2012 LSU vs. Clemson--Peach Bowl Game Preview

Kevin C. Cox

Clemson's 2012 season will end where it began a little over a month ago...in the Georgia Dome and at an even sponsored by Chick-fil-A. Clemson and LSU travel to Atlanta to face off in this New Years' Eve tradition. The Georgia Dome is a familiar local for both of these programs in recent years.

School/Coaching Information

Clemson LSU
2012 Record: 10-2 (7-1 ACC) 10-2 (6-2 SEC)
Rankings: #14 AP, #13 USA Today #9 AP, #7 USA Today
Location: Clemson, SC Baton Rouge, LA
Colors: Clemson Orange & Regalia Purple & Gold
Enrollment: 19,911 28,771
Head Coach: Dabo Swinney (Alabama ‘93) Les Miles (Michigan ‘76)
Record at Current School (seasons): 39-21 (5th) 85-20 (8th)
Head Coach's Bowl Record: 1-3 5-2
Career Record (seasons): 39-21 (5th) 113-41 (12th)
Offensive Coordinator: Chad Morris Greg Studrawa
Base Offense: Spread Multiple
Defensive Coordinator: Brent Venables John Chavis
Base Defense: 4-3 Cover 3 4-3 Cover 4
Athletic Website: www.clemsontigers.com www.lsusports.net

General Game Information

Game Time 7:30 PM EST
Stadium Georgia Dome (71,959)
Host City Atlanta, GA
Television ESPN
Play by Play Announcer Mike Patrick (oh God)
Color Commentator Ed Cunningham
Sideline Jeannine Edwards
Clemson Radio Clemson Tiger Sports Network (WCCP FM)
CU Play-By-Play Pete Yanity
CU Color Commentary Will Merritt
CU Sideline Reporting Patrick Sapp

This contest features two programs ranked in the Top 15. Clemson comes to Atlanta featuring an offense that has been electric for most of the season and LSU a defense that is possibly deeper than any other in the land. While Clemson's defense has drawn the ire of fans all season, LSU's offense started with a wimper but has picked up momentum as the year moved along--particularly as Zach Mettenberger gained confidence and precision with the forward pass. The final concern is in the kicking game. Clemson has given up its fair share of long returns on the season and LSU certainly has the playmakers to turn any kickoff or punt into trouble for the opponent. On paper, this game appears to be one of the better matchups of the bowl season--though I am skeptical as they quit playing these games on paper years ago.

Quick Statistical Comparison

2012_general_stats_medium

(*Note, Clemson items under the Orange header, LSU under Purple courtesy www.espn.com)

LSU is led by the "Mad Hatter," Les Miles. Miles is a Michigan man, graduating from the Big Blue in '76. Obviously this means that he played under the great Bo Schembechler during his college days. This should explain a lot about the physical, gritty style of play you see out of his teams. Miles began his goaching career as a Michigan GA in 1980. From there he bounced around Michigan, Colorado, and Oklahoma State as an offensive line coach and/or offensive coordinator. He moved to the NFL in 1998 as tight ends coach for the Dallas Cowboys before leaving that role to become the head coach at Oklahoma State in 2001. He inherited the LSU program from Nick Saban at the beginning of Calendar Year '05.

Miles' coaching success is widely known. His teams vastly improved at OK State and have been a national powerhouse his entire tenure in Baton Rouge. The Tigers have won three division titles, a pair of SEC crowns, and the 2007 National Championship under Miles' watch.

Somehow or another we discuss Les Miles on what seems to be a weekly basis here at STS. Many have critiqued his coaching style and these assertions range from Village Idiot to Sly Fox. Personally, I believe Miles is an excellent recruiter, an excellent "technician," and prepares his teams well. Then something just happens to him on gamedays that makes everyone watching look at each other and ask "Did he really just do that?" followed by another bewildered look and a comment involving a horseshoe and an orifice. Les' in-game decisions mirror those made on the Playstation--minus the clock management as most gamers are aware of their timeout situation and the importance of the game clock. This leaves everyone to wonder (a) is Les Miles just playing games with the rest of the world (b) would this guy make more cash buying lotto tickets than coaching football (c) are his players just that good to overcome such foolishness or (d) is there some combination of the above that propels LSU to victory in the face of such, well, unorthodox in-game progressions?

Dr. B put together a couple discussions about the Mad Hatter a while ago. They are well worth the read just to remind you how big the "What will Les do?" question really is..."Did They Really Just Do This?" and "The Les Miles Syndrome: Redux".

LSU's offense is directed by Greg Studrawa. Studrawa is an '87 Bowling Green graduate who has been with the Bayou Bengals for six seasons now--the past two as offensive coordinator. Other stops made prior to LSU include offensive line coaching duties at Cincinnati, Bowling Green, Ohio State, and Arkansas State. It is important to note that GS was the offensive coordinator at Bowling Green from 2003-06. He was hired as offensive line coach in '07 and was promoted to offensive coordinator just before the 2011 football season.

