Tajh Boyd grew into an elite dual-threat QB, throwing for 3,550 yards and 34 touchdowns, adding nine rushing TDs. The test for Boyd is how he will respond if LSU is able to pressure with only its front four. Boyd has forced passes under duress. LSU was able to force Heisman winner Johnny Manziel into three interceptions. LSU QB Zach Mettenberger has had a so-so year but he’ll face a suspect Clemson secondary.
Andre Ellington had another productive 1,000-yard season and must be a focal point of the Clemson attack. Clemson must run effectively to keep the chains moving and keep LSU out of obvious pass rushing situations. LSU has a deep and more talented backfield led by freshman Jeremy Hill who has 10 TDs. LSU rotates in four backs that all weigh at least 215 pounds. Fullback J.C. Copeland weighs 272 pounds.
LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis called Clemson’s wide receiver corps one of the best units in the country. DeAndre Hopkins has had a great year and Clemson says it will have Sammy Watkins more involved. Clemson needs a big game from Watkins. Clemson has defeated four ranked teams the last two years, and in those games Watkins combined for 400 yards and five touchdowns.
LSU has a massive, physical offensive line that averages out to 315 pounds per player. LSU is also healthier as it will return right guard Josh Williford (concussion) to the lineup. LSU has veterans at center and left tackle. Clemson’s line allowed six sacks against South Carolina but was able to lead a rushing attack that averaged six yards per carry against the Gamecocks.
LSU has a pair of projected first-round picks in Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo at defensive end. LSU is two deep with talent along its front. It is a national-championship caliber line. Clemson has questions marks along its defensive line, with no dominant, three-down linemen on the roster.
Kevin Minter is a playmaker for LSU, recording 111 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. Clemson’s linebacker unit has been stabilized by the play of Tig Willard and Spencer Shuey, but lacks difference-makers.
Clemson will be without both starting cornerbacks just as it was against South Carolina when Clemson made backup QB Dylan Thompson look like a Heisman candidate. The LSU secondary is still loaded with talent like freshman All-American corner Jalen Mills and 6-3, 190-pound corner Tharold Simon. LSU has had some breakdowns lately, however, allowing three straight 300-yard passing games.
LSU features two of the most dangerous return men in the SEC in Michael Ford and Odell Beckham Jr. Dabo Swinney said Clemson has made changes to its coverage units after N.C. State’s Tobias Palmer recorded 277 kickoff return yards against Clemson and Bruce Ellington also gashed the Clemson coverage team.
Clemson’s two losses came against teams with elite defensive fronts. LSU also has a talented defensive front that has helped it rank 8th in the nation in total defense. Boyd must make good decisions under pressure. Clemson’s secondary must also hold up better than it did against USC. Clemson needs offensive balance, first downs and big plays from Watkins and Hopkins to win.