CFB National Championship Game: Player Matchup Preview
It all comes down to this. Only one game remains in the college football calendar and a champion will be crowned this Monday. Naturally, the two finalists have a couple of the nations most talent-laden rosters. As part of our build-up to the big game we have a player matchup special. Highlighting the five key player matchups to watch during the final.
Joe Burrow vs Isaiah Simmons
These two players could both be in the top-5 of most draft boards come April. Fortunately for us viewers, arguably the two best draft eligible players on the field will be in direct competition. Joe Burrow smashed records and defied doubters in a sensational season to get LSU to this point. His defining performance, a brutal deconstruction of Oklahoma. Ending the game by half time, accounting for seven touchdowns. It ensured anybody on the fence about Burrow was under no illusion- barring disaster he will be the number 1 pick in the 2020 Draft.
This LSU offense has seen off plenty of defensive talent this year. Auburn, Alabama and Florida are just a few names that struggled to slow Burrow and co down. However, it’s fair to say they haven’t faced a player like Isaiah Simmons. The biggest concern for the LSU signal caller will be the versatility of the Clemson standout. This is highlighted by the snaps Simmons has taken at various positions.
Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons is the only Power 5 player with at least 6 Sacks & 3 INT this season:— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) January 9, 2020
Where he lined up on the field for 720 snaps in 2019:
R safety- 27
L safety- 14
L slot- 154
R slot- 124
L OLB- 79
R OLB- 61
R ILB- 32
L ILB- 31
L CB- 8
R CB- 4
It will be key for Burrow to identify Simmons and work out how he is being used on a down-by-down basis. Is he blitzing? Has he dropped into the slot to help cover Justin Jefferson? Is he playing as a deep safety watching your eyes and giving cover to his corners? The battle of co-ordinators is likely to run through this matchup. Joe Brady’s prodigy Burrow vs Brett Venables’ chess piece Simmons.
Kristian Fulton vs Tee Higgins
Perhaps the most intriguing matchups on both sides will be the battle between cornerbacks and wide receivers. There is an array of talent ofnboth squads but one battle of particular interest will be between these two draft eligible prospects. Both have the opportunity to be day 1 picks and although they may not be lined up against one another all day, there is likely to be several flashpoints.
Higgins is an elite receiver who will look to use his height advantage to bully Fulton. His strength and ability to make contested plays will be a key factor on big third downs and redzone opportunities. Refreshed from an ankle injury picked up against Ohio State, Higgins should be a key weapon for Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence.
Lining up against Higgins will be one of LSU’s most experienced cornerbacks. Kristian Fulton is an excellent man corner whose sticky coverage can be difficult to shake. That makes the matchup with Higgins even more interesting. Fulton will need to show he can cope with bigger, physical receivers and compete at the catch point. WIth standout freshman Derek Stingley Jr playing corner on the opposite side it’s likely that Fulton will see plenty of action. A great opportunity to show scouts his coverage abilities.
Justin Jefferson vs K'Von Wallace
We have another receiver v secondary battle with this one, this time focussing on one of Joe Burrow’s favourite receivers. Justin Jefferson has showcased elite talent this season on his way to 1434 yards receiving. Jefferson spends plenty of time in the slot causing mismatch problems for opposing defenses. His special route running means that he often finds himself in plenty of space, something Burrow exploited heavily in the blowout of Oklahoma.
With Ja’Marr Chase, Terrace Marshall Jr and Thaddeus Moss all viable passing options in the LSU offense, Clemson’s secondary will have its hands full. Luckily for them, that has been the strength of their defense this season. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables will likely shift personnel around to make things difficult for Burrow.
A key part of this will be safety K’Von Wallace. Wallace is another versatile player who has played across multiple positions this season. Having spent time as deep safety, box safety and the slot, he will have a large role to play. Wallace may be targeted as a weak link in the lineup and if LSU can match Jefferson up with him in one on one situations, it could be a potential mismatch for Ed Orgeron to exploit.
Patrick Queen vs Travis Etienne
Every time Travis Etienne has been doubted he puts in a big performance. It feels like the National Championship could be one of the games where Etienne explodes. Clemson were well aware of the talent Ohio State possessed on defense and took measures to catch them on the hoof. As opposed to running the ball with Etienne, they decided to use Trevor Lawrence as the key ball carrier. Leading to several big gains.
That will be fresh in the minds of Dave Aranda and LSU’s defence. The question posed to them will be whether Clemson continue to use Lawrence as a dual threat or revert back to the electric speed of Etienne. Etienne has enough wiggle to find holes in a defense and is unstoppable in open space. In big games players with such an x-factor are usually a decisive factor.
Looking to stop the Clemson run attack will be a fairly inexperienced LSU linebacker corps. Losing Michael Divinity mid-season has left a significant hole. Divinity was a leader and organiser of the front seven. Stepping in for him has been Jacob Phillips and Patrick Queen.
Queen is an explosive player who is fast, tough tackling and has the ability to blitz and get home for the sack. LSU’s lack of pass rush up front means Queen will find himself sent after the QB plenty of times but his role in the run game will be equally as important. With Dylan Moses returning to Alabama next year, a physical and speedy off-ball linebacker like Queen could be a draft riser and the National Championship is the perfect time to show his worth.
K'Lavon Chaisson vs Tremayne Anchrum
As highlighted above, the strength of the LSU defense isn’t their pass rush. They do have one elite threat off the edge though, in the shape of K’Lavon Chaisson. The long, lean outside linebacker has accounted for 6.5 sacks this season. Two of those came against Jalen Hurts in the playoff semi-final. He remains in contention for the first round of the draft and if he can find a way to Lawrence on Monday, his stock will likely rise.
Looking to stymie Chaisson and co will be a functional rather than dominant Clemson offensive line. Senior right tackle Tremayne Anchrum has had his troubles but will garner attention pre-draft due to being a regular starter for a top tier program. He has shown stiffness and isn’t an elite mover. Chaisson’s speed and ability to bend will likely test Anchrum to the max. It will be interesting to see if Clemson combat Chaisson’s talent with multiple blockers. That could open the path for deeper blitzers like the two linebackers or even the excellent safety Grant Delpit to get home.
formerly writing for the inside zone, rory will be breaking down college tape and keeping you up-to-date with all things CFB for the touchdown. an avid bengals fan, you can also find some of rory’s work at stripehype.com