Today in our Bowl Preview Series I bring you a look at the Bowl featuring all the funny cow commercials, the Chick-fil-A Bowl. (I’m sorry, I love those cows). It’s a good old-fashioned Tiger Fight, as LSU takes on Clemson.
7:30 p.m. EST, Dec. 31
From: Atlanta, GA
When LSU Has The Ball: Quarterback Zach Mettenberger had a rocky start to the season before putting together an excellent game against Alabama in early November. He followed that up with two more quality starts before backsliding somewhat in the season finale against Arkansas. The improved late season play has to inspire some confidence in the LSU faithful.
After some injury turmoil early on with players in and out of the lineup, LSU’s offensive line really came on late in the season as well. This has really helped the running game, and passing-wise, Mettenberger generally has time in the pocket; he needs to make good decisions and make accurate throws.
LSU has the luxury of not leaning on their quarterback the way some teams do, because the Tigers’ run game is excellent. Jeremy Hill, Kenny Hilliard, Michael Ford, and Spencer Ware have all had big games over the course of the season. Fullback J.C. Copeland is an excellent blocker and a scoring threat himself in the red zone and is very difficult to stop in short-yardage situations.
Clemson’s defense, which is on the young side, has their work cut out for them. Coach Dabo Swinney has to be concerned with LSU’s run game in particular, as Clemson ranks just 61st in the nation against the run. They’ve also been susceptible to big plays in the passing game, giving up 44 passes of at least 20 yards; to avoid that, they’ll need good coverage on LSU’s wide receiver tandem of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. The one area where Clemson’s Defense is top-notch is in the red zone. Again, watch for the 6’1”, 280 lb. bulldozer known as J.C. Copeland here.
When Clemson Has The Ball: Quarterback Tajh Boyd is responsible for a whopping 43 Touchdowns this season – nine rushing and 34 passing. Boyd has a heck of a receiving corps at his disposal, led by DeAndre Hopkins with 1,214 yards and 16 Touchdowns. Brandon Ford, Sammy Watkins, and Martavis Bryant combined for another 1,424 yards and 15 Touchdowns. Their chief running threat, Andre Ellington, just completed his second 1,000-yard season and was named first-team All-ACC. This offense will provide LSU the stiffest non-conference test they’ve faced this season by far.
LSU’s secondary, with a couple of freshman starting, will have a tough time shutting down Clemson’s entire receiving corps. Luckily, they have two terrific pass rushers, albeit ones who have had fewer sacks than many expected this season, in Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery. Even if they aren’t getting the sacks, they can pressure a quarterback and rush him into making inaccurate or ill-advised throws. The run defense has been above-average all season, with linebacker Kevin Minter finishing third in the SEC in tackles and being named LSU’s MVP. Depth at defensive tackle is a strength, with several capable players to rotate. This helps LSU to clog the middle and tie up offensive linemen, keeping Minter free to roam the field and due what he does best, make all those defensive stops.
Prediction: I expect a high-scoring game, with LSU struggling somewhat to contain Clemson and Clemson having a hard time stopping LSU’s running game. Eventually, I think the purple-and-gold Tigers will prevail over the purple-and-orange Tigers. LSU 45, Clemson 42.