NEW ORLEANS (AP) — It would be one thing if all top-ranked LSU could hang its hat on was Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Joe Burrow leading what is arguably one of the greatest offenses in the history of college football.
But LSU's defense has looked remarkably improved in recent high-stakes games against Georgia in the SEC championship and Oklahoma in the CFP semifinal at the Peach Bowl. And that unit gets an additional boost with 2018 co-sack leader Michael Divinity returning fresh for the final.
Then there's quasi home advantage that LSU (14-0, No. 1 CFP) is bound to enjoy Monday night against No. 3 Clemson (14-0, No. 3 CFP) thanks to playing in the Superdome, just 80 miles or so down the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge.
“Ever since we knew the national championship was going to be in New Orleans it was a goal of ours to earn the right to be here," said LSU coach Ed Orgeron, who grew up about 60 miles southwest of New Orleans.
The last time LSU played for a national title in the Superdome — in January 2012 — Alabama won convincingly. This time, LSU comes into the Superdome with projected top quarterback in this year's NFL draft and a pro-style spread that led the nation with 564.2 yards per game.
Burrow has many as five targets on any given play who can be difficult to stop. It starts with the receiving trio of Justin Jefferson, JaMarr Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr. and continues with dynamic running back Clyde Edward-Helaire out of the backfield and transfer tight end Thaddeus Moss, son of Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss.
Some other reasons LSU will beat Clemson Monday night:
LSU's top running back was coming back from a hamstring injury in the Peach Bowl, when he had just two carries for 14 yards. Edwards-Helaire rushed for about 1,300 yards and 16 TDs this season to go along with 50 catches for 399 yards and a score.
He said uncertainty over how his hamstring will hold up is “obviously” on his mind, but also that he has gained confidence in his health from being able to “put my foot in the ground full speed, get up field full speed, run routes the way I wanted to run them.”
While LSU's defense looked vulnerable when it allowed 614 yards and 37 points at Mississippi on Nov. 16, those days appear to be over.
LSU has held all of its past four opponents to 28 or fewer points, resulting in lopsided victories each time. The unit gets a boost from Divinity, who had three sacks in five games before briefly leaving the team for personal reasons. Afetr he came back, he was held out for previous violations of team rules but is now set to rejoin his unit in the biggest game of the year.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney doesn't hesitate to present the Superdome's proximity to LSU as another challenge for which Clemson must prepare.
“We're the only (team) that took a plane here. So yeah, this is definitely a road game,” Swinney said. “How cool is that, for them to be able to just hop on a bus and ride up the road. ... It would be like us playing for the national championship in Greenville," South Carolina.
Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence will have to overcome crowd noise, not to mention a defense that has made life difficult for Georgia's Jake Fromm and Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts in its past two outings.
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