ATLANTA – Clemson’s resolution is a new identity for a New Year.
Clemson wants to prove it can beat a big, bad SEC defense. Clemson wants to show a nation that it can compete with one of the most physical teams in the country. Clemson wants to show a national television audience that it can be a national title contender in 2013.
Can it happen? Can Clemson win over hearts and minds tonight and take the next step in altering its perception?
Here’s one scribe’s look at three keys to a Clemson victory tonight….
Patience, patience, patience
Clemson can’t get away from Andre Ellington tonight. Even if the Tigers fall behind early, Ellington needs to be involved. He should be given 20+ touches. This is his last game, there’s not workload to be concerned about. Clemson needs offensive balance to slow down the LSU pass rush and to put Tajh Boyd in manageable second- and third-and-short situations. Clemson was at its best against South Carolina on a 16-play first quarterback touchdown drive that featured eight runs by running backs. Clemson got away from this too quickly in the second half. South Carolina finished with six sacks. I think this lesson is instructive tonight. Clemson cannot afford third-and-long with Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo on the edges for LSU. It could be a long night if that happens. The other positive element of running the ball early and often is it will keep the Clemson defense off the field. Don’t think Clemson can run the ball vs. LSU? Clemson was able to rush for 6.1 yard per carry when taking away sack yardage.
The old Sammy returns
If the 2011 version of Sammy Watkins returns tonight – and he should be more involved and at 100 percent health – then Clemson will have the best player on the field. Clemson defeated four ranked teams in 2011: Auburn, Florida State and Virginia Tech (2x). In those four wins Watkins combined to catch 25 passes for 400 yards and five touchdowns. Watkins made an impact in those key wins. Clemson needs another such impact tonight. They need Watkins to turn short passes in long gains and they need to test LSU deep more often with Watkins as has not been deployed enough in the deep passing game. He must stress LSU horizontally and vertically. Clemson needs big, momentum swinging plays and there’s not a better player on field equipped to deliver them. Watkins can’t have quiet days like he’s had against South Carolina the last two seasons. There should be some opportunities in the passing game as LSU has allowed three straight 300-yard passing games.
Pass a physical exam
A major storyline in Atlanta is that Clemson has had more physical practices. The staff has correctly identified that LSU’s two lines, and its talented and deep stable of running backs, present a major physical test. Dabo Swinney says this is the most physical team Clemson has played. I have my doubts that Clemson can transform itself into physical team over the course of a month. Clemson is unlikely to win any physical battles decisively, but the Clemson has to at least be adequate. Clemson’s offensive line has exceeded expectations against Auburn and Florida State. I think they will allow Tajh Boyd and Andre Ellington to have some success. But will the Clemson defensive front be able to slow the LSU offense at all? I have my doubts.
In the end, LSU has an advantage along both lines and the Clemson defense is going to have its hands full with the LSU backfield. The Clemson secondary is also a huge problem area. Clemson will make some plays, but they won’t make enough.
LSU 31, Clemson 24