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LSU vs Clemson: Joe Burrow, Brent Venables ready for chess match

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NEW ORLEANS — Listen to Joe Burrow long enough—for an hour, say, at the College Football Playoff championship game media day—and something fascinating emerges. He has no verbal crutches—no “uhhh,” no “ummm,” not a single “you know” or “like” peppered into his parlance. If you interview enough athletes, you know this is highly unusual.

The LSU quarterback’s answers to every question were as crisp and timely as his passes from the pocket. He is, in a word, poised. Monday night, that preternatural poise will face what could be its biggest test: deciphering Brent Venables’ Clemson defense.

If you’re looking for a game within the game to watch, this is it. LSU’s ability to make a defense reveal its intentions presnap via formation vs. Venables’ ability to spring surprises on opposing quarterbacks after the snap with disguised coverages or blitzes. That figures to be the key battle of wits in this final game of the college football season.

“It’s going to be a fun chess match for me,” Burrow said.

This will be a matchup of grandmasters.

LSU leads the nation in scoring and total offense; Clemson leads the nation in scoring defense and pass defense. LSU scored a playoff-record 63 points in its semifinal demolition of Oklahoma; Clemson has held its last three playoff opponents (Ohio State this year, Alabama and Notre Dame last year) to season-low point totals. And the success of both units starts before the ball is snapped.

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