- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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No. 8 LSU (10-2, 6-2 SEC) vs. No. 14 Clemson (10-2, 7-1 ACC)
Who to watch: Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd. The junior finished second in the ACC with 3,550 passing yards and led the league with 34 touchdown passes, but now faces one of his toughest challenges in LSU's exceptional defensive line. The last time Boyd faced a real quality defensive line, he was eaten up by South Carolina and ferocious defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Boyd completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes and threw one touchdown to two interceptions. Boyd must take on a line that features ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo and defensive tackle Bennie Logan, who combined for 13 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss. Oh, and then there are defensive tackles Anthony Johnson and Josh Downs, who added 13.5 more tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. If Boyd can escape the pressure, he could have a chance to make some plays on LSU's secondary. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Boyd has completed 54.3 percent of his passes thrown 25 yards or longer, with 14 touchdowns to four interceptions. LSU's defense is allowing quarterbacks to complete just 21.2 percent of those passes, with two touchdowns to four interceptions, but it also allowed multiple receptions of 25 yards or more in the last two games of the season.
What to watch: Although Clemson has received the bulk of the offensive attention, LSU has been extremely successful with the ball in its past few games. The Bayou Bengals have always been able to run, averaging nearly 180 yards rushing per game, but passing with a purpose was rare for most of the season. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger didn't exactly get off to a great start in conference play, and he didn't register back-to-back 200-yard passing games until November. But he came through in the final four games, averaging 267.5 passing yards. He'll face a defense that ranks 75th in total defense, allowing 411 yards per game, including 250 passing. Clemson also has allowed 22 passing touchdowns and 7.4 yards per pass attempt. If LSU's offense is able to be as balanced as it has been, Clemson's defense could be in for another long bowl night.
Why watch: One of the nation's most high-powered offenses takes on one of the country's best defenses. Tigers vs. Tigers. Death Valley owners meet for the first time since 1996, when they played in what was then called the Peach Bowl. More had been expected from both teams after they won their respective conferences in 2011. LSU was a legitimate national championship contender before the season, while Clemson was a win away from trying to defend its ACC title. You'll see a ton of speed on the offensive side of the ball for Clemson, and just as much speed from LSU's defense. It's the perfect way to ring in the new year!
Prediction: LSU 31, Clemson 17. With Mettenberger's improved play, LSU now has a tougher offense for Clemson to battle. The fact that Clemson's defense is still struggling to stop anyone is a major concern. LSU will pound Clemson's defensive front with its tremendously strong running game, and that should help open up things for Mettenberger over the top. Clemson's offensive line had issues against South Carolina's defensive front a month ago, and now has to face one of the best lines in the country. LSU is going to make it very hard for Boyd to move around and use his talented set of receiving weapons, while keeping running back Andre Ellington in check.