GAMETIME PREVIEW: LSU vs. Clemson
Chick-fil-A Bowl showcases BCS-level talent
The last time LSU was in the Georgia Dome, things were a bit different.
Just over a year ago, the Tigers took it to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game in front of a pro-Bulldog crowd, using a punt return score from Tyrann Mathieu and a second-half rushing onslaught led by Kenny Hilliard to route Georgia in Atlanta, 42-10.
That win put LSU in the BCS title game against Alabama, and the Tigers left Atlanta on cloud nine.
Fast forward to 2012, and the story’s changed.
LSU’s BCS hopes were dashed with tough losses at Florida and against Alabama, and the Tigers fell down the SEC bowl totem pole to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, several rungs down the ladder from the BCS title game and Sugar Bowl.
While that realization has hit some Tiger fans harder than they’d hoped, the No. 9 Tigers themselves assert they’re excited about the opportunity Dec. 31’s matchup against No. 13 Clemson presents.
“To be very honest with you, I want to go to the place that wants us,” Miles said in a Chick-fil-A Bowl teleconference. “We enjoy playing in Atlanta. It’s a great city that has been very good to LSU.”
Billed as “The Battle for Death Valley,” as the two teams share mascots and stadium names, LSU-Clemson is one of the marquee matchups of a disappointing bowl season. It features a pair of top-15 teams with opposing styles, as the high-scoring Clemson offense looks to clash head on with the powerful LSU defense.
Clemson (10-2, 7-1 ACC) enters the Bowl with seven wins in their last eight games. The Tigers’ sixth-ranked offensive unit averages 42.3 points per game, led by quarterback Tajh Boyd, an AFCA All-American who threw for 3,550 yards and 34 touchdowns during the 2012 season.
Les Miles said the Clemson offense “speaks to” Boyd and “gets the most out of his talent.” The junior presents a challenge to a Tiger defense that has allowed three straight 300-yard team passing performances to end the season.
“Tajh Boyd is as talented a quarterback prospect as we’ve faced this season,” Miles said. “He has the ability to throw the ball and extend plays with his feet and then gain ground with his feet. [He] is somebody we’re going to have to consider when we get to game-planning.”
Meanwhile, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has his own concerns about LSU’s defense, which ranks 11th in the country in scoring defense.
“They’re as good as it gets,” he said of the LSU defense. “This defense is built for championships. That’s the bottom line. That’s how they’ve recruited and developed the depth. It’s an outstanding group. Their front four is a good as anybody we’ve seen and we’ve played some great opponents this year.”
Clemson’s schedule has been no cakewalk either, with contests against Florida State and South Carolina. The Tigers opened the season in what, at the time, seemed a tougher game than it was: in the Georgia Dome against Auburn, a preseason top-25 team who inevitably went winless in the SEC.
This trip to Atlanta promises to be more difficult.
“We started the year in Atlanta on national television against an SEC Tiger team and we will finish the year in the same stadium on national television against an SEC Tiger team,” Swinney continued. “It is a great opportunity for our program.
“I know our players will be excited to compete against LSU because they are among the best programs in the nation on a yearly basis. Les Miles is one of the top coaches in the nation. He has consistently competed for the national championship, including this year. They barely lost to Alabama, who is in the National Championship game this year.”
Swinney’s words were surely a compliment, but probably served as a stinging reminder to some LSU fans about what could have been. Either way, Swinney offered some consolation that, given the two teams’ records, doesn’t seem all too far from the truth.
“I truly believe this is a BCS bowl game here,” Swinney said.