LSU 'a great challenge,' physical
Venables breaks down the Bayou Bengals
CLEMSON — When asked Tuesday if LSU’s offense would be the most physical group his Clemson defense would face this season, Brent Venables paused for a moment.
“They’re physical,” he said. “It can be argumented that way. I think you’re splitting hairs but I think they’re very physical.”
To beat No.9 LSU (10-2) in New Year’s Eve’s Chick-fil-A Bowl, Venables made it clear: Clemson (10-2) must win in the trenches. That didn’t happen against South Carolina, as the Gamecocks ran 40 second-half plays to Clemson’s 19 and held the ball for nearly 40 minutes of the 60-minute contest.
“It’s a matchup of physicality, is the biggest thing,” Venables said. “They’re going to take opportunities, force you to stop the run, show a strong commitment in doing so. They’re going to take some one-on-one opportunities outside, and over the top. It’s like every week. If they win at the line of scrimmage it’s going to be a long night.”
LSU isn’t known for its offense, but the Tigers employ a balanced attack, passing for 207.1 yards per game (90th nationally) and rushing for 179.9 (44th). Freshman Jeremy Hill has emerged as the top back, averaging 63.1 yards per game while rushing for 10 touchdowns.
Four backs – Hill, Kenny Hilliard, Michael Ford and Spencer Ware – have rushed for at least 350 yards this season.
“They’ve got a great stable of backs who run behind their pads, and they’re a very physical offensive line,” Venables said. “They’re flat-backed and come after you.”
Senior center P.J. Lonergan, like Clemson senior counterpart Dalton Freeman a Rimington Award finalists, leads an improving offensive line notable for freshmen right guard/tackle combo Trai Turner and Vadal Alexander.
Power and downhill running exemplifies LSU’s running game. Said Venables, “They definitely like to run it down your throat.”
“That’s going to be the biggest challenge, can we match that physicality and keep them off-balance,” he said. “They’re going to run the football, be very persistent about it. We can’t let them get in a rhythm doing it.”
Junior quarterback Zach Mettenberger has also improved. After failing to crack the 250-yard passing plateau in his first eight games, he did so three times in his last four, averaging 267 yards in that span.
“I think they’ve made more of an emphasis the last three games,” Venables said. “When they’ve thrown, they’ve thrown with great efficiency, and when they’ve taken their opportunities they’ve been more aggressive throwing the ball.”
While Venables prepares, he is also pitching in to fill the void left behind by defensive backs coach and co-defensive coordinator Charlie Harbison’s departure for the same position on Auburn’s staff. Administrative assistants Wesley Goodwin and Brian Mance are handling the main duties, but Venables said the staff is pitching in.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel, reinventing what we’re doing,” he said. “We just have to make sure we’re getting an understanding and trying to be precise in what we’re doing and along the way get better fundamentally. This is a great opportunity to do that and get back to the basics.”
On New Year’s Eve, those basics will be crucially important.
“(LSU) plays with that sense of desperation at a very high level like you’d aspire for your own program to play like,” he said. “A very tough-minded, disciplined football team that plays with great speed, toughness and intensity. It’ll be a great challenge for us on a great stage, and give us an opportunity to compete against an elite football team.”