College Football

Two Tiger Teams Ready to Show Their Stripes in Chick-fil-A Bowl

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This story was researched, compiled, written and edited by fall, 2012 University of Connecticut sportswriting students Chris Sax and Michael Gallant, with information from Clemsontigers.com, LSUsports.net, ESPN and USAtoday.com.

Two Tiger teams will seek to show whose stripes shine brighter on News Years Eve when #9 LSU (10-2, 6-2 SEC) plays #14 Clemson (10-2, 7-1 ACC) in the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl at 7:30 p.m. in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

LSU has won the previous two matchups against Clemson. The first time was in 1959 in the National Championship when LSU defeated Clemson 7-0, albeit ancient history now. Then in the 1996 Chick-fil-A Bowl, LSU came away with the victory, 10-7.

Coming off of a 27-17 loss to South Carolina in the final game of the regular season, Clemson will be making its eighth appearance in the Chick-fil-A bowl, which it has won twice. It will be facing its highest ranked opponent in a bowl game since they beat sixth ranked Tennessee in the 2003 Peach Bowl.  Clemson’s offense, which is normally one of the best in the nation, struggled against the Gamecocks, scoring two early touchdowns in the first quarter but failing to reach the end zone for the remainder of the game.

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Clemson will have to rely on its high-powered offense, ranked among the top  in the country, to bounce back against LSU’s defense, one of the strongest in the nation.

“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,” said Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney, according to clemsontigers.com. “We are going to have the opportunity to compete against a top 10 team that played for it all last year.”

Clemson’s passing offense, lead by redshirt-junior quarterback Tajh Boyd, is ranked 13th with an average 319.6 yards per game. Boyd has thrown 3,550 yards and 34 touchdowns on the season. He’s also added 706 yards rushing and nine touchdowns on the ground.

Also contributing by carrying the ball is first-team All-ACC running back Andre Ellington who has become fifth in Clemson history in career rushing and touchdowns scored. This season he has accumulated 1,031 rushing yards and nine total touchdowns.

Contributions through passing and rushing have created a balanced Clemson offense that ranks sixth in the nation in scoring with 42.33 points per game and ninth in total offense with 518.3 yards per game.

Despite LSU’s 22nd ranked passing defense according to USA Today, which has only allowed 13 passing touchdowns on the season, LSU will have to contend with first-team All ACC wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins who has the second most receiving touchdowns in the nation with 16. Hopkins has 69 catches for 1,214 yards and needs just six more receiving yards to set Clemson’s all-time single season record.

Tight end Brandon Ford should also pose a threat offensively for Clemson. He is second in the nation among tight ends in touchdown receptions with eight and has 31 catches for 411 yards.

On the defensive side of the ball, Clemson is solid allowing 24.9 points per game. Considering how their offense performs, 24 points a game are not much of a threat as Clemson has scored 37 points or more in 10 of their 12 games.

Clemson’s defense averages just fewer than two forced turnovers per game. Safety Rashard Hall has contributed with four interceptions. Clemson’s turnover margin on the season is plus three.

Clemson does struggle in the amount of yards they give up per game. Clemson allows 250.3 yards per game through the air and 160.7 yards per game on the ground. Opposing quarterbacks successfully complete passes 57.9 percent of the time and running backs average 4.2 yards per carry.

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Clemson staff knows that going up against LSU won’t be an easy task, especially after losing their last regular season game to an SEC school, but players like center Dalton Freeman are still ready for the chance to redeem themselves.

“I know the team will be very excited to play LSU,” said Freeman, according to clemsontigers.com. “If you want to be a consistently outstanding program, you have to play national championship contenders like LSU.”

The LSU Tigers come into the matchup winning five of their last six games, with three of those wins coming against ranked SEC opponents 10th-ranked South Carolina (10-2, 6-2 SEC), 9th-ranked Texas A&M (10-2, 6-2 SEC) and then 22nd ranked Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4 SEC).  The one blemish in that six game stint was a loss to 2nd ranked Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC), who is playing for a national title Jan. 7 against Notre Dame. In that game, the Tigers scored the third most points against the Crimson Tide all season with 17.  In those last 6 games, LSU’s offense and junior quarterback Zach Mettenberger have averaged 27 points a game.

In his last 4 games Mettenberger has flipped a switch averaging 268 passing yards a game, and now he will have a chance to end his season with a win in his home state.  The Georgia native grew up in Watkinsville about 70 miles from the deafening Georgia Dome.

This improved offense has its share of aerial targets for Mettenberger to disburse the football.  Sophomore wide out Odell Beckham Jr. is averaging almost 17 yards after the catch with 40 catches and 2 touchdowns on the year, and junior wide receiver Kadron Boone and sophomore wide receiver Jarvis Landry have combined for 8 touchdowns in 2012.

The ground attack of LSU also poses a threat to the other Tiger’s defense.  Freshman running back Jeremy Hill leads LSU in total rushing yards with 631 and also leads the team in touchdowns with 10.  Hill redshirted last season after being arrested on January 12, 2011 for sexual assault after he had already committed to LSU.  He was sentenced to two years probation.

But LSU’s real strength comes from the other side of the ball.  Their defense, ranked 11th in the nation, will undertake the demand of stopping Boyd and Clemson’s high-powered offense ranked 10th in total offense.

Despite the loss of their star cornerback and 2011 Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu, after he was dismissed from the team in August for repeated drug test failures, this Louisiana Tigers’ defense has remained stellar.  Upfront they are tough with five players with 3 or more sacks in 2012 including junior defensive end Sam Montgomery with seven sacks, five coming in the last six games.  This tight defensive unit has been difficult to score points, with other teams’ averaging just 16.9 point a game.

Thus far the Chick-fil-A Bowl has bode well for LSU Tigers with a 5-0 record.  Its last appearance was in 2008 in a victory over Georgia 38-3.

“We enjoy playing in Atlanta. It’s a great city that has been very good to LSU. I’m sure that we’ll travel extremely well,” said Head Coach Les Mile, according to LSUsports.net. “The Georgia Dome is an outstanding venue and we are excited about the opportunity to play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.”

This game is LSU’s 44th bowl appearance and eighth in eight seasons under Miles (5-2 and the  sixth time LSU has finished the season with 10 wins under him.