LSU-Clemson Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 18, 2012
Les Miles has gushed over Tajh Boyd and Clemson's high-powered offense. Dabo Swinney has the utmost respect for LSU's stingy defense. The high praise from each coach is warranted. The Chick-fil-A Bowl pits strength against strength, as one of the nation's best offenses faces one of the top defenses when No. 14 Clemson and ninth-ranked LSU meet New Year's Eve night at the Georgia Dome. Both Tiger teams came into this season with high expectations after winning their respective conference titles a year ago. A last-minute loss to Alabama essentially took LSU (10-2) out of this year's SEC race, while a Clemson (10-2) setback at Florida State prevented it from playing for the ACC title. Although they each missed out on a shot for a BCS game, their pairing in Atlanta produces one of the more intriguing bowl matchups. "Our coaches, our players and our fans always look forward to playing against the best programs in the nation, and LSU certainly fits that description," Swinney said. "We are going to have the opportunity to compete against a top 10 team that played for it all last year." While LSU lost to the Crimson Tide in last season's BCS title game, Clemson was blitzed by West Virginia 70-33 in the Orange Bowl. These programs last squared off in this same bowl in 1996, when it was called the Peach Bowl, and LSU won 10-7. The only other meeting was in the 1959 Sugar Bowl, and LSU concluded a national championship season with a 7-0 win. With a matchup showcasing a Clemson offense that has reached the 37-point mark 10 times versus an LSU defense that has yielded more than 22 points just once, it's hard to predict if another low-scoring affair will transpire. Clemson has already established school records with 508 points and 6,220 yards, and it is one of the top FBS schools in scoring (42.3 points per game), total offense (518.3 yards per game) and passing yards (319.6). The offense, which has six players on the all-ACC first team, revolves around Boyd, the conference player of the year. Boyd is among the FBS leaders in passer rating at 168.5 and has thrown for 3,550 yards and 34 touchdowns, which ties him with Philip Rivers in 2003 for the most in a season in ACC history. The junior has also run for 492 yards and a team-high nine scores. "He's a very talented quarterback with a real strong arm," Miles said. "He has the ability to move his feet and run and extend plays." Boyd isn't the only playmaker on offense, as Andre Ellington is second in the ACC with 1,031 rushing yards. Junior DeAndre Hopkins, a third-team All-American selection, has 1,214 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. "Their offense speaks to Boyd," said Miles, who received a pay raise and contract extension through 2019 at the end of November. "It does the things that he does well and gets the most out of his talent. You don't affect great players, you just try to contain them." It seems, however, that LSU has the personnel to slow Boyd down. The Tigers' defense is among the FBS leaders in points allowed (16.9), total yards (297.8), rushing yards (103.1) and pass defense efficiency (103.5). Safety Eric Reid, who has two of LSU's 18 interceptions, and linebacker Kevin Minter, who leads the defense with 111 tackles and 13 1/2 for loss, were named to the All-American second team. "Their defense is as good as it gets," Swinney said. "Their defense is built for championships. Their front four is as good as any I've seen. They have great cover guys they can match up with you. It will be a very competitive matchup for sure." The matchup between LSU's offense versus Clemson's defense could also be interesting, although not for the same reasons. While LSU typically gets just enough from its offense to survive - five of its six SEC wins came by seven points or less - Clemson is prone to defensive letdowns, as half of its opponents have scored at least 27 points. LSU's passing attack isn't particularly intimidating, but that doesn't mean the Tigers aren't afraid to put the ball in the air. Zach Mettenberger is seventh in the SEC with 329 attempts, though he has completed a conference-worst 58.7 percent of them. The Georgia native has 11 touchdowns to six interceptions, with only two of his TDs coming in four games away from Baton Rouge. He is joined in the backfield by Jeremy Hill, who began the season fifth on the depth chart at his position. The freshman has emerged as the No. 1 running back, averaging 93.3 yards to go with eight touchdowns over the last six games. Clemson, which is trying for 11 wins for the first time since the 1981 national championship team went 12-0, concluded the regular season with a 27-17 loss to No. 11 South Carolina, a team LSU defeated 23-21 on Oct. 13. Both teams also played Auburn, with LSU winning 12-10 in its SEC opener and Clemson prevailing 26-19 in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at the Georgia Dome. "We started the season in Atlanta versus the Tigers," Swinney said. "And now we have an opportunity to finish it in Atlanta against the Tigers." LSU is also no stranger to playing in Atlanta, having compiled a 9-1 record at the Georgia Dome. It is 5-0 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, outscoring the opposition 78-6 in its last two appearances.
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