SEC: Andre Ellington

Pregame: Chick-fil-A Bowl

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
12:00
PM ET
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.
Auburn survived its first test on the road two Thursdays ago in a 17-14 win at Mississippi State.

Clemson has whipped through two glorified scrimmages.

They meet up on the Plains this Saturday night in a game that should be revealing for both teams. SEC blogger Chris Low and ACC blogger Heather Dinich take a closer look at this battle of Tigers.

Gus Malzahn
John Reed/US PresswireGus Malzahn's spread offense should keep Clemson's defense guessing.
Chris Low: Heather, I say we dub Saturday’s Auburn-Clemson matchup the Lewis Grizzard Bowl. He’s the late Southern humorist and Atlanta newspaper columnist who once said Clemson was “Auburn with a lake.” He nailed it, because the number of similarities between the schools is uncanny. It’s only fitting that they resume a series that was played fairly regularly when Ralph “Shug” Jordan was coaching at Auburn and Frank Howard at Clemson. As I look at this game, right off the bat I wonder if Clemson is ready for the pace of game Auburn wants to play. There’s no such thing as playing too fast for Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who wants to run as many plays as he possibly can.

Heather Dinich: C-Low you’re not the only one wondering that. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney knows his team hasn’t been tested yet like it will on Saturday. Wins over North Texas and Presbyterian aren’t exactly bowling over any Top 25 voters. One of the biggest keys to this game for Clemson will be stopping the run, and that’s something the Tigers struggled with last year -- just ask Georgia Tech, who rushed for over 300 yards twice last season in wins over Clemson. Of course, Clemson will also have to keep Auburn quarterback Cam Newton in check. We know Newton can run deceptively well for his size, but how good of a passer is he? Will he be able to win the matchup against All-America safety DeAndre McDaniel?

CL: Newton hasn’t had to beat anybody yet throwing the football, and while he has an incredibly strong arm, it’s fair to say that we’ve yet to see how accurate he is when it comes to throwing the ball down the field. Malzahn will take whatever the defense is giving him, and having a 250-pound quarterback like Newton who can run makes Malzahn’s spread offense that much more effective. He’ll run a reverse pass on one play, a bubble screen on the next and then try to hit you deep. In other words, Malzahn is going to make you defend everything, but he’s never going to stray too far away from the run. Even though Newton is leading the Tigers in rushing through two games with 241 yards, running backs Onterio McCalebb and Mike Dyer are both averaging more than 6 yards per carry. If I were Clemson, Heather, I’d get ready for a heavier dose of Dyer, the Tigers’ prized freshman.

[+] EnlargeDeAndre McDaniel
Jeremy Brevard/Icon SMIAll-America safety DeAndre McDaniel could be lined up all over the field.
HD: No doubt, C-Low, and I talked to coach Dabo Swinney on Wednesday about how the Tigers plan to counter all of the misdirection, play fakes and talented runners. He said they’re preparing for the tempo you mentioned, which he compared to a 2-minute drill the whole game. The Tigers have to do a great job with their rush lanes, stay disciplined with their alignments, tackle well, and do a good job of disrupting that flow by winning first downs and getting them out of their comfort zone. Expect McDaniel to be lined up all over the field. Clemson might even have the edge up front with its defensive line now that defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins is back.

But hey, it’s not like Clemson doesn’t have some talented runners of its own. Haven’t you heard about “the New Storm”? Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper helped Clemson average 9.8 yards per rush against North Texas. I know Auburn’s run D is good, but has it really been tested?

CL: No, Auburn’s run defense hasn’t been tested. Arkansas State picked Auburn apart with short passes in the opener, and then Ted Roof’s defense bounced back against Mississippi State and was outstanding in the second half when the offense started to sputter. Mississippi State’s running game, though, is not one of the better ones in the SEC, at least not with Anthony Dixon no longer around. The best news for Auburn in the Mississippi State game was junior defensive tackle Nick Fairley stepping to the plate and playing the game of his life. He was a dominant force in the middle with 2.5 tackles for loss, an interception and fumble recovery. The Tigers aren’t going to get that kind of production from him every game, but they’re so much better against the run if he’ll come to play like that every game. A major concern remains depth at linebacker. Josh Bynes played every snap against Mississippi State. He’s a good one, but you know that has to catch up with you at some point in the fourth quarter.

HD: Indeed it does. It sounds like we’ll find out a lot more about both of these teams on Saturday. Of course, there’s another record on the line Saturday as well -- my picks. I know you were puffing your chest up a bit last year after boosting your prediction percentage with all of those Florida and Alabama picks, but it’s time to even the score this year. I’m playing it smart on Saturday, and sticking with the home team, Auburn. I think Auburn will get pressure on Kyle Parker and win the battle up front. Then again, Clemson seems to be at its best when the least is expected -- and right now, not much is expected from anyone in the ACC.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

SEC SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/18
Saturday, 9/20