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'He's unstoppable': Clemson's media day littered with praise for Joe Burrow, LSU offense

January 7, 2020
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Sometimes, it’s OK to give credit where it’s due.

That was the vibe on Monday morning at Clemson’s indoor practice facility as the Tigers’ defensive starters sat down in front of reporters for the team’s media day prior to heading to New Orleans this weekend.

All eleven players have had a week to recover from the heavyweight fight that took place in Phoenix, AZ. By now, surely defensive coordinator Brent Venables has almost all of his game plan in place for Clemson’s defense to try to do what hasn’t been done yet: slow down the freight train that is Joe Burrow and LSU’s high-powered spread offense.

There seemed to be a genuine appreciation for what they’ve seen on tape from LSU. Some of the most prominent leaders on the defensive side of the ball, such as safety Tanner Muse, didn’t shy away from it either.

“Nobody is similar to this team in any way, shape, or form,” Muse said. “This is a different team. LSU brings a different dynamic to everything they do.”

Muse was asked if LSU’s offense compares to the explosive Alabama offense from a season ago - the one Clemson shut down in Santa Clara en route to a 44-16 victory. 

“They’re very different. They’re very much different,” Muse said. “A lot of RPOs with Alabama and there are just so many different schemes with LSU. They’re just diverse in what they do. It’s ridiculous.”

“They’re very different. They’re very much different,” Muse said. “A lot of RPOs with Alabama and there are just so many different schemes with LSU. They’re just diverse in what they do. It’s ridiculous.”

LSU’s new spread offense scheme is currently No. 1 in the country, averaging 564 yards per game, 7.91 yards per play, and has 87 total offensive touchdowns. The Bayou Bengals are averaging a whopping 48.9 points per game.

A part of what has made LSU’s offense go from “meh” to menacing is that they have been able to hone in on opponents' weaknesses and target them in a variety of ways. The hiring of passing game coordinator Joe Brady last offseason brought the installation of the spread, which stretches out defenses by putting receivers all over the field.

This season, opposing defensive coordinators have tried to throw everything but the kitchen sink at LSU. The team with the most success against that offense so far has been Auburn, which ran 3-1-7 defense - a look designed by defensive coordinator Kevin Steele that Auburn had not shown on film before that game.

The scheme, which features three down linemen, one linebacker, and seven defensive backs, gave Burrow fits, holding the offense to 23 points - 25 points less than what it averages.

Clemson Sports Talk
Tanner Muse and Clemson’s secondary will be tested by Joe Burrow and the LSU Tiger offense.

Clemson’s Muse said on Monday that it’s rare to see something work in a defense’s favor when facing LSU.

“Yeah, a lot of people have tried different things with them, and nothing’s really worked yet,” Muse said. “They’re 14-0 so we just got to figure out what is best for us.

“They run a lot of different things that make people run into each other. You look like clowns out there trying to cover these guys up.”

Burrow is currently having one of the best seasons by a quarterback statistically in college football history. The Heisman Trophy winner has thrown for 5,208 yards and 55 touchdowns while only logging 95 snaps in the fourth quarter all season. He’s coming off a performance we think isn’t getting talked about enough: throwing eight touchdowns against Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl.

Eight. Seven of which were thrown before halftime. 

Venables didn’t even want to mention LSU after Clemson’s win over Ohio State, saying, “oh, it’s sick. It’s sick. I don’t even want to talk about it… We are going into the lion’s den, but whatever man.”

Venables didn’t even want to mention LSU after Clemson’s win over Ohio State, saying, “oh, it’s sick. It’s sick. I don’t even want to talk about it… We are going into the lion’s den, but whatever man.”

According to FiveThirtyEight, Burrow has an adjusted completion percentage of 82.5 percent. He’s done it against every type of defense he’s faced, completing 72 percent of his passes against man coverage and 77.6 percent against zone coverage.

“I think with LSU, when you maybe know a tendency or can anticipate something, they’re still going to make a play. This game’s all about making plays,” starting linebacker James Skalski said. “Even if you’re in the right call and know what’s coming, you’ve got to make the play at the end of the day. And they’re so good at just beating you 1-on-1, man-to-man beating you and that’s what makes it so difficult to stop.

“No matter what you do, they’re still stressing you out. You can put 9 DBs on the field and still somehow stop the run. They’re still going to stress you in the pass game. They’re very, very good at what they do, and it’s going to be tough.”

There’s a bit of a narrative from a national landscape that points to Clemson not being able to slow down LSU’s variety of weapons, and that’s not an entirely irrational take based on what we’ve seen out of this historical offense. 

Instead of the defense feeling as if that sentiment disrespects them, they showed utmost praise on Monday for what is about to be Venables’ biggest challenge of his coaching career.

Just take this exchange between Skalski and a reporter asking him about Burrow:

Have you seen anything on film that frustrates Burrow?

“No. He’s a Heisman winner for a reason. No.”

Like, nothing? He gets out of the pocket, it seems like he’s always cool under pressure.

“Silky smooth, man. He’s unstoppable.”

Behind closed doors, there may be a different tune to Clemson’s drum as its defense prepares to face another team in a national championship game that boasts an all-time-great offense. Playing for a third national title in four years is plenty of motivation in its own right, but an extra incentive would be obtaining that title by outplaying the offense that has changed LSU football.

But publicly, Clemson is saying all the right things and seems pretty genuine when the conversation pertains to the challenge that’s in front of them.

They aren’t blowing smoke or gassing up the ROY bus. They’re gassing up LSU and giving credit where it’s due.

“We understand how good they are,” Skalski added. “We understand, like I said, what we got on the line and we play for each other more than we play for any accolade or any desire to beat somebody else, you know? 

“It’s all about us right here, trying to focus on us and it’s got us pretty far doing that, so we’ve just got to keep that going.”

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'He's unstoppable': Clemson's media day littered with praise for Joe Burrow, LSU offense

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