LSU cruises, Clemson survives for title game clash
GLENDALE, AZ – LSU has the Heisman-winning quarterback and Clemson brings the 29-game winning streak. The College Football Playoff has delivered another doozy for its title game, and it features two teams of Tigers who haven't lost a game this season.
They pushed through the CFP semifinals Saturday in drastically different ways. LSU got the drama out of the way early in a 63-28 win against Oklahoma while Clemson needed all 60 minutes in a white-knuckle 29-23 victory over Ohio State.
Now they're headed to New Orleans for a clash in the title game on Jan. 13.
“These are the games you dream of,” Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons said. “You never want to dream about a championship game where everything's going to be simple. You want to have a good matchup.”
It's a fascinating showdown between LSU quarterback Joe Burrow — who won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide earlier this month — and a Clemson team that's the defending national champion and hasn't lost in nearly two years.
LSU is moving on after a brilliant offensive performance against Oklahoma. Burrow threw for 493 yards and seven touchdowns and now the Tigers will try for their first national title since Jan. 7, 2008, when they beat Ohio State 38-24 in New Orleans.
They're headed back to the Big Easy, which is just an 80-mile drive down Interstate 10 from LSU's campus. Clemson will be playing for its third national title in four seasons and this one might feel a little like a road game.
“Obviously, it's going to be a great day, going to be a purple and gold crowd in that Superdome," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “The state of Louisiana is going to be on fire.”
Clemson is back in the title game for the fourth time in five seasons but there's little doubt they'll be underdogs.
Even though Clemson (14-0) was undefeated coming into Saturday's game against Ohio State, the popular opinion was that the Tigers hadn't played much of anyone in a mostly mediocre Atlantic Coast Conference. But after knocking off the Buckeyes in the late-night thriller, they're one game away from another championship.
“The main reason we keep surprising people is because we know what we have with our team,” Simmons said. “We're not worried about who we play. We're not playing an opponent. We play to our standards — that's the main thing each and every week.”
Burrow continued the amazing second act of his college career after transferring to Baton Rouge from Ohio State. The senior tied a record for any bowl game with his seven passing touchdowns against the Sooners on Saturday. Justin Jefferson caught four of them, which also tied a bowl record.
It was one of the best offensive performances in the postseason in college football history, but Burrow wasn't ready to discuss this team's legacy.
“I think that will be a question after January 13th,” Burrow said. “I'm not reflecting on anything right now. We're full steam ahead, getting back to work.”
In Saturday's thrilling nightcap, Clemson extended its nation-best winning streak to 29 games, falling behind 16-0 in the first half before taking advantage of ill-timed Ohio State penalties to pull within 16-14 by halftime. The Tigers jumped ahead 21-16 in the third quarter but fell behind again when Ohio State scored to make it 23-21.
Clemson rallied in the final minutes, scoring with 1:49 left on Trevor Lawrence's 34-yard pass to Travis Etienne and then completing the 2-point conversion for a 29-23 lead. The win wasn't secure until there were 37 seconds left, when Clemson's Nolan Turner snagged an interception in the end zone.
“I mean, what a football game,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said during the postgame celebration. “It's a shame somebody had to lose that game.”
Orgeron will be making his first appearance in the title game as a head coach. Swinney is a veteran of the playoffs, leading the Tigers to the title game for the fourth time in five seasons.
This will be just the fourth meeting between Clemson and LSU. The last was in the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year's Eve, which Clemson won 25-24. That game was part of Clemson's ascension into the national elite under Swinney, who had his team playing for national titles a few years later.
LSU's win puts a team from the Southeastern Conference back in the title game for the 13th time in 14 seasons. Orgeron said the Tigers will be ready.
“We won't make it bigger than life,” Orgeron said. “Obviously, we understand the magnitude of the football game, but we're going to focus on the task at hand, the fundamentals, get better. We have an excellent football team.”
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