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Prediction: Clemson vs LSU

A few different things jump off the page when you start pondering the Clemson vs LSU Chick-Fil-A Bowl matchup in the Georgia Dome tomorrow night.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney is looking for a statement win for Clemson.

I've been trying to think of the last time Clemson had to play an opponent as tough and as rugged as this LSU team. 2008 Alabama in the Georgia Dome, 2000 Florida State or maybe 1988 when Clemson played Oklahoma? A win against a team like this would be a huge statement win for Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney.

Where Clemson is now

Clemson finished the 2012 regular season with a fourth straight loss to SEC rival South Carolina. Now Clemson faces LSU, another SEC foe on New Years Eve in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. The Tigers then start the 2013 season against Georgia.

This three game stretch I think will set the tone for Clemson football for a long time to come. From where head coach Dabo Swinney took over the program Tommy Bowden left to where it is now is a dramatic turn around but Swinney aspires to bigger goals for Clemson. The only way to take the “next step” as he says is to beat one of these tough physical SEC teams.

Cory Fravel

When Clemson has the ball

Clemson will have to establish the run with Andre Ellington whether it’s starting the game running or use the quick passing game to open up the run. Clemson will need productive doses of Hot Rod McDowell as a change of pace back. This is critical.

To understand LSU you first have to accept that your running back will neither dominate LSU or define the course of the game. Marcus Lattimore was only able to muster 35 yards on 12 carries.

Chad Morris and Tajh Boyd prepare take on the tough LSU defense.

When Clemson is passing the ball watch for designed hard roll outs to buy Tajh Boyd time. I look for Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris to try and get quarterback Tajh Boyd comfortable early with the quick game.

As head coach Dabo Swinney eluded to in the press conference today the passing lanes are tight and small and a ball thrown just a fraction behind a receiver turns in to a pick or tipped pick against LSU’s secondary.

Clemson’s wide receiver crew will need to have a solid and mistake free night to pull the upset. Drops just simply can’t happen. When an opportunity presents itself it’s critical a play is made. The usual suspects Sammy Watkins and Nuk Hopkins will need to make LSU pay for any mistake they make. Speaking of making a play tight end Brandon Ford could have himself a big night tomorrow night. Tajh Boyd will need a safety valve and Ford presents that option.

The Clemson offensive line will face an LSU defensive line that sports the most depth and physicality they’ve ever seen. Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo are the one two punch for the LSU defensive line.

Tajh Boyd will need that extra half second of protection to make plays. Can Clemson’s offensive line rise to the occasion?

Advantage: LSU defense

When LSU has the ball

Clemson Defensive coordinator Brent Venables told us that LSU makes no secrets about what they are trying to do but they do it with precision. They line up two tight end, two running back and run right at you.

Jeremy Hill will test Clemson's front seven tonight.

LSU is going to come right at Clemson for four quarters with Jeremy Hilliard and Spencer Ware and dare you to stop them. Clemson has to be fundamentally solid in tackling. If they allow Hilliard and Ware to get to the second level it’s going to be a long night for Clemson.

LSU head coach Les Miles went right after Alabama with quarterback Zack Mettenberger and was able to put up 298 yards in the air. I have a feeling Miles will employ this technique against Clemson and go right after the secondary testing it.

Clemson’s young secondary will have to make plays on the ball and not let LSU wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Russell Shepard get behind them.

The more Mettenberger throws the ball the better chance he makes mistakes and Clemson has to cash in when he does. Clemson’s secondary has to make Mettenberger pay by creating tipped balls, knockdowns and interceptions.

On defense Clemson has to get LSU off the field on third down. If LSU wins third downs and controls the time of possession it will be a long night for Clemson.

Advantage: LSU offense

Prediction

Clemson can win this game. The pieces are in place for Clemson to take down a monster like LSU. The stage won’t get much bigger than tonight at the Georgia Dome against LSU. Les miles is 36-1 against non-SEC foes. Can Clemson shock the college football world?

Clemson will have to keep Sam Montgomery in check.

LSU- 31
Clemson- 20

Fred Vickers

You never like to look at a bowl game as a must win game. Bowl games are a reward for teams and it’s often hard to judge just who wants to be there, and who would rather be at home. But, it can be said that this is an enormous game for the Clemson Tigers and being around the team this week, it looks as if they feel the same way. Making it even more important are the memories of last year’s Orange Bowl beat down. A game that is still nationally is an embarrassment to this program.

Make no mistake, Clemson is not going to walk in the Georgia Dome and walk out an easy winner versus the LSU Tigers. If there is one thing that can be said, Les Miles, other than last years loss in the BCS National Championship Game, has his team ready to play more times than not. If the Tigers from the Atlantic Coast Conference want this game, they’re going to have to man up, punch LSU in the mouth and go take it.

