The Journal Gazette
Sunday, January 12, 2020 1:00 am

No shortage of solid receivers in title game

LSU, Clemson both have 'erasers' at the position

RALPH D. RUSSO | Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS – Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher calls them erasers.

After the missed assignment that sets up third-and-long, the offense breaks out its eraser: That athletic receiver with dunk-contest like hops and the ability to seemingly go from zero-to-60 in three steps.

The player who is open even when he is covered.

“They erase your mistakes,” Fisher said.

There will be several on the field during the College Football Playoff championship game between No. 1 LSU (14-0) and No. 3 Clemson (14-0) on Monday night.

LSU's Ja'Marr Chase won the Bilentikoff Award as the nation's best receiver. At 6-foot-1, he is the shortest of the Tigers' top three pass catchers alongside 6-3 Justin Jefferson and 6-4 Terrace Marshall Jr. Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow has thrown 48 touchdowns to those three players.

Clemson's top-receiver is Tee Higgins, a 6-4 junior who averages 19.9 yards per catch with 13 touchdowns. He and his running mate – sophomore Justyn Ross, who is also 6-4 – give the Atlantic Coast Conference champions their own twin towers.

The increased emphasis on the passing game has given rise to a Golden Age of wide receivers. Good teams have at least one. And the very best teams usually have multiple pass-catchers who are some combination of too big, too strong or too fast to be contained by one defender.

“The game has become run the ball, bring the safeties down, and then you've got to win the one-on-ones outside,” North Carolina coach Mack Brown said.

The game-changing receiver has been an essential part of Clemson's rise to a college football superpower under Dabo Swinney, the former wide receivers coach who has led the Tigers to two national titles in the last three years.

The first wave of stars included DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant. Clemson's first national championship team in 2016 featured the 6-4, 220-pound Mike Williams, selected seventh overall in the NFL draft by the Chargers.

Last year's championship team featured Higgins and Ross, who was Clemson's other breakout freshman CFP star, teaming up with quarterback Trevor Lawrence for 301 yards and three touchdowns on 12 connections in two postseason games. Behind Higgins and Ross on the depth chart are freshmen Frank Ladson Jr. (6-3, 195) and Joseph Ngata (6-3, 215).

“You go back and look at our big wins this time of year, they've come because our quarterback and receivers have played extremely well, and winning a lot of those one-on-one matchups,” said Clemson co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach Jeff Scott, who has already been hired as South Florida's next head coach.

To find the next great receiver, recruiters might want to check basketball courts.

Higgins said: “Just me being able to box out a DB and go up there for a 50-50 ball and coming down with the catch is like rebounding the basketball.”

Title game

No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 1 LSU

When: 8:15 p.m. Monday

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans

Records: LSU (14-0; No. 1 CFP); Clemson (14-0; No. 3 CFP)


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