the advantage on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB
Edwards-Helaire might be the most underrated running back in college football. The versatile junior enters Monday night’s game with 1,304 rushing yards and 16 scores on the ground. Edwards-Helaire averages a healthy 6.6 yards per rush and caught 50 passes for 399 yards and a touchdown. However, he was limited to just two carries against Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl due to a hamstring injury suffered in practice. All signs point to Edwards-Helaire back at full strength on Monday night, giving LSU’s offense another big-time playmaker in the lineup.
It’s no secret New Orleans is friendly territory for LSU. It’s hard to know how the breakdown of fans will be on Monday night, but LSU is likely to have an advantage in the seats. Will it help disrupt Clemson’s offense or snap count at any point? LSU has played in all three national championship games that took place in New Orleans since 2000. The Bayou Bengals are 2-1 in those games. It’s hard to gauge the actual impact of the location and crowd until the game kicks off. However, a defacto home game certainly doesn’t hurt LSU’s chances of a victory.