When Clemson has the ball:

Quarterback Tajh Boyd is the straw that stirs the coffee for Clemson. As he goes, so go the Tigers. Boyd continues to rewrite the Clemson record books and boasts a 20-6 record as a starter. Boyd will need to make quick and precise decisions versus an LSU defense that comes in ranked 11th in the country in scoring defense, only giving up 16.92 points per game.

The Tigers’ offensive line will have their work cut out as well. LSU boasts two of the top defensive ends in the country in Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, and will rotate as many as nine defensive linemen. If thats not enough, linebacker Kevin Minter is as good as any the Tigers from Clemson have faced all year.

Clemson has had success running the football versus every team they have played. Running back Andre Ellington has rushed for 1,031 yards on 201 carries and has eight touchdowns. For Clemson to win this game, they must run the football.

Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris says he'll turn Sammy Watkins loose tonight.

In the passing game, Clemson cannot afford to have Boyd sitting in the pocket. Boyd must deliver the football on target and with accuracy in order to give his receivers an opportunity to make plays after the catch. I think the quick passing game will be a focus for Clemson versus a very fast and athletic LSU defense. Chad Morris said this week, that he plans on unleashing Sammy Watkins and that is a very good thing for Clemson.

Advantage: Slight advantage to LSU

When LSU has the ball:

In my opinion, playing LSU is about as easy a game as you can prepare for if you’re a defensive coordinator. The Tigers from the Bayou are not going to play games. They come right at you and keep coming until the clock reads all zeros. LSU’s idea of going deep in the playbook is a play action pass. But, it is something that the Clemson secondary must always be aware of, especially with the way LSU can run the football.

Clemson’s defensive line must hold their ground at the point of attack and force LSU’s running backs to bounce runs outside. Linebackers will then be able to flow down the line of scrimmage and make plays. Getting LSU in third and six or more must be a focus as well, as the passing game is not their strength.

Advantage: LSU

Special Teams:

LSU will be without a huge weapon Monday night as punter Brad Wing is suspended for the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. This is a huge loss for the Tigers, as Wing is one of the top punters in the country and has a knack of pinning of opponents inside the 20 yard line, which he did 21 times during the 2012 regular season.

Eric Reid anchors an LSU secondary with 18 interceptions.

Clemson must make a play in the return game to give the offense good field position. I expect Clemson to take full advantage. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sammy Watkins touching the ball in the punt return game.

Kickoff coverage was a priority this week as the Tigers worked on squibbing and directional kickoffs, a plan to keep the ball away from Michael Ford, who averages over 25 yards per kickoff return.

Advantage: Clemson

Prediction:

When I look at this game, I definitely think this is a game that Clemson can win. I really think this is a game that Clemson needs to win. The Tigers do not want to head into another off season having to hear the pundits go on and on about how they couldn’t win a big game versus a physical opponent.

Clemson can move the ball versus LSU. It’s not going to be easy, but it can be done, and I like their chances. I’ve watched the Ole Miss and LSU game several times and I looked at how the Rebels attacked the Tigers. I picked that game because Ole Miss is the team that most resembles Clemson.

The Rebels outgained LSU, as they put up 463 yards total offense. The Rebels rushed for 147 yards, a number that was definitely enough to keep the Tigers defense off balance. A number that was also two more yards than LSU’s rushing total.

The magic number for Clemson is 115 yards in the rushing game. The offensive line must control LSU’s front and give Andre Ellington room to operate. Ellington will be returning to the Georgia Dome, a building where he lit Auburn up to the tune of 228 yards rushing.

Tajh Boyd must avoid sacks and turnovers. He must get rid of the ball quick and be decisive in his progressions. Clemson has the talent at wide receiver to play with LSU, it’s just a matter of going out there and doing it. Brandon Ford must have a solid game for Clemson to get this win as well. I don’t expect Chad Morris to put his tackles on an island like we saw versus South Carolina. I look for Ford to chip and release on delay routes, which should be open, especially if LSU starts bringing pressure. Also look for the running backs to play a bigger role in the passing game.

On defense, Clemson must be physical at the point of attack. LSU will not try to fool you. If Clemson can get nasty, play physical, put LSU in some passing situations, they have a good chance of forcing some three and outs.

Like I stated previously, I love what I’ve seen this week from the Clemson Tigers. They look focused, they look motivated. I think this entire Tiger squad is tired of hearing about getting manhandled by physical opponents. I think the offense scores points, and I think this defense, especially the front seven, does just enough to give the offense the opportunities they need to win this game. This is going to be a four quarter game, a game I think the Clemson Tigers win.

Clemson- 31
LSU- 27

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