Updated: 3 days ago
BY LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Although LSU's rampant 2019 offense would overcome Clemson in classy, brilliant come from behind fashion, the script didn't always appear that rosy after watching the first two quarters of the thematic, highly charged 2020 National Championship Game.
Through the first drives, LSU sputtered, ran into walls, tripped on their own shoes... standing puzzled, frustrated and shaking their heads after each wasted series, punting the ball three times with only 17 total yards to show for themselves....usually three drives for 2019 LSU meant 177 yards and 3 touchdowns...
Did Venables have a formula to stop the unstoppable?
"What did you see?" Brady asked Joe, their usual cycle for each subsequent drive: Burrow and Brady conferenced, followed by Ensminger, WRs Coach Mickey Joseph, Brady and analysts Jorge Munoz / D.J Mangus all crafting the adjustments, each coach or analyst designated with a certain role.
Yet Joe wanted Ensminger on the headphones immediately:
"They're just stacking the box, disguising the mic, Skalski, but he's just a spy!" Joe also figured out their cover schemes. "No matter how many safeties they use, they're still playing man on the outside... they need those safeties to stop the slant...they can't cover our guys on the outside, we need to run deeper routes!" "Let's go to #1..." Ensminger replied bluntly, naming the sophomore powerhouse Ja'Marr Chase as the primary target to help the Tigers withstand this early avalanche of pressure.
Joe nodded in foul-mouthed affirmative and went over to Chase, telling him to "keep fighting on every route"...the ball was coming the nervous sophomore's way.
Fellow wide out Justin Jefferson was already pep-talking his younger partner in DB Humiliation for the last few days and now, when the lights shined brightest and Chase had to deliver, he shook off the decoy usage and lack of targets from his previous two games and exploded unlike any collegiate receiver has before on the ultimate stage.
Clemson were playing LSU perfectly: Venables had his guys stout, attentive, quick to react, fast in the blitz and flying all over the field to help cover Chase, Jefferson and Marshall. Swinney's men weren't blinking, they weren't buying the RPO action just yet...for once a team wasn't shaking in fear of LSU. Worst of all: Clemson were smashing Joe...how on earth did they get such early hits and pressure on #9??? Ensminger knew we had to change protections in order to free up the routes: The offensive line needed to stop accounting for James Skalski, Clemson's hard-hitting middle linebacker. As a spy, Skalski would sit back, watch Burrow and key on the quarterback's every move. This included the odd blitz straight at Joe, nailing the quarterback on more than a few occasions.
Since Skalski's calls & reads were mostly up to his discretion, the occasion became a bloodborne Burrow v Skalski battle, a true blunt instrument-wielding street fight, one punch landed, another absorbed, one blocked, one delivered...back and forth the pendulum swung. "Joe can handle him...we gotta stop worrying about blocking #47, leave him!" Ensminger reportedly told Cregg. Cregg was bemused but gave the orders...for the rest of the game, LSU cultivated and exposed the weaknesses within Venables' unit: Clemson relied on Skalski and Simmons' relentless movement to cover their deficiencies, especially when considering safety help over the top. “The first couple series, I didn’t think there was any way they were just going to play man with Ja’Marr,” Burrow recalled, his eyes dancing as he continued. “I wasn’t really looking his way and then I got back to the sideline after the second drive and I was like, they really are playing man-to-man with Ja’Marr, so we started going to him heavy.” Once Joe aired out a long, fading teardrop touchdown for Chase, the Biletnikoff winner towered above A.J Terrell's cumbersome disassociation, and LSU tied the game.
Despite some back and forth gamesmanship, the juggernaut offense never looked back on its way to purple and gold glory. Something personal went down on the Superdome turf between Joe and Skalski, the two Midwesterners thrashing into each other many times throughout the title game.
"I got him..." Joe's stern eyes glaring on the sideline after LSU took a 21-17 lead. He nodded his head, chomping at the bit.
Joe wanted Skalski...but how he won the duel over the raging linebacker remains the apple of our bewitched eye: Mind over matter, brain over brawn...he allowed Skalski to nail him for the price of a Thad Moss touchdown before half.
Joe would toss 5 total touchdowns, a title game record, Clyde Edwards-Helaire would run rings around Clemson, disintegrating their linebackers for nearly 150 total yards on a "bad hamstring"....and it was through the 2nd quarter grace of Clyde's grind when LSU made their comeback.
This was all about Clyde's iron will and savage tyranny wearing Isaiah Simmons out like a Paul Stanley wig:
Due to #22 coming alive and showing his iconic burst was fully intact, more space was created for Chase, Jefferson, Moss and Marshall to devour: the four combined for all 5 of Joe's passing touchdowns. Once LSU began pointing at ring fingers, hugging Coach O as if he were the world's loudest Teletubby, embracing each other in pre-Covid gusto, sparking victory cigars....
Despite the immense pride and joy after the final whistle, Joe in merciless victory formation, you didn't see the coaching staff gushing tears anymore, as they'd expressed upon Alabama's purple and gold stained field months prior:
LSU's coaches and players knew what the outcome would be long before the ball was snapped...our guys just took the scenic route this time.
LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
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