CLEMSON — There is a pair of common threads in Clemson’s two losses this year. The No. 14 Tigers (10-2) faced elite defensive fronts in defeats to Florida State and South Carolina, and in both games Berkeley High product Andre Ellington disappeared in the second half.
Chick-fil-A Bowl glance
No. 8 LSU (10-2) vs. No. 14 Clemson (10-2)What: Chick-fil-A BowlWhen: Monday, 7:30 p.m.Where: Georgia Dome, AtlantaTelevision: ESPNLine: LSU by 5
Ellington averages 5.6 yards per carry, trailing only C.J. Spiller (5.85) for the best in Clemson history. Ellington has produced back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. But in last month’s loss to South Carolina, Ellington carried the ball just four times in the second half. This despite his effective running in the first half and Clemson not trailing by more than one possession until late in the fourth quarter. Clemson also went into a pass-first mode in the second half at Florida State.
The Tigers arrived in Atlanta on Wednesday to begin preparing for No. 8 LSU (10-2). Clemson and LSU play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl at 7:30 p.m. Monday (ESPN).
Perhaps what Clemson can learn from its losses is to not forget about Ellington in the Georgia Dome.
Chad Morris has pulled many of the right levers in his first two seasons running the Clemson offense. But the Clemson offensive coordinator admits he was too quick in getting away from Ellington against the Gamecocks.
“Yeah, we should have given him the ball more,” Morris said. “It’s hard to look back. … When you are three-and-out, your options are limited.”
Of course, Clemson might have had fewer three-and-outs had it kept giving Ellington the ball.
During Clemson’s 16-play touchdown drive in the first quarter against South Carolina, Ellington had four first-down runs and rushed for 23 yards on those carries, helping keep Clemson in advantageous down-and-distance situations.
Clemson ran just 16 plays from scrimmage in the second half because it couldn’t keep the chains moving. Clemson began just one second-half series with an Ellington run. Ellingon also had just four carries in the final 21 minutes at Florida State.
It was a curious approach, and as Clemson center Dalton Freeman noted, it’s not as if Clemson was physically mismatched in the running game. Take away sack yardage and Clemson averaged 6.1 yards per running play against South Carolina.
In part as a result of getting away from Ellington, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd found himself in more second- and third-and-long situations in the second half. As a result, Boyd was under constant pressure in passing situations. Boyd was sacked six times in the game.
LSU does not have Jadeveon Clowney, but it does have a pair of potential first-round selections in defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo who can disrupt the Clemson passing game.
“If you come predictable, it’s a long night,” Swinney said. “You want to have some balance and dictate the tempo and rhythm from a play-calling standpoint. We have to execute.”
Morris preaches balance and knows achieving it will be critical vs. LSU.
“Their defensive front and their linebackers are really sound,” Morris said. “We are going to have to play physical up front.”
Clemson struggled in 2011 when Ellington was not involved in the offense. When Ellington received 15 or more carries last season, Clemson was 8-0. When he received fewer, the Tigers were 2-4.
After Ellington announced he would return for his senior season last winter, Morris called him his top recruit of the offseason. And in the last game of his college career, Ellington remains perhaps Clemson’s most important player.