The cat-and-mouse game has begun.
No. 1 LSU opened practice Thursday for its Jan. 13 College Football Playoff national championship game against No. 3 and defending national champ Clemson in battle of 14-0 teams.
But since the Tigers’ stunning 63-28 CFP semifinal beatdown of No. 4 Oklahoma last Saturday in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Joe Burrow and teammates have been immersed in film study.
The more they watch Clemson, the more they understand why the Tigers from South Carolina have a 29-game win streak.
Burrow, leader of an LSU offense that leads in the nation in scoring (48.9) and yards per game (564.2), has seen why Clemson is ranked first nationally in scoring defense allowing just 11.5 points per game.
“You can tell that they have 11 really smart guys,” Burrow said on a national media teleconference in which he participated with LSU safety Grant Delpit. “They (Clemson) do a lot of different things on defense, and they have a really good coach that makes it difficult for me and my eyes to look. Pre-snap, it’ll look the same and they’ll go to cover-two and cover-three on the same look. It’ll be tough for me. I’ll have to do a lot of film study to understand what they’re trying to do.”
Delpit has similar respect for Clemson sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence and an offense that is fourth nationally in scoring (45.3) and third in yards per game (538.4).
“He looked pretty fast running for a 70-yard (actually it 67) touchdown (against Ohio State in a CFP semifinal),” Delpit said of Lawrence. “People don’t give him credit for his running ability. So, we’re definitely going to take that into consideration. He’s definitely a great all-around player.
“And also just the amount of weapons they have, guys like (running back Travis) Etienne, big, tall receivers like Tee Higgins, they’ll go up and get the ball. It’s going to be definitely a fun match-up, going to be a fun game. They have great coaches, a great offense, so it’s going to be cool.”
Here’s what Burrow had to say about various subjects:
On what makes LSU’s offense explosive
“We have great players. We have five NFL guys in routes every single snap, and it’s tough to cover. You kind of have to pick your poison. We have three receivers that can beat you at all times and a tight end and a running back that can beat you in routes, as well. We’re a tough match-up for a lot of people, and then I just try to get the ball in their hands on time and accurately and then let them do the rest.”
On what makes LSU’s offense difficult to defend
“It’s getting five yards on a route every play and making them defend every single person. Anybody can get the ball on any play. We’re not designing plays to go to this one guy. We have progression reads that everyone can get the ball on, so you have to be on your toes as a defense and really understand who has each individual player, otherwise we’ll beat you, or I’ll find a guy, and that’s what makes it so difficult to defend. You’ve got to find your guy, and we make it difficult to do it and change up people’s eyes with motions and moving different guys around from the slot to the backfield to outside. We do a really good job of finding match-ups that are favorable for us.”
On the ability of LSU receivers Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson and Terrace Marshall to outjump defenders for passes
“Talent only gets you so far, and obviously they got to LSU because they’re really good at that, but then they worked at it this off-season and became the best receiving trio in the country. They’ve worked so hard for it, and I think Justin felt a little disrespected after the year with all the awards and wanted to come out in this game (the CFP semifinal win over Oklahoma when he had 14 catches including four TDs) and prove to the country that he was one of the best guys out there, and I think he did it.”
On LSU peaking at the right time
“Our team as a whole is playing our best football. Our defense has become one of the best in the country, and they’ve worked really hard to get there. As an offense obviously there’s still some room to improve, but we’re very explosive right now, and our O-line is playing their best ball of the season.”
Here’s Delpit on various subjects:
On LSU’s dramatic defensive improvement in its last three games
“After the Ole Miss game, it was kind of a turnaround for us. It wasn’t our best performance. We sat down as a defense and just saw what we did wrong, understood that some teams might try to make those plays and run it against us again. We just kind of lit a fire and started playing LSU football after that. So hopefully, this last game we can keep it going.”
On his season of fighting through a nagging ankle injury
“The ankle was hurting pretty bad the second half of the season a little bit, but now towards the end of it it’s feeling pretty good. I consider myself close to 100 percent, so it shouldn’t be a problem.”
On playing both safety positions
“I’m all about the results of the team. I’m a team player. So whatever position they put me, I’m going to play it. I was playing a lot of free safety this year in the middle of the field, and just trying to get other guys in position to make plays like JaCoby (Stevens) being down around the ball a lot. Just whatever we’ve got to do to win games, that’s what we try to do here, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that so far.”
On the return of previously suspended linebacker Michael Divinity
“That’s a big part of our defense. He’s a great player, and like you say, he’s been around in practice and all working out the whole time he hasn’t been playing. So that’s a big thing for us just that he stuck it out and stuck around. To have him back, that’s huge. That’s a huge key. He’s a vocal leader. He’s a vocal guy on and off the field. Having him back is going to be a big key for us, and we’re excited for it.”