Wednesday, January 1, 2020

A Fitting Finale: The Battle of Tigers

By Jean Neuberger

The national champion will be the Tigers.

They'll play their games in a stadium known as Death Valley.

They'll be 15-0 and the talk of the nation, particularly the American South.

Regardless who wins, LSU and Clemson will have pulled off an incredible season en route to the title.

LSU seems to be the unstoppable force. Six teams were in the top 10 when they faced the Bayou Bengals. Six teams fell, the latest being Oklahoma in a 63-28 rout in Atlanta. Joe Burrow, the deserving Heisman winner, saved his best performance (so far) for last weekend, carving the Sooner defense like a Christmas ham. Jordan Jefferson was brilliant, catching 4 touchdowns before the halftime show and leaving no doubt of LSU's dominance. As Jalen Hurts was scrambling away from the pressure of Grant Delpit and the Tiger D, Burrow and company strolled out time and time again, moving like clockwork.

Their resume stands with just about anyone in college football history. Their defense is stout and the setting for the title game is New Orleans, where the Tigers claimed their last two titles. Alabama couldn't stop their offense. Neither could Florida. Oklahoma got a dose of life in the SEC West this season. The LSU offense is a force that seems to be invincible.

Yet, if there's one person who could throw a wrench in the LSU offensive machine, it'd be Brent Venables.

Venables did a fantastic job slowing Ohio State's offensive juggernaut down. It took him longer than usual; then again, Ohio State's offense was so good that it couldn't surprise anyone that it got off to such a quick start. However, the in-game adjustments that Venables made, and makes often, worked in containing the Buckeyes and allowing Clemson to comeback in what was a phenomenal Fiesta Bowl.

Before I go further:

* Yes, the refs got the targeting call on Shane Ward right.

* Yes, Ohio State roughed the punter. Had he just clipped his leg, it would've been running into the kicker. He leveled the guy.

* No, the refs missed the overruling of the catch/fumble that Ohio State took back for a score. That was a catch and a bad call.

However, Ohio State had the lead with three minutes to go and had Clemson pinned at their own 6. They could've stopped the Tigers drive, yet Trevor Lawrence put his team on his back and drove them down in blitzkrieg fashion. In the last three pressure-packed minutes, Lawrence stepped up in the moment, while Justin Fields fell just short.

Where LSU is a force of nature; Clemson is the force of ultimate resilience. Nothing seems to faze the Tigers, who have now won 29 straight. Their confidence in believing every game belongs to them is dangerous. They believe it and so far, no one's been able to prove them wrong.
Lawrence and Travis Etienne, along with the speedy Tee Higgins have carried the offense, which tore its way through the ACC with ease.

The player I like most though is LB Isaiah Simmons. Where Venables is the brains for the Clemson D on the sidelines, Simmons is the defensive leader on the field and leads by example. His pick of Justin Fields in the third quarter took the wind out of Ohio State's sails. And remember, Fields came into that game with just one interception all season. Simmons's vision in picking Fields off was brilliant.

Simply put, if Clemson beats LSU, with the title game in New Orleans, they deserve to be national champions.

When a powerful force meets an opposite, resilient force, sparks tend to fly. This year's title game should be no exception.

Burrow vs. Lawrence. Dabo vs. Orgeron. Bayou vs. Upstate. This one should be fun.

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