It's gameday: LSU, Clemson set for Chick-fil-A Bowl
Atlanta, GA — LSU will go after its 11th win of the season tonight when the eighth-ranked Tigers face 14th-ranked Clemson in game that will feature one of the nation's best defenses (LSU) against one of the most-high powered offenses (Clemson) in college football.
LSU and Clemson meet at 6:35 p.m. CST in the Chick-fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome in what will be just the third meeting ever between the two teams. LSU leads the overall series, 2-0, with wins coming in the 1959 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans (7-0) and the 1996 Peach Bowl here in Atlanta (10-7).
Both teams bring identical 10-2 overall records into the game that will be televised unopposed on ESPN with Mike Patrick, Ed Cunningham and Jeannine Edwards on the call. The game will also be broadcast on the LSU Sports Radio Network where Jim Hawthorne will take the mike for what will be his 22nd bowl game as the Voice of the Tigers. He'll be joined in the both by former Tiger great Doug Moreau with Gordy Rush serving as the sideline reporter.
LSU will be making their 44th overall bowl (22-20-1 overall record) appearance with six of those coming here in Atlanta in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. LSU is 5-0 all-time in Chick-fil-A Bowl (formerly Peach Bowl) games. LSU is also 9-1 all-time in the Georgia Dome.
LSU is making its school-record 13th straight bowl appearance with the Clemson game serving as the eighth straight bowl game for the Tigers under Les Miles. Miles, who is the second winningest coach in LSU history with 85 victories, is 5-2 in bowl games at LSU, which also ranks No. 2 at the school.
"We all have enjoyed the great city of Atlanta and the tremendous hospitality of the Chick-fil-A Bowl," Miles said at Sunday's joint head coaches press conference. "Every time we come to Atlanta, we have a good time and this week has been no different. I know that our players are excited that it's finally time to play the game. We have had good practices and we are looking forward to playing a very good Clemson team."
Against Clemson, the Tigers have had to prepare for a high-powered offense that likes to go up-tempo much like that of a run-and-gun offense in basketball. Clemson's offense is centered around its All-America quarterback in Tahj Boyd, but it also features a 1,000-yard rusher in Andre Ellington, and a pair of receivers in Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins who have combined for 126 receptions and nearly 2,000 receiving yards.
"They have the ability to run the plays in rapid success; they get on the ball and snap it, get on the ball and snap it again," Miles said of the tempo of the Clemson offense. "And, they have great speed. The preparation for that is certainly something that we have undertaken for some time and just only hope that we are ready for it.
"You must get ready when they snap the ball and that's north and south, getting down on the ball, understanding your responsibility and assignments. There's certainly something that we have worked hard on, we've accomplished and we'll find out Monday night how successful we've been."
LSU will look to slow down Clemson's high-paced offense with a defensive unit that is allowing just 16.9 points and 292.2 total yards per game. The Tiger defense is led by a trio of All-Americans in safety Eric Reid (81 tackles, 2 interceptions), linebacker Kevin Minter (111 tackles, 13.5 TFL), and defensive end Sam Montgomery (32 tackles, 12.0 TFL, 7.0 sacks).
Offensively, LSU will look to take advantage of a Clemson defense that has allowed its share of big plays in 2012. Clemson has allowed 22 rushing plays of 20 yards or more and they have given up 44 passing players of 20 or more yards. The Clemson defense is allowing 411 total yards and 24.9 points per game.
The Tigers are expected to attack Clemson with balance, one that features the running of true freshman Jeremy Hill and the passing of junior quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Hill has had one of the best seasons for a freshman in LSU history, rushing for 631 yards and 10 TDs.
Hill will be joined in the backfield by three other backs, all of which have rushed for 350 yards or more in 2012 - Kenny Hilliard (456 yards, 6 TDs), Michael Ford (393 yards, 3 TDs) and Spencer Ware (358 yards, 1 TD).
Mettenberger, in his first year as a starter, has thrown for 2,489 yards and 11 TDs. With a win against Clemson, Mettenberger will join Warren Rabb in 1958 as the only first-year starting quarterbacks in school history to win 11 games in their first year. Mettenberger's ratio of one interception for every 55 passes thrown is the best in school history for quarterbacks with 300 or more attempts.
"I think Zach has gotten better with each practice and every game," Miles said of his starting quarterback. "Just like any great quarterback, he gets better and better with snaps, and he's having more experience. I think the chemistry in the passing game has improved and he understands the running game pretty well."
Mettenberger's top targets have been a pair of true sophomores in Jarvis Landry (52 rec., 536 yards, 4 TDs) and Odell Beckham Jr. (40 rec., 673 yards, 2 TDs).
Miles said that after nearly 15 bowl practices and a season's worth of games, he's ready to see how much his team has improved since the first game of the year.
"What we have really encouraged our team to do is improve and that's been a focal point from really the beginning of the season right on through to where we are right now. We are trying to do things in all three phases of the game that allow us the opportunity to play our best football (against Clemson).