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Stay The Course: How LSU won the Second Quarter and the National Championship

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No panic, just execution.

College Football Playoff National Championship - Clemson v LSU Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

With Clemson slowly building out a 17-7 lead early in the second quarter, it felt like maybe the other Tigers were finally going to be the ones who figured out LSU’s record breaking offense. Everything was a little off for Joe Burrow and the offense in those first handful of drives of the National Championship. Besides the long touchdown pass to Ja’Marr Chase, LSU’s offense sputtered around.

With a third and 3 around midfield and the score still only 10-7 for Clemson, LSU went into another one of their empty formations to run their trusted “flat-7” combination with backside slants. Clemson made it look like they were pressuring with 6 defenders only for 4 of them to actually come on the blitz. James Skalski managed to squeeze by Lloyd Cushenberry’s last ditch block attempt and force Burrow out of the pocket where he had to throw the ball away.

This was the story of the game to that point. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, three-down attacking defense getting home against LSU’s five-man pass protections. After the failed third down, Clemson would quickly come down the field and score their 17th point against LSU with 10:38 left before halftime.

In 10 minutes and 38 seconds, LSU would score 21 straight points, flip the whole game around and put a stranglehold on the National Championship. When it all seemed bleak, LSU stayed the course and produced the same big plays from the same formations, protections and concepts that they had won with all season.

Here’s how they did it:

Right off the bat, LSU goes back to their glance post RPO to JaMarr Chase. Clemson had already done a good job on this concept early in the game when A.J. Terrell had a great coverage rep to deny Chase the ball.

LSU is running “split zone” here and when Clemson’s No. 24 comes to fill against the run, he opens the window for Chase to run into. Burrow will always trust his receiver to win inside on the route. Chase gets two yards of separation.

Where Have I Seen That Before?

LSU’s first touchdown of the season against Georgia Southern was on this same idea. This was their base way to keep defenses honest throughout the whole season.

On the very next play, Burrow finds Chase again one-on-one with Terrell. Unlike Chase’s first touchdown, this fade ball is with the receiver lined up in the slot position.

When Burrow takes the snap, he’s looking at the safety to his left who stays deep but almost on the left hash. Since LSU is running slot fade on that side of the field as well, Burrow can’t hit Jefferson with the safety over there. The quarterback moves his eyes to the other safety who has rotated all the way down to cover crossing routes. No deep safety on that side means one-on-one for Chase and Burrow serves him up another delicious ball.

Where Have I Seen That Before?

Notably, against Oklahoma, Justin Jefferson dusted a Sooner safety on this same concept when OU tried to disguise and roll a safety down late over Jets. It wasn’t pretty.

LSU would finish this drive with another fade ball touchdown to Chase who was well on his way to being the standout performer of the game.

When LSU got the ball back after a Clemson punt, the offense went back to work with Burrow finding Jefferson on a nice basic route over the middle.

You can see Burrow look to his right as he finishes his dropback for the flat-seven combination to the weakside. He doesn’t like it because the weak safety plays low on Chase out of the backfield and the corner route with Moss against Clemson’s starting cornerback Terrell is not a matchup he likes. Burrow comes back to the middle of the field to find Isiah Simmons cutting the shallow route opening up room behind him for Jefferson. Great QB play here.

Where Have I Seen That Before?

Jefferson caught a touchdown against Mississippi State on the same concept. Burrow looks to his right before coming back left to find Jefferson who adjusts his route to a post because the middle of the field is open in this coverage.

The next huge play in the drive was Clyde catching a weak-side option route. This is the Saints staple that Joe Brady brought from New Orleans. While they don’t run it as much as the Saints, it’s still a big part of their offense. Once the cornerback turns his hips to run with Chase, Burrow knows it’s one-on-one between Clyde and safety Tanner Muse on the option route. Muse gets caught up a bit in Chase’s traffic so Clyde knows to plant and hit the sideline. Burrow puts it on him.

Where Have I Seen That Before?

Sorry. I had to.

LSU ends up going down the field and scoring on a QB draw (we’ll get to that later) before getting the ball back, this time with their first lead of the ball game. The offense started the series with this zone lock glance post RPO. This time Burrow gives to Clyde who bounces the play outside before leaving the cornerback on the floor and creating an explosive play.

I wanted to put this play in because of how important Clyde beating defensive backs one on one was this whole season. Often, when LSU was running zone or duo the play-side offensive tackle would bang down on the interior defensive linemen so defenses started trying to play games and send a second level outside rusher. Early in the Clemson game, Simmons actually makes a play on Clyde coming free on the outside. There was often an unblocked player front side on these runs and more often than not Clyde made that man miss with some disgusting move.

Where Have I Seen That Before?

First play of the game against Alabama. Free guy off the edge and Clyde puts him in the spin cycle. He would do that a lot in Tuscaloosa.

LSU continued their march down the field but found themselves in a third and five just past midfield with under a minute to go in the half. LSU goes empty to run “hoss juke” the famous Patriots play that won them last year’s Super Bowl. In this concept, the option route comes from the front-side No. 3 receiver, in this case Jefferson.

Once Clemson blitzes and plays manfree coverage, they end up with Skalski on the aforementioned Jefferson. Not good. Jefferson sets him up and then bursts outside for the catch and eventually the first down.

Where Have I Seen That Before?

Off the top of my head, I couldn’t remember a specific example of one of the LSU receivers catching the juke route for a big play but Chase caught the seam route in this same concept for a big play against Vanderbilt early in the year.

You can see Jefferson set up the juke route on the bottom of the screen.

Clemson would later force LSU into the biggest third down of the entire season. Third and 10 with 21 seconds left and a chance to almost put the dagger in Clemson before the half. LSU goes empty again with the assumption that Clemson will try to pressure them again. The balls it takes to call a draw play with no timeouts and on third and 10 are incredible. LSU caught Clemson in exactly what they wanted: man coverage

When Burrow gets loose all the defensive backs eyes are turned and Burrow can get all the way deep inside the redzone. It’s a stunning call.

Where Have I Seen That Before?

LSU’s dagger touchdown against Auburn was also on a QB draw call. It’s the exact same play. The inside receivers are running quick out breaking routes and Burrow could throw to either of them since technically this is an RPO.

Burrow’s rushing touchdown earlier in the National Championship was on this same play.

Finally we get to the touchdown that put LSU up by what ended up being an insurmountable lead.

LSU is showing Clemson their same flat-seven combination but then the corner runner stops and turns back to the quarterback.

I talked about it here:

Where Have I Seen That Before?

This was a staple concept for LSU in the redzone and Terrace Marshall’s first touchdown of the year came on this route.

Down 17-7, LSU goes into the half up 28-17 and the rest is history. From game one we saw most of the concepts LSU would run this year but through tempo, formations and moving personnel around they could keep defenses on their toes. Against Clemson, after a choppy first 18 minutes of play, they stayed the course and the offense did what the offense had done the whole season. When it was all said and done, 628 yards and 42 points against the defending national champions will go down as one of the best performances in college football history.

Long live the 2019 LSU Tigers.