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Clemson lost 'heart and soul' of defense with James Skalski ejection

Clemson linebacker James Skalski (47) had five tackles and a sack before being ejected during the Tigers' loss to LSU in the College Football Playoff national championship Monday in New Orleans. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI
Clemson linebacker James Skalski (47) had five tackles and a sack before being ejected during the Tigers' loss to LSU in the College Football Playoff national championship Monday in New Orleans. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 14 (UPI) -- Clemson struggled in the College Football Playoff national championship after losing linebacker James Skalski due to an ejection. Tigers tackle Tremayne Anchrum called Skalski the "heart and soul" of the defense.

Skalski was ejected after being called for targeting during the third quarter of LSU's 42-25 win against Clemson Monday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

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LSU had a 1st-and-10 play from the Clemson 16-yard line during the sequence. Star quarterback Joe Burrow stepped back in the pocket and threw a pass to his right, finding senior wide receiver Justin Jefferson. Skalski came running into the play and hit Jefferson to bring him down for a tackle.

Referees did not initially call a penalty on Skalski, but reviewed the play. They then called Skalski for a personal foul for targeting, which includes an automatic ejection.

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Skalski screamed and pounded on his helmet after being kicked out of the game.

"It hurts me because that's the most passionate guy I know that plays this game," Anchrum told reporters, when asked about Skalski. "He's the real heart and soul of that defense. When we lost him I know that hurt us enormously.

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"I saw him in the locker room, he told me he loved me. We dapped up [greeted each other] and kind of just hugged it out, but my message to him is 'learn from it, grow from it and come back and be the leader and be the passionate man that you are and take this team to another level."

LSU outscored Clemson 14-0 after the ejection.

"I didn't get to see [the Skalski hit] very clear," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "But listen, that's football. There's no excuses. We're not making any excuses. That's football. Next guy up. As a matter of fact I thought Jake Venables went in there and played well. I thought Jake did some really good things and got some good experience in a critical game like that.

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"I hate it for Jamey. He's such a wonderful young man and such a great leader and all that. But you know, they were just the better team."

LSU wins College Football Playoff National Championship

LSU's Patrick Queen stands with teammate Grant Delpit as he raises the trophy after defeating Clemson to win the college national championship. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo

Clemson entered the game with the best defense in the country, allowing just 244.7 yards and 10.6 points per game. LSU had the best offense in the country, averaging 564.1 yards and 48.9 points per game. Clemson allowed 628 total yards to LSU. Burrow completed 31 of 49 passes for 463 yards and five scores, while also rushing for a touchdown, in the win.

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