Both 10-2, Clemson and LSU appear to be worlds apart in terms of perceived success. While the former dropped their major rivalry game (and a possible BCS bid) in the year’s final contest, the latter’s only losses were close calls to the second- and third-ranked teams in the country (Alabama and Florida, respectively).
Bowl Game: Chick-fil-a Bowl
Location: Atlanta, Ga.
First Year: 1968 (Peach Bowl)
2012 Participants: Clemson Tigers (10-2) vs. LSU Tigers (10-2)
Last Meeting: LSU over Clemson, 10-7 (1996 Peach Bowl)
Clemson (previous bowl game: 70-33 loss vs. West Virginia in 2012 Orange Bowl)
The talk out of the Clemson camp leading up to this game has been all about learning from last year’s blowout postseason loss. Now, the Tigers will be tasked with turning that talk into action against an elite LSU defense. While the 2012 season was a phenomenal one for Clemson on offense, there are no guarantees they’ll be able to replicate the 42.3 points per game they averaged all season (6th in the FBS). In the team’s other two games against top-11 total defenses (Florida State and South Carolina), Clemson’s scoring average dips to just 27 points per game. In part, this is due to Tajh Boyd‘s struggles against extreme pressure — especially with a fairly young offensive line. But there’s also the issue of the Tigers’ reduced number of plays run under this duress. On average, Clemson calls 83.5 plays from scrimmage, yet against South Carolina, they ran just 57 (including just 16 in the second half). If the Tigers hope to move the ball against LSU, which runs a very similar defense to the Gamecocks, they’ll need to figure out a way to continue moving the ball as the pressure ramps up. In particular, this is where senior halfback Andre Ellington makes a huge difference. If he, and the rest of the Clemson backfield can move the ball effectively on the ground, they’ll be able to combat LSU’s pressure with at least moderate success. Contrary to Clemson’s typical play-calling, ball control may be their best offensive and defensive strategy.
LSU (previous bowl game: 21-0 loss to Alabama in 2012 National Championship Game)
Over on LSU’s side, the objective will be simply to mimic South Carolina’s gameplan: play conservatively on offense, apply consistent pressure to force Boyd into mistakes, and limit the number of plays called by Clemson coordinator Chad Morris. On the year, the Bayou Bengals have created 30 sacks, amounting to a total of 196 yards. The fairly low yardage total should not be perceived as a weakness, however. LSU’s speed rush regularly breaks up plays before they can even materialize, and that’s just the type of attack that can create problems for a Clemson passing game based on long completions (they’re tied for third in the FBS with 17 completions of 40 yards or more). While he’s vastly improved his decision-making in comparison to last year, Boyd’s still shown a tendency to rush passes facing pressure, and that’s where the biggest danger lies for Clemson against this LSU squad. With 18 interceptions (and three returned for scores) on the year, the “other” Tigers have proven themselves to be calculating ball-hawks. Clemson won’t be able to completely avoid LSU’s Tharold Simon, as he’ll likely cover some combination of Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, so it’ll be interesting to see that effect on long pass plays. Offensively, LSU will stay in their comfort zone; effective run game, plus Zach Mettenberger throwing the ball with some degree of competence.
It’s a battle of strengths here, but ultimately, it’ll come down to Boyd. If the Clemson junior can keep his composure under pressure and make changes from his previous matchups against top-ranked defenses, then they stand a chance. Otherwise, it could be a very difficult day for the team’s young offensive line, who will likely have their work cut out for them. With a team-defense approach, it’s tough to necessarily key in on one player, but Clemson should certainly keep tabs on Simon and standout D-lineman Sam Montgomery. A Clemson win’s not impossible to come by, but it’ll certainly take a ton of adjustments if they hope to avoid a letdown like the South Carolina game. A balanced attack is the way to go, but that may be easier said than done for a Tigers team that simply must throw the ball if they hope to play to their strengths. Expect LSU to apply enough pressure to disrupt Clemson, and come away with a win — albeit a hard-fought, close one. Prediction: LSU 27, Clemson 24