I'll also note that Steve Kragthorpe is on this staff and a wealth of knowledge on the offensive side of the football. While SK is officially the QB coach, he joined the staff in '11 as QB coach and Offensive Coordinator but resigned the OC duties to battle Parkinson's Disease. Kragthorpe played football at several small schools in the mid-'80's and began his coaching career at Northern Arizona in 1990 where he was promoted to offensive coordinator two years later. After two seasons as OC at N. Texas, Kragthorpe moved onto Boston College as quarterbacks coach. From there he spent a couple years at Texas A&M (QB and Offensive Coordinator) and a season at the Buffalo Bills' quarterbacks coach prior to being named head coach at Toledo. Louisville snagged him from Tulsa before the '07 season. His three seasons at UL resulted in an overall 15-21 record and culminated in his termination following the '09 season. Kragthorpe joined the LSU coaching staff in 2011. Hes a much more open passing offensive mind, and its likely that the LSU offense would look a fair bit different in passing yardage and other stats if he was the full OC.

Offensively LSU is very physical up front and has a slew of runningbacks capable of doing plenty of damage against any defense in America, including Clemson's.

LSU's backfield includes Jeremy Hill, Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, and Kenny Hilliard. Any of these guys would be a starter on most teams out there and all have proven their worth this season. Hill, a freshman, took on more snaps as the season progressed-including three consecutive 100 yard games mid-season against South Carolina, Texas A&M, and Alabama. Hill leads the Tigers with 130 carries on the year for 631 yards and 10 touchdowns. We discussed a lot of the ins and outs of the LSU rushing game over the past weekend and encourage you to look up those articles to better understand the "under the hood" items of this rushing attack. Also, be aware that LSU is very capable of executing screen passes. their backs catch well and obviously know what to do with the ball when they gain possession.

The passing game has been hit or miss all year for LSU. Most expected a dramatic improvement with the insertion of Zach Mettenberger into this offense. In fact, I've heard more than one person prior to this season speculate on whether the Bayou Bengals would have beaten Bama in last year's national championship game had Mettenberger played.

We all know ZM's history, so I'll just mention that he signed with Georgia out of HS, did not earn a starting role there, had some issues in Athens, then ended up in Baton Rouge following a year in junior college. Mettenberger is very much a pocket quarterback who has a strong arm but has struggled at times with accuracy. He is not a running threat-with his long run on the season a seven yard scamper in week three against Idaho. He does have NFL talent and NFL size so if he can show more consistency, don't be surprised to see ZM on an NFL roster in the next couple years.

Mettenberger's play has been unpredictable all year-though all the blame shouldn't rest solely on his shoulders as LSU's receivers have dropped their fair share of passes as well. Mettenberger looked absolutely dreadful against Scar, ATM, and Florida, completing less than 50% of his passes in each of those football games (this included a season low 38% completion rate against the Aggies on 11/29 for fewer than 100 yards and a 77.4 passer rating). Mettenberger turned his play around and looked like the real deal everyone expected against Bammer, rolling up nearly 300 yards and a touchdown through the air on a 24/35 day.

LSU's receiving corps is plenty talented but has been inconsistent this season. Guys like Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry are high talent players who have the ability to crush a defense through the air. You will likely recall Beckham torching the Arkansas secondary in the final game of the regular season and Landry's nice end of the season (76 yards against a great Bama defense along with his lone 100 yard game of the year against Miss St.). The other great thing about the LSU receivers is they will wear your ass out blocking and are not afraid to hit anyone on the field. They do a great job stalking the corners, will crack back on flowing LBs and will actively seek a safety to take out of a play.

The LSU offense clearly has all the tools to be successful running or throwing the football. They can show a variety of formations but really like to operate out of the I-formation. LSU's obvious strength is running the football, and they've clearly done this well this season. Greg Strudawa does, however, seem intent on inexplicably forcing passing plays when LSU is clearly marching up and down the field running the ball. That being said, expect to see the quick-hitters (slants, stop routes, outs) and medium passes no matter how successful the run game. Also expect a variety of screen passes designed to get their backs into space. This is by no means a flashy offense but one that is capable of wearing you out and one that has the potential to move the ball very effectively.

Defensively, The Chief John Chavis runs the show for the LSU Tigers. In addition to sporting a sweet 'stache (one that even van Gorder would likely envy), Chavis rose to fame as the Tennessee defensive line coach then defensive coordinator. The '79 UT graduate was an assistant coach from '89 to '08 as linebackers coach. Additional defensive coordinator duties were assigned to him in 1995. Chavis left Tennessee following Phil Fulmer's departure and has been at LSU since 2009. You all will probably recall that Chavis was the man Swinney wanted to hire as his defensive coordinator following his promotion from interim head coach to the permanent position. Chavis, obviously, chose to go work at LSU instead of Clemson.

