Chick-fil-A Bowl: LSU vs. Clemson preview

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The Matchup:  #8 LSU (10-2) vs. #14 Clemson (10-2)

When:  Monday, December 31st

Where:  Atlanta, GA

Game Time:  7:30 PM ET

TV:  ESPN

Clemson’s ranked wins:  None

What you need to know about Clemson:  Clemson lost their only two games against ranked opponents – Florida State and South Carolina.  So, we really don’t know how good this team really is.  The offense is electric behind Tajh Boyd, Andre Ellington, Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, but they only managed 17 points against the Gamecocks.

Clemson’s offense moves the football with a 3,500-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and 1,200-yard receiver. The Tigers’ offense averages over 42 points per game and over 518 yards of total offense. The ACC’s Player of the Year is Boyd.  He’s thrown for 3,550 yards and 34 touchdowns, committing only 13 interceptions, and he rushed for 492 yards and nine touchdowns.  He has two formidable receivers in Watkins and Hopkins.  Ellington, the 1,031-yard rusher, is a burner in the open field.  He’s your typical ACC back who can break a couple tackles and house one on any play.

Clemson ranks 7th in the ACC in total defense, and the rushing defense ranks 8th in the league.  Florida State ran for over 280 yards on the ground, and that’s by far the best rushing offense they’ve faced this season.  LSU will run it the entire game, with an even better power game than FSU.

What you need to know about LSU:  The Tigers posted another 10-win season, and it’s getting boring watching LSU win at least 10 every year.  The passing game never quite lived up to expectation, and the running game carried the offense once again.  The same could be said about LSU’s defense, as the bookends never quite flexed their muscles like everyone thought they would.

Zach Mettenberger – outside of about two or three games – never really flipped the switch like many thought he would, either.  The Tigers finished 11th in the SEC in passing offense behind the arm of Mett.  He overshot open receivers throughout the course of the season and held on to the ball too long in the pocket at times. He finished throwing for 2,489 yards and 11 touchdowns with six interceptions.  However, the running game stayed true to form, with its bruising and physical style.  Freshman Jeremy Hill emerged as the Tigers’ biggest playmaker.  The freshman Hill finished with 631 yards rushing with 10 touchdowns.  The Tigers finished 5th in the SEC in rushing.

John Chavis once again authored a great season as the leader of the defense.  Chavis had to replace three starters in the secondary and two at linebacker.  However, linebacker Kevin Minter led the defense, and he had a bigger impact than Sam Montgomery or Barkevious Mingo.  Montgomery and Mingo combined for just 11 sacks.

Clemson will attack the secondary behind Boyd’s arm, and LSU finished 6th in pass defense.  To attack the LSU defense, the Clemson’s offensive line has to play well and provide time for Boyd in the pocket.

By the numbers: 

Category LSU Clemson
Scoring Offense 30.3 ppg 42.3 ppg
Total Offense 387.2 ypg 518.3 ypg
Rush Offense 179.92 ypg 199.17 ypg
Pass Offense 207.3 ypg 319.2 ypg
Scoring Defense 16.9 ppg 24.9 ppg
Total Defense 296.2 ypg 411.3 ypg
Rush Defense 101.83 ypg 160.92 ypg
Pass Defense 194.3 ypg 250.3 ypg
Turnover Margin +3 +15
INTs 18 12
Sacks By 30 28
Sacks Against 26 26 

Who has the edge?  With LSU’s running game behind the four-headed monster of Jeremy Hill, Spencer Ware, Michael Ford and Kenny Hilliard and the defensive end combo of Montgomery and Mingo, LSU has the edge.

South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney amassed 4.5 sacks against Clemson, and the Tigers only faced one other duo like Mingo and Montgomery against FSU.

To say that Clemson will be able to handle the Tigers’ speed rushers on the edge is assuming a lot, especially seeing the success FSU and South Carolina both had.

Also, LSU’s physical running game should wear Clemson down in the second half.  With Hill, Ware, Ford and Hilliard continually pounding the rock, the Clemson defense will get tired, and the physical attack will take its toll.

Clemson will have to take care of LSU in the trenches and Tajh Boyd will have to have a great game for the ACC’s Tigers to pull off the upset.

Photo Credit: Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

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