ATLANTA – There is no question that Les Miles is a coach who emphasizes defense, and the emphasis No. 9 LSU (10-2) has put on hitting and tackling has made it a perennial Top 10 program
This year alone the Bayou Bengals have smashed and crashed their way to dominating, victories fueled by defense, limiting seven foes to two touchdowns or less and holding Texas A&M and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel to 19 points at Kyle Field.
But as good as LSU’s resistance is and can be, offenses have found ways to exploit it. In fact, since a 21-17 loss to Alabama on Nov. 3, Miles’ team has given up at least 300 passing yards in three consecutive games.
Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, who’ll face the Purple and Gold “D” in Monday’s Chick-fil-A Bowl, says his team isn’t fooled by those numbers.
“A lot of teams play different kinds of defenses based on the opponents they go against,” Watkins said. “And I really don’t think you’ll see them giving up those kinds of yards against us. They’re going to come after us hard and they’ll play a lot tighter than they did against Ole Miss.”
The Rebels, who tallied 35 points in a 41-35 loss to LSU last month, garnered 316 passing yards to go with 147 rushing yards and 20 first downs.
Watkins has played in only nine games this year but has 708 receiving yards and three touchdowns. If he is to have a breakout game for the season, Monday’s Chick-fil-A Bowl would be a good showcase.
“You look at their defense and you know they’ll get after it every play,” Watkins said. “We’ll have to do a lot of different things offensively.”
Andre Ellington says he thinks Watkins will “bring his A-game” to the Georgia Dome on New Year’s Eve, but he, too, could be a headache for the Bengals.
Ellington has rushed for 1.031 yards and eight scores but also has 13 catches for 197 yards and a touchdown.
His numbers complement an attack paced by quarterback Tajh Boyd, who has amassed 3,550 passing yards and 34 touchdowns to go with 492 yards on the ground.
“I think we’ve gotten a lot better since the first day we got here,” Ellington said. “Now we’re down to just polishing things up.”
Like Watkins, Ellington is counting on LSU to play one of its better defensive games in the season finale.
“You can talk about how they defend the pass and the run but it takes 11 players to play defense and all of them play it good,” Ellington said. “They’re really fast upfield and really aggressive.”
During Friday’s news conference Miles lavished praise on No. 14 Clemson (10-2), suggesting the Upstate Tigers’ offense might be the best his crew has faced all season.
“Any time you have a quarterback (Boyd) that has ability like he has, and a thousand yard back, the running game is also a key piece to it,” Miles said. “And there will be a significant piece of our game plan that’s designed to stop the run.”
LSU junior safety Eric Reid will be charged with leading the way for the Bengals’ defense. He has been in on 81 tackles this season and has two picks.
“I’m given the difficult task of defending both the pass and the run, and they have an explosive back and are blessed with a bunch of players that are very fast,” Reid said.
“We’ve got to stay on top of our game.”