LSU's defense is arguably the deepest and most talented in college football, and in contrast to the Alabama defense is actually a dirt-simple scheme. John Chavis has all kinds of weapons at his disposal and can pretty much do as he pleases with his defenders, but he mostly just lets them play ball. The heart of this defense is the line. LSU has the fortune of being able to fully rotate their entire defensive line with little falloff. All of these guys are very good AND five of the nine listed on the two-deep are juniors or seniors. The linebackers are much greener than the line but very capable particularly playing behind such stout young men up front. LSU's secondary is very talented and led by a name many of you will recognize, Craig Loston.

LSU can get pressure with the front four. Barkevious "Kiki" Mingo is a speed end, supremely talented but occasionally undisciplined. He's in the same mold as Vic Beasley, but obviously far better in run situations than VB is at this point. Sam Montgomery is a guy from Greenwood SC who we missed out on in the Bowden departure, partially because Koenning was his recruiter. He was pretty good sized then but became a monster in Tommy Moffitt's S&C program, and is a dominant Strongside End. Brandon Thomas will have a difficult time with Mingo, but we expect him to get optioned quite a bit because of his aggression. Montgomery is the one you'll want to run the Power O at, because you'll need extra blockers. Gifford Timothy will have 'issues' on the right side tonight.

This allows Chavis to employ a wide array of tactics behind these guys. Chavis likes to show C4 but will put his guys in C0 and C1 as well as playing some combo coverages depending on the offensive personnel. Often they will walk one or both outside corners up on the LOS to play man press; these guys know how to jam a WR. They'll be as physical as FSU was with our receivers. Chavis also likes to ensure there is pressure on the opposing quarterback. He is famous for innovations with zone blitzes and definitely has the ability to do so here. I don't suspect Chavis will use these blitzes as "chance takers" or all out blitzes. Instead, adding the fifth guy adds a bit of confusion for the offensive line to adjust to and assures that our linemen are all preoccupied. His linemen are good enough that most can overcome a single blocker. With their athletes and this philosophy, they have and will do a good job disguising looks and making last second adjustments before the ball is snapped to camouflage the real look.

Another item I've noticed is Chavis' philosophy when teams put together sustained drives, he makes sure he gets more pressure on the opposing backfield. One theme LSU used during the season was to cover both guards and the center and bring another defender up to the LOS, to create a "Bear" or "Double Eagle" front. They often will line up in base and shift into this look just before the snap of the football.

One item you always associate with John Chavis is the "Mustang" package. A defense so soft you could drive a new Mustang right up the field and not ever get touched. This is Chavis' Dime look...3-2-6. I am not a "Mustang" expert, but have generally not been as impressed as others with his use of this package at LSU nor at Tennessee. It cost them the Alabama game in Baton Rouge this season. Here is a rather humorous illustrations of past "Mustang" failures. Like the rest of his defenses, he has a lot of wrinkles and brings pressure from different spots on the field. This defense is obviously designed for passing situations and likely will be used at some point this Monday.

Overall, I don't expect to see much base 4-3 in the Bowl, in fact the LSU defense is a 4-3 in name only. It is somewhat like Koenning's in that respect. The OLB on one side is more or less just another SS. Like the other teams we've played this season, LSU will rely mostly on nickel personnel (4-2-5) against Clemson's spread attack. Additionally, they will likely show the "Mustang" in some passing situations. As mentioned earlier, Chavis isn't much of a gambler and is perfectly content keeping the opposition in front of his DBs and allowing the pressure to force opposing quarterbacks into mistakes. Eric Reid is more than capable of making big plays at Safety.

The final matter at hand is special teams. Clemson has struggled this season, giving up big returns at inoportune times. LSU has more than enough return talent to have me concerned. I recall several highlights this season that featured a big LSU return. Beckham, in particular, has two punt returns for touchdowns on the year including an 89 yarder against Mississippi that was a spark in that win. We will all have our fingers crossed anytime our Tigers have to kick the football.

In a nutshell, this LSU team is the most complete team we'll play all year. Les Miles and his staff are also known for putting together excellent gameplans when given an extended period of time. I fully expect LSU to be "football" prepared for this one...the last time they were in the Peach Bowl they demolished Georgia Tech. We'll see how excited LSU is about being there. Clemson should be ready to play big boy football, or we'll get our asses kicked. After getting embarrassed against Scar, this is a chance for some redemption. Even with 10 wins, everyone realizes that losing two to end the year would leave a very bad impression on everyone moving forward--especially without a real signature win on the season.

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