ATLANTA - The offense that produces 42.3 points per game is confident it can light up the scoreboard often enough to keep No. 14 Clemson in the hunt against No. 9 LSU in Monday’s Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Actually, defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ crew is pretty confident, too.
The Clemson “D” yields 24.9 points and 411 yards per outing, and the Upstate-based Tigers’ unit is nowhere to be found when eyeing the top of the stat leaders. It ranks 48th in points allowed, 62nd in rushing defense, 81st in pass defense and 74th in total defense.
But even though the numbers aren’t impressive there is no lack of determination in a Clemson resistance hoping to show a packed Georgia Dome (and national TV audience) it can pass a few licks against top-notch competition.
“Our defense has a chance to finish the year showing what we can do,” said Tiger defender Travis Blanks, who is expected to play safety in tomorrow night’s matchup. “It would definitely be a big momentum builder to be able to stop them. Coach Venables just tells us we have to make sure the Clemson defense doesn’t beat Clemson, so that’s the mindset we have going in to the game.”
Defensive tackle Josh Watson relishes the opportunity to square off against a team known for a brutal running attack but with the ability to amass big yards through the skies, too.
“Like they say if you want to be the best you’ve got to beat the best, and LSU is one of the best teams out there with a really good offense,” Watson said. “All we’ve talked about is going out there and stepping up and that’s what we plan to do.
“If we’re going to win the game, it’s going to be in the trenches, offense and defense. I’m a man just like they are – I was recruited by SEC schools. They’re not really doing anything different, but with the ACC it’s spread offenses all over the place…it’s not really smashmouth, run down-the-hill football like the SEC.”
Venables is well-aware of LSU’s capabilities and says the no-frills aspect of its offense is deceiving.
“They are great technicians at what they do. They understand leverage,” Venables said. “And for them a trick play might be running a play action pass. But they’re very physical and have an aggressive mindset. They’ll make some plays – they’ll pop a big run - so you have to play for 60 minutes. They want to pound people into oblivion and bloody their nose.
“But I think they more than show that they can throw the ball when they want to; almost however they want to approach, they will. If they want to do it from the air, the quarterback can definitely do it. They can make the shots if they need to, but it's a style and philosophy that they have embraced.”
In reality, the Bayou Bengals’ offense isn’t very high in the national rankings. Their 29.5 points per game average is 54th in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and averaging 386.4 yards per contest gets them no higher than 70th on the national charts.
But after an October loss to Florida, LSU’s offense began to open up, and in a 21-17 near miss against Alabama the team showed it was finally confident throwing the ball.
Offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa said his Baton Rouge-based Tigers are playing their best offense of the season at just the right time.
“The Alabama game, for us I think, our skill kids grew up in that game,” Studrawa said. “We did a great job converting on third down. That game gave (quarterback) Zach Mettenberger and our whole offense a ton of confidence in throwing the ball.
“Our numbers in games have been a lot better and a lot different since then. That was a turning point.”
Still, the perception is that LSU will be able to have its way against Clemson’s defense, mostly by running the ball.
A stable of running backs, led by Jeremy Hill’s 631 yards, have helped the team roll up 2,159 yards on the year.
“They’re going to try and impose their will,” Tiger defensive tackle DeShawn Williams said. “We’ve got to come up and show them that an ACC team can hang with the big boys.
“We’ll get a lot more respect going into next year. SEC teams don’t have any respect, not just for us, but for ACC teams, period.”