Clemson’s offense, LSU’s defense.
These two sets of Tigers started getting to know one another after they were paired Sunday night for the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve night in the Georgia Dome.
These two programs have met just twice before, but it was readily apparent to both sides that the third meeting will feature strength against strength when the Clemson offense and the LSU defense are on the field.
Clemson set school records and led the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring (42.3), total offense (518.3) and passing (319.6). It was sixth in the country in scoring, ninth in yards and 13th in passing.
LSU’s defense was eighth in the country in fewest yards allowed (296.2), ninth in fewest rushing yards allowed (101.8) and in pass defense efficiency (101.43), and 11th in fewest points allowed (16.9). It was eighth in turnover margin (plus-15) and 10th in interceptions (18).
Clemson had six first-team All-ACC players on offense, including quarterback Tajh Boyd, the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.
“He’s as talented a quarterback prospect as we have faced this season,” LSU coach Les Miles said during a conference call Monday. “He has the ability to extend plays with his feet and gain ground with his feet.
“Their offense speaks to him. It does the things that he does well and gets the most out of his talent, and his talent is very capable. I see Tajh Boyd as somebody we’re going to have to consider when we game plan. You don’t affect great players, you just try to contain them.”
Boyd is fourth in the country in pass efficiency (168.5), tied the ACC record for touchdown passes (34) and set a league record by having a hand in 43 touchdowns.
He has a 1,000-yard rusher (Andre Ellington) and a 1,000-yard receiver (DeAndre Hopkins) to work with. Hopkins’ 16 touchdown receptions are second most in the country.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said he’s familiar with LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis. Swinney played wide receiver with the Crimson Tide from 1990-92, beginning as a walk-on and later earning a scholarship. He was a graduate assistant at Alabama from 1993-95 and was a full-time assistant from 1996-2000, coaching the wide receivers and tight ends.
Chavis was an assistant at Tennessee the entire time Swinney was at Alabama, and Chavis was the Volunteers defensive coordinator from 1995-2008.
“Their defense is as good as it gets,” Swinney said. “I’ve known coach Chavis a long time, and he always has one of the top defenses year in and year out.
“Their defense is built for championships. That’s how they recruit and how they develop depth. It’s an outstanding group. Their front four is as good as any I’ve seen. We’ll have to figure out how to contain some of their pass rushers. They have great cover guys they can match up with you. It will be a very competitive match-up for sure.”
Though Clemson’s offense and LSU’s defense are the marquee units, both teams are well-rounded enough to have gone 10-2. Clemson has a chance to win 11 games for just the fourth time in school history, and LSU a chance to do so for the seventh time.
Chick-fil-A Bowl president and CEO Gary Stokan called the matchup “one of the top five bowl games in the country.”
LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva said, “This bowl match-up is better than most of the BCS bowl match-ups.”
Clemson is ranked 14th and LSU is ninth, one year after it played in the BCS Championship Game and lost to Alabama 21-0.
“They were one of the best teams in America a year ago when they played for the national championship,” Sweeney said. “They were a few plays away from going again. I have a lot of respect for coach Miles. He has done things the right way. He’s one of the most consistent coaches and has one of the most consistent programs in the country.”
Swinney’s record in four full seasons as Clemson’s head coach is 39-21. His team’s only losses this season were against Florida State (49-37) on Sept. 22 and South Carolina (27-17) on Nov. 24.
The loss to Florida State sent the Seminoles rather than Clemson into the ACC title game.
In addition to South Carolina, which LSU beat 23-21 on Oct. 13, LSU and Clemson have one other common opponent. That’s Auburn, which lost to Clemson 26-19 on Sept. 1 and lost to LSU 12-10 three weeks later.
The Auburn-Clemson pairing came in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in the Georgia Dome.
“We started the season in Atlanta versus the Tigers,” Swinney said. “And now we have an opportunity to finish it in Atlanta against the Tigers.”