NEW ORLEANS, La. — Clemson linebacker James Skalski was ejected from the national championship game against LSU for targeting, leaving the Tigers’ defense without one of its most valuable players.
Skalski led with the crown of his helmet to tackle receiver Justin Jefferson, but he appeared to hit Jefferson just underneath his helmet in the shoulder area. Jefferson’s helmet snapped backward before he fell to the ground.
Officials reviewed the tackle and determined targeting had occurred, resulting in an automatic ejection. Skalski entered the game as Clemson’s leader in tackles and has been invaluable not only in run defense, but in helping pressure the quarterback.
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Jake Venables, the son of Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, replaced Skalski in the game.
Skalski’s impact was felt in the first half, even on drives on which LSU scored. On Joe Burrow‘s touchdown pass to Thaddeus Moss with 10 seconds left in the second quarter, Skalski came across the line — unblocked, on a blitz — and landed a big hit to Burrow’s rib/arm area right after the quarterback released the ball.
According to reporting by ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi, as Burrow was coming off field, he told teammates, “Don’t touch me, don’t touch me.”
He returned to the field well before the halftime break ended, which is rare for a starting QB. He rode a stationary bike for three minutes on the sideline, then went through some throws on the field, grimacing slightly as he looked at his hand.
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