There were two plays in Monday’s loss to LSU in the national championship game that cost Clemson on the defensive side of the football.
The first came just before halftime that led to a momentum building touchdown, while the second came in the third quarter on what was one of the best calls of the entire night from the LSU coaching staff.
Would the outcome of the game have been any different had Clemson made the stops and got off the field? Who knows? But they were two plays that helped determine LSU’s 42-25 victory at the Superdome in New Orleans.
“They made great plays all year. They made competitive plays tonight and have made them all year,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “They are really good. They are very precise and force you to play with the same kind of precision and when you don’t, they make you pay.”
Case in point, the Bayou Bengals were facing third-and-19 from their own 21-yard line late in the second quarter following a 9-yard sack by defensive tackle Tyler Davis on first down. The momentum was on Clemson’s side. It had an opportunity to get the ball back and maybe get a score just before the end of the half.
Burrow threw a deep pass down the middle to wide receiver Terrace Marshall which was going to be too high for Marshall to bring in. However, before the ball arrived, Clemson cornerback Derion Kendrick hit Marshall, forcing a pass interference call which kept the drive alive.
Later in the drive, on third-and-five from the Clemson 44, the defense again failed to get off the field as Burrow hit Justin Jefferson for a 9-yard gain. Then, three plays later, on third-and-10 from the Clemson 35, with a chance to prevent any points by LSU just before the half, Burrow calls his own number and runs 29 yards to the Clemson 6-yard line with 14 seconds left.
On the next play, the LSU quarterback threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Thaddeus Moss with 10 seconds left, giving the SEC’s Tigers a 28-17 halftime lead.
“They seemed to do it in real a timely fashion,” Venables said. “The last drive right before half was a killer. Because if we had gotten off the field, it was third-and-19 … You got to get off the field. I was trying to bluff-and-disguise [coverage] and you just don’t get deep enough and they get behind us and go on to score.”
But Clemson was able to overcome the late second quarter score and got back in the ball game when the defense forced a three-and-out to start the second half, including a 7-yard sack by James Skalski on third down. The offense went down and scored on the ensuing possession to cut the deficit to 28-25.
Momentum was on Clemson’ side. The ACC’s Tigers again got another three-and-out and confidence was building.
After the offense failed to move the ball on the next possession, the Clemson defense again forced Burrow and company into another third-and-long situation, this time it was third-and-11 from the LSU 41.
Clemson called an all-out blitz to try and get to Burrow, again. However, Clemson tipped its call and at the last second Burrow changed his call to a jail-break screen to Ja’Marr Chase. It was the perfect call.
Jefferson caught the ball and used his blocks to weave his way 43 yards down the sideline to the Clemson 16. After a targeting penalty on James Skalski on the next play, Burrow threw a 4-yard touchdown to Moss.
“We had a jail-break screen right there. They got us in a tough call,” Venables said. “They waited until the last second to change and see what we were in. They did a good job of putting them in a really favorable call and it goes for 43 and they go onto score those two touchdowns. Those two drives were just killers for us.”
The Moss touchdown gave LSU a 35-25 lead with 5:13 to play in the third quarter and Clemson never recovered from that point.
“I thought they executed at a better level than we did. It is pretty simple,” Venables said.
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