The best thing Clemson wideouts have going for them is time.
With more than two weeks between games, the two wideouts impacted by the physical beating Ohio State defensive backs put on them will enter Monday’s national championship against LSU feeling better than ever.
Or so they say.
“I’m feeling the best I ever felt,” said sophomore Justyn Ross, who team trainers looked at several times during the semifinal win against Ohio State but never came out of the game.
The same goes for Tee Higgins. The junior went to the injury tent after his helmet popped off during the opening drive of the semifinal and was questionable to return until he played the entire second half against Ohio State.
“These guys had a couple weeks to get their bodies to where they need to be,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “They’re full go.”
For Clemson, that’s good news.
The time to heal should have the tall duo — they’re both 6-foot-4 — prepared for what should be another physical game against LSU and their standout cornerbacks.
Clemson has a group of wideouts that rival some of the best LSU has seen this season.
Higgins has 27 career receiving touchdowns, which has him tied with DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins for the most in school history. He’s nearing the end of another standout season with 56 receptions for 1,115 yards and 13 touchdowns.
He’s also the only player in school history to record double-digit touchdown receptions in consecutive seasons. And if he chooses to leave school early, he’ll be immediately projected as a possible first-round selection in the NFL draft.
Ross played some of his biggest games in the postseason. Last year in the Cotton Bowl against Notre Dame, he caught six passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns. In the CFP championship against Alabama, he caught six more passes for 153 yards and a touchdown.
His 61 receptions lead the team, and his 789 yards and eight scores both rank second.
Certainly, the pair play well enough to draw attention from LSU defenders, including cornerback Kristian Fulton.
Fulton pointed out how the two wideouts “attack the ball” no matter the pass route.
“Whether it’s short routes or deep routes,” he said. “That’s something that stood out to us.”
In most other title games, these wideouts might be viewed as the best on the field.
But not this season. Not with the LSU duo of Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson ranked among the national leaders in several receiving categories this season.
Surely, the health status for Higgins and Ross will go a long way toward keeping pace with an LSU offense that leads the nation in scoring with nearly 49 points per game.
The beating they took from Ohio State came at the line of scrimmage.
Most other teams this season positioned cornerbacks away from the line to keep receivers in front of them.
“Ohio State was the first to press them,” LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said.
From there, Clemson adjusted in its comeback from a 16-0 deficit to win 29-23.
“They found their answers as the game went on,” Aranda said. “I think that’s one of the strengths with Clemson: They got great skill (position) players but a lot of respect goes to their coaches for how they see it and how they react to it.”
The LSU coordinator said cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. — a consensus All-American — and Fulton played Oklahoma wideouts in their semifinal like how Ohio State defenders approached Clemson.
“It’s going to be similar to last week,” Elliott said. “You got two 6-foot-plus (LSU cornerbacks) that can run, that are accustomed to playing bump-and-run coverage. It’s going to be a challenge.”
Elliott said Clemson receivers will have to do better at getting off the press man coverage than they did against Ohio State.
“I think they’re excited about the opportunity,” Elliott said. “Not that they want to redeem themselves. But they certainly want to play better than they did last week.”
They also want to live up to the standard set by recent Clemson wideouts now in the NFL.
The likes of Hopkins and Watkins along with Mike Williams as recent first-round selected wideouts have current Clemson players referring to the school as “Wide Receiver U” in a way that is similar to LSU as “DBU” for the defensive backs now in the league.
For some, this might not be the last time these receivers and cornerbacks face each other. But with a national title on the line, it will almost certainly be the most meaningful matchup.