by: Alex Welch
ATLANTA -- As you get set to ring in the new year, two high-profile teams are ready to take the stage at the Georgia Dome on Monday night. The No. 14 ranked Clemson Tigers face off against the ninth-ranked LSU Tigers in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, a matchup that will prove if offense or defense really wins championships...er, important postseason games.
Both teams sit at 10-2 on the year, each suffering defeat by a slim margin in 2012. LSU was only outscored by a total of 12 points against Florida and Alabama, while Clemson narrowly missed a shot at an ACC title after losing to Florida State.
Les Miles and Dabo Swinney know where their strengths lie. Through 12 games LSU allowed just 16.9 points per game, while Clemson blew nearly every defense it faced out of the water by averaging 42.3 points of its own each week. A stout Southeastern Conference defense versus a juggernaut Atlantic Coast Conference offense makes for arguably the best bowl game outside of the BCS matchups this season.
The last time these two teams met during bowl season was 1996, as LSU defeated Clemson 10-7 in what was then referred to as the Peach Bowl. Let's take a look at what you should be watching for when they take the field this time around.
1) LSU is 9-1 all-time at the Georgia Dome with a perfect 4-0 record in the Chick-fil-APeach Bowl. The last time Miles' team received a bid here, his Tigers absolutely dismantled the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, 38-3. Surely they wouldn't mind a repeat of that success. Miles is 5-2 in bowl games at LSU.
2) Zack Mettenberger finished worst in the SEC with a 58.7 completion rate this year. He put the ball in the air 329 times in his junior season, though, so the Tigers aren't exactly afraid to throw the ball. Clemson's defense allows 250 passing yards per game. Mettenberger may need to simply limit mistakes as the defense leads the charge, but he can find holes against a secondary that allowed nearly 13 yards per completion in 2012.
3) True freshman Jeremy Hill leads the LSU Tigers rushing attack with 631 yards and 10 touchdowns. He broke 100-yards against Alabama's No. 1 run defense, making him the first true freshman back at LSU to accomplish such a feat. Clemson's defense gives up 161 rushing yards per game. Expect Hill to see at least 15 carries once again.
4) LSU's defense is absolutely loaded with talent. Several Tigers are likely to go in the first round of April's NFL Draft. Linebacker Kevin Minter was named LSU's Most Valuable Player in 2012 after finishing with 111 total tackles and 13.5 tackles for loss. Safety Eric Reid was a consensus All-America, linebacker Barkevious Mingo is projected as a top 10 draft pick and eight Tigers overall were named to the AP All-SEC teams. It's hard to point out one player from this group to watch, so basically keep an eye on the LSU defense and you're likely to be impressed.
5) Defensive coordinator John Chavis has his squad ranked eighth in total defense, ninth in rushing defense and 11th in fewest points allowed per game. Lofty expectations from this group will certainly be tested against one of the nation's top offenses, but LSU continues to rise to the occasion. The Tigers held every single opponent below their rushing average in 2012. South Carolina came in averaging 181.5 yards on the ground back on Oct. 13. LSU gave up just 34 yards rushing that day.
6) Clemson's firepower derives entirely from its offense. With six players on this side of the ball named first-team All ACC performers, the Tigers find it an easy task to move the ball down the field. They scored at least 37 points in 10 of 12 games this season, averaging a ridiculous 518.4 yards of offense each week.
7)There's no doubt about who is the leader on Clemson's offense. ACC Player of the Year Tajh Boyd ranks fourth in the nation in passing efficiency after throwing for 3,550 yards, 34 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The junior quarterback also rushed for 492 yards and another nine scores. To call him dangerous would be an understatement. He must step up against LSU's stingy defense if Clemson wants any chance of walking away with a victory.
8) Senior running back Andre Ellington rushed for 1,031 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012. His best game of the year? Well, it just happened to come on the same field he'll be playing on Monday night. Ellington destroyed the Auburn Tigers in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic, finishing with 228 yards on the ground. Of course, that Tigers defense doesn't exactly compare well to the Tigers he will face Monday. LSU allows just 3.13 yards per carry to opposing runners.
9) DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins combine to form one of the deadliest wideout duos in all of college football. Hopkins caught 69 passes for 1,214 yards and 16 touchdowns in his junior year, while Watkins finished with 57 receptions for 708 yards and three scores while missing three games. LSU faced several tough receivers in SEC play, but its secondary now prepares for arguably its toughest challenge of 2012.
10) Clemson's defense has been its Achilles heel, there's no hiding that fact. You can't always outscore every single opponent. The Tigers put up 37 points on the Seminoles back in September, but there was no shot at winning after allowing 49 points to the No. 4 ranked team at the time. We've seen flashes of improvement at times. However, Clemson did just give up 444 yards to South Carolina. Can the Tigers defense show up at the Georgia Dome for one final stand?
by: Alex Welch