The players and coaches (and media) have had their say, but it’s finally Clemson-LSU gameday – here are the three factors to watch tonight…
1) Sammy Watkins’ impact in crucial yards per pass area – Clemson wins when the sophomore star is the focal point of the offense, especially against ranked opponents. According to the Post & Courier’s Travis Sawchik. Watkins averaged 16 yards per catch, hauling in 25 grabs for 400 yards in four ranked wins since stepping on campus. That kind of impact affects the bottom-line in a yards per pass stat that with the edge – teams have won 78.8 and 76.2 percent of the time over the last two seasons respectively (15-4 in the bowl season up to today). LSU has held opponents under wraps the bulk of the season, at 5.7 per, but gave up 7.6 per in their final three games (and 326.3 passing yards per).
2) Clemson’s ability to slow the LSU run - The Bayou Bengals will start running at Clemson coming off the bus, but that’s probably more due to the opponent than their own success of late. See, against top-50 rushing offenses, the ACC Tigers surrendered 292 yards a game and 11 touchdowns. Georgia Tech’s run-centered offense skews those numbers a bit, but FSU ran for 287 and Ball State 252 yards on 40 attempts per as well. LSU has rushed for below its average in yards per carry in its last four games, closing with a paltry 2.3 against Arkansas. Since being held to 42 yards in a midseason loss to Florida, true frosh tailback Jeremy Hill’s production has increased, 19.5 carries for 93.3 yards a game with eight touchdowns. He is one of four Bayou Bengals averaging at least six carries per game. Clemson being able to bottle-up a physical, fresh rotation of backs could be the difference tonight.
3) Andre Ellington getting carries and getting loose - Chad Morris blamed third down failures for a number of problems in the loss to South Carolina, including Ellington’s carries (or lack thereof). When he did touch the ball, the senior 4.1 yards per rush, but 7.2 on first down. In wins this season, Ellington averaged just around three more carries (17.2-14.5), but with 29 more yards and seven touchdowns to one score. LSU ranks ninth nationally in rushing defense (101.83 YPG allowed), holding half of its opponents to less than 100 rushing yards. Clemson has rushed for over 100 yards in every game so far, and reached 200 yards five times.
Pick: LSU 27-24