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Chick-fil-A Bowl preview: LSU vs. Clemson

Graham Watson
Dr. Saturday

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(USA Today Sports Images)

Chick-fil-A Bowl
LSU (10-2) vs. Clemson (10-2)
Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

About the (LSU) Tigers: LSU was once again among the nation’s best teams thanks to its stellar defense. The Tigers ranked among the nation’s leaders in points allowed (16.9), total yards (297.8), defensive passing efficiency and rushing defense (103.1). The LSU defense has 18 interceptions this season. The offense has been another story. First-year starter Zach Mettenberger struggled early, but found some offensive rhythm after the Tigers nearly defeated Alabama in early November. Even though the offense still isn’t lighting up the scoreboard, it’s doing just enough to give the defense a cushion.

About the (Clemson) Tigers: Clemson is one of the more entertaining sides to watch because of the Tigers’ offense. Quarterback Tajh Boyd was the ACC Player of the Year with 3,550 yards, 34 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. His favorite target was DeAndre Hopkins, who had 1,214 yards and 16 scores. But as dangerous as the passing game has been, the rushing game has been equally as potent. Andre Ellington was second in the ACC with 1,031 yards and eight scores. Boyd also added nine rushing touchdowns. And of course Sammy Watkins is one of the nation’s most dynamic all-around players, who could break the game open at any time.

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(USA Today Sports Images)

Key number: 508 and 6,220
Clemson has set school records with 508 points and 6,220 yards this season.

The breakdown: This game is widely considered one of the best of the bowl season because both of these teams are ranked and both could have easily been playing in BCS bowls. Earlier in the season, this game would have been Clemson’s offense vs. LSU’s defense, and while that’s probably still the main matchup, both of these teams have gotten better on their weaker sides of the ball as the season has gone on. But Clemson’s defense has allowed 27 points in six games this season, including 37 in a loss to Florida State and 27 in a season-ending loss to South Carolina. But it’s unclear whether LSU will be able to take advantage of Clemson’s defense. Mettenberger is only completing 58.7 percent of his passes.

Predictions
Frank Schwab: LSU 28, Clemson 21

It's hard for me to forget how uncompetitive Clemson was in its two games this year against elite opponents. Florida State beat Clemson easily, but the game that's really a red flag is the Tigers' loss to South Carolina. In a rivalry game, at home against the Gamecocks' backup quarterback, Clemson got pounded by a more physical SEC team. LSU can do the same.

Graham Watson: LSU 24, Clemson 21
Clemson has a fantastic offense, but it’s going to have a tough time against its second consecutive SEC defense (it only had 17 points against South Carolina – a season low). While I don’t see Mettenberger lighting it up, he’ll do enough to get LSU a close win.

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