Advanced outlook: Clemson-LSU title game projections


by - Staff Writer -
Trevor Lawrence and the Clemson offense will have to stay hot to match LSU's offensive attack.
Trevor Lawrence and the Clemson offense will have to stay hot to match LSU's offensive attack.

We’ve been here before. Just about a year ago exactly.

Clemson’s Tigers enter the fray undefeated once again and a fairly-significant underdog again as well (5.5 points).

LSU’s Tigers play the role of the unstoppable force out of the SEC, supplanting Alabama’s reign at least temporarily there. For Brent Venables and the Clemson defense, it’s another immense challenge not many pundits are expecting his group to handle, once again.

Clemson was about a 5-point underdog at kickoff of last year’s game with Alabama, which was turned on its head in a 44-16 Tigers win. The Crimson Tide, like LSU this year and Ohio State last time out, was one of three top-4 scoring offenses Clemson has faced in the Playoff -- and the Tigers have held those opponents to 18.7 points on average, slightly below their CFP scoring defense since 2015 overall (19.3).

LSU boasts the No. 1 scoring (48.9 PPG), total (564.2 YPG) and red zone offense (97.1 percent) for a well-earned spot atop of the offensive efficiency metrics on ESPN. Clemson counters with a top-5 offense (4) and ESPN’s top-rated defensive efficiency after leading marks in scoring (11.5 PPG), passing (151.5 YPG) and passer rating allowed (96.32).

Efficiency ranks: Offense | Defense | Special teams

CU ESPN ranks (No. 2 overall): 4 | 1 | 122

LSU ESPN ranks (No. 3 overall): 1 | 12 | 85

CU SP+ ranks (No. 4 overall): 6 | 3 | 103

LSU SP+ ranks (No. 3 overall): 1 | 19 | 8

(SP+ is a metric from ESPN's Bill Connelly, formerly of Football Outsiders and SB Nation, that combines ratings for the five factors of efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives and turnovers. Rankings from before bowls. ESPN’s Football Power Index-based metric has similar statistical factors weighing together).

Heisman winner Joe Burrow lives up to the hype -- and more --- with especially high marks to start games out (82.8 completion rate, 17 TDs to 2 INTs in first quarter) and in the red zone (31 TDs to 0 INTs, 71.6 completion rate). Clemson improved to second nationally in red zone TD percentage defense against Ohio State (35.7). They've picked off their most passes in the first quarter (6) and allowed a 45.9 completion rate (only bettered by a 45.2 in the second quarter).

Burrow faced two top-10 pass efficiency defenses in Alabama and Georgia this season and tossed it for 742 yards with seven TDs to zero interceptions. Clemson, pacing the nation in opposing passer rating, is fresh off of giving up its most passing yards this season to another Heisman finalist in Justin Fields (320).

A top-15-rated LSU defense (ESPN) is facing its second top-5 scoring offense of the season with Clemson, after giving up 46 points and 559 yards to Crimson Tide QB Tua Tagovailoa’s attack. The Bayou Bengals rate best statistically in passes intercepted (5th), pass efficiency defense (7th) and third down defense (9th). They’ve been average in pressuring the QB (62nd in sack rate) but tops versus run situations on third and fourth down (No. 1 vs. opposing power success rate, 46.2) and 35th in stuffing plays at the line of scrimmage (21.8 percent).

They meet a Clemson QB in Trevor Lawrence riding the school’s longest streak without an interception (202) with 22 TDs and 318 yards per averaged over the last six games. And home-state product Travis Etienne, who is averaging 10.2 yards per play with 12 touchdowns in that span.

This is shaping up to be another heavyweight fight.

Projections

The knock on Clemson all season has been a lack of quality competition and it took a little while for the ACC’s Tigers to adjust to the step up with Ohio State.

That said, Dabo Swinney’s group eventually dispatched the Buckeyes like they had the previous 13 games, including covering all of the giant spreads over the last eight Power 5 games and 11-of-14 overall.

ESPN’s Football Power Index is sticking with Clemson with a 55.8 percent projection, joined by the FEI taking the ACC Tigers by two. Right around the Vegas number, TeamRankings picks LSU by six and NumberFire likes LSU by five. The last SP+ rankings had the Bayou Bengals as about three points better than Clemson (2.5).

It’s all a familiar feeling for Swinney and the Tigers and the trends should have Clemson confident. The question will be whether trends and experience play a major role or if the brash Bayou Bengals write a new story with the near home-field advantage Monday.

Metrics outlook | Prediction

ESPN FPI: 55.8% Clemson

FEI: 53% Clemson

TeamRankings: 38-32 LSU

NumberFire: 33-28 LSU

Top 25 national rankings (after NY6 bowls)

Clemson: First downs defense - 1 (189 allowed), pass efficiency defense - 1 (96.32 rating), passing defense - 1 (151.5 YPG), scoring defense - 1 (11.5 PPG), total defense - 2 (264.1), turnovers gained - 2 (30), red zone TD percentage defense - 2 (35.7 percent), total offense - 3 (538.4), first downs offense - 3 (370 gained), passes intercepted - 3 (17), scoring offense - 4 (45.3 PPG), turnover margin - 5 (1.14), fumbles lost 6 (4), sacks allowed - 7 (1.1), tackles for loss - 8 (7.9), red zone TD percentage offense - 9 (75.4), passing efficiency - 11 (161.79), third down defense - 11 (31 percent), rushing offense - 12 (246.1), defensive TDs - 12 (3), red zone defense - 12 (72), tackles for loss allowed - 12 (4.54), kickoff return defense 13 (17.56), team sacks - 15 (2.93 per), fumbles recovered - 15 (11), rushing defense - 16 (112.6), completion percentage - 17 (65.3), third down offense - 17 (46.5), passing offense - 19 (292.2), fewest penalty yards per game - 21 (44.2), fourth down defense - 22 (40.9).

LSU: Scoring offense - 1 (48.9), total offense - 1 (564.2), completion percentage - 1 (76.3), red zone offense - 1 (97.1), passing efficiency - 2 (199.4), passing offense - 2 (397.2), first downs offense - 2 (389), red zone TD percentage offense - 5 (78.6), third down offense - 5 (51.5), passes intercepted - 5 (17), pass efficiency defense - 7 (111.4), turnovers lost - 8 (12), third down defense - 9 (30.7), fumbles lost 14 (5), turnover margin - 16 (.64), passing yards per completion - 19 (14.1), punt returns - 20 (12.3), rushing defense - 20 (118), tackles for loss allowed - 20 (4.8), red zone defense - 21 (76.3), blocked punts - 21 (1), 4th down offense - 23 (62.5), passes had intercepted - 25 (7).

Other key stats

Clemson: Kickoff returns - 40 (21.95), red zone offense - 46 (87.7), punt returns 90 (5.97).

LSU: Scoring defense - 29 (21.6), total defense - 29 (339.9), team sacks - 40 (2.5), team tackles for loss - 46 (6.3), rushing offense - 60 (167), kickoff returns - 63 (20.8), sacks allowed - 72 (2.14), red zone TD percentage defense - 84 (63.2), kickoff return defense - 91 (21.9), punt return defense - 129 (16.7).

(Stats per NCAA and CFBStats.com)

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