Clemson, bringing its No. 6 scoring offense (42.3 points per game) and No. 9 total offense (518.3 yards per), faces a fourth top-15 defensive unit of season – LSU, No. 8 in total defense (296.2 YPG) and No. 9 in rush defense (101.8 YPG).
When it counts – on third down and in the red zone – it’s not a coincidence the dueling Tigers get it done.
Clemson is fourth in third down conversions (52.1 percent) and second in red zone offense (94.2 percent scoring rate), while LSU is No. 9 in third down defense (31 percent) and in the top-10 in red zone trips allowed (31) – opponents scoring 77 percent of the time (27th nationally).
Bayou Bengals defensive coordinator John Chavis’ unit, since his taking over the job in 2009, jumped 10 spots in total defense nationally in year one (36th to 26th), 14 in year two (26th to 12th), 10 more in year three (12th to second) and then back-to-back top-10 defenses into 2012.
The difference in yards in that span, with offensive firepower increasing, comes out to about 30 less given up per game, but in scoring defense, they have cut it from 30 points to 17 points per (11th nationally) in the four years.
LSU’s season hasn’t been without its ups-and-downs though.
Facing eventual Heisman Trophy winner, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, they locked down – intercepting three Manziel passes and holding him to 80 yards below his total offense season average (303) in a 24-19 road win.
After a heartbreaking 21-17 home loss to Alabama in their next game, Chavis’ defense had a No. 2 pass defense (150.3 YPG) and No. 12 rushing defense (102.8 YPG). That was the peak, before, for LSU, a precipitous decline against aerial attacks down the stretch.
In wins over Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Arkansas, the Bayou Bengals surrendered 326 passing yards per – a completion rate of 57.4 at 7.6 yards per pass. In the previous nine, LSU gave up less than half that (150.3 YPG), with a 51.8 completion rate at 4.9 yards per pass.
Yards per pass is the stat that jumps out, having the highest correlation to victory according to stat-geared college sports website SeldomUsedReserve.com.
Outside of the opener, Clemson didn’t lose this season reaching at least eight yards per pass.
Stats to win in college football, Clemson offense v. LSU defense
|Yards Per Pass||9.04||5.7|
|Yards Per Play||6.5||4.5|
|Yards Per Carry||4.4||3.1|
|Rushes Per Game||44.8||32.5|
Overall, Tigers signal-caller Tajh Boyd averaged nine yards per pass, with a high of 18 per against Duke and low of 5.9 in the Georgia Dome premiere versus Auburn.
The problem crucial to being solved for Chad Morris in Atlanta is the numbers against ranked opponents South Carolina and Florida State, both losses, at 7.6 and 7.4 yards per pass respectively.
The Gamecocks and Seminoles both wreaked havoc on Boyd in the backfield, combining for seven sacks. They both finished ahead of LSU nationally in sacks, but the Bayou Bengals are top-30 in sacks per game (2.5), while Clemson is giving up 2.2 per (77th).
If Clemson can’t reach eight yards per pass, pounding a stout LSU’s d-line on the ground is another key.
Against a top-20 USC rush defense, running back Andre Ellington averaged 4.1 yards per rush and 7.2 just on first down, among the nation’s leaders in yards per rush on the season (5.1).
LSU has held half of its opponents to less than 100 rushing yards, while Clemson’s Tigers have yet to not top triple digits rushing.
In fact, they have reached 200 rushing yards five times. The most LSU has given up is 176 in an early October loss at Florida, 14-6.
More Clemson-LSU Statistical Outlooks