Everyone knows if Clemson is to win the College Football Playoff National Championship tonight, Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne will be key players in the matchup against LSU. While those two have grabbed the headlines, it is the Clemson defense that will likely need to step up if it wants to bring home another title.
Simmons is freakishly athletic
Isaiah Simmons is a name that many casual college football fans, or those who haven’t followed the ACC, may not be familiar with, but the consensus top-15 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft does it all on the defensive side of the ball for Clemson. The Dick Butkus Award winner has lined up at every position this season for the Tigers, aside from defensive tackle, and at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, his speed makes him a freakishly dangerous athlete with a vertical jump more than 40 inches.
He has been called “the unicorn” by many around the Clemson program and has been compared to Chase Young—if Young could play in the secondary. He received grades of 80 or higher in run defense, pass rushing, and coverage from Pro Football Focus, the only player in the nation to achieve those marks in all three categories.
.@ClemsonFB Isaiah Simmons on competing against LSU, “I was always told you don’t want to be the best guy on the field…because then you can’t get better. I feel like this game is going to help me and the team grow as players.” #clemson #clemsonfootball pic.twitter.com/9TOtUGZ4mJ
— Julia Morris (@JMorrisWYFF4) January 7, 2020
Versatility is Simmons’ greatest strength
His 97 tackles lead the team, with 14 1/2 of those behind the line of scrimmage. He has seven sacks and has caused five turnovers. One of those turnovers was an amazing interception of Justin Fields in the semifinal, when Simmons broke from playing center-field coverage to pick off a pass on the sideline. Fields threw only three interceptions this season.
Against North Carolina, which nearly took down the Tigers earlier this season, he recorded eight solo tackles and a sack and broke up a pass, as well. His versatility allows him to make plays at every level, and he forces opposing quarterbacks to locate him before every snap. He can impact any play, with his speed and range, no matter where he lines up on the field.
#Clemson hybrid Isaiah Simmons is a unicorn. He’s already logged over 200+ snaps at LB, Safety, and CB.
What separates him from the others that we’ve seen in years past though? It’s his coverage awareness and fluidity at 6-4, 230.
Allow me to explain.
🔈Volume: 📶🆙⬆️ pic.twitter.com/VXaspNhmGk
— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) January 10, 2020
Simmons should cause plenty of headaches for Burrow
No defense has been able to stop LSU’s dangerous offensive attack this season, but Auburn came the closest to slowing it down. Auburn threw a unique, 3-1-7 look at Joe Burrow that it had not shown at any time this season. LSU went three and out on the opening possession and gained fewer than 50 yards in the first quarter. It also led to one of Burrow’s only interceptions of the season.
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables will look to employ a similar junk defense, with Simmons as the linchpin, especially if he is moved around to different levels within the formation. Auburn’s setup involved three corners and four safeties, none of which had the size and speed combination that Simmons has to help stop the rushing attack for LSU, which ran for 187 yards against Auburn.
The amount of NFL talent that will be on display tonight in New Orleans is staggering, and much of it is on the offensive side of the ball. Both teams have talented playmakers, and there should be quite a few points. If LSU can be stopped, Simmons will likely be a key factor.