Saturday, December 29, 2012

5 Keys for a Win Against LSU

When Clemson and LSU take the field Monday night, it will be a contrast of styles. Clemson will want to play up tempo and to utilize misdirection and movement to create mismatches, while LSU will pound the football until they either get their way, or they get beat. Usually, when two teams with this drastic of styles play, the team with the slower, more methodical pace wins the game, which is not good news for Clemson fans. However, if Clemson can do a few things well, they can dictate the pace of play, forcing LSU to play at their rhythm.

Here’s a list of five things Clemson needs to do leave Atlanta with a win:

Be Physical
Bullies hate being bullied. Punchers hate being punched. Pressing teams hate being pressed. And physical teams hate it when other teams are more physical to them.

LSU plays a physical game. That’s who they are and what they do, and they expect one to be played back to them. And few teams can match their phyiscalness over four quarters, but if Clemson wants a chance to win, they’ll need to find a way. And they can’t be physical for just a series or two, but the entire game.

For Clemson, being physical means the establishing a run game, making yards after contact, not backing down, showing some nasty, finishing plays, popping some pads, and tackling well.

If Clemson can match the physicality of LSU, or at least show them they’re not folding or intimidated, they’ll have a chance at the end of the game. If they can’t, then Clemson will just be another stat for the SEC.

Win 1st Down
LSU wants to run the ball every chance they get, and they’re content putting together 12-15 play drives on the ground. But they key to sustained drives is making positive yards on first down. If LSU can consistently get 4-5 yards on first down, it will be a long night as the Clemson defense will never get off the field; however, if Clemson can win first down and put LSU behind the chains, the defense will have a chance to make some stops.

On the flipside, the Clemson offense operates at its best when the clock and chains are moving. This is not to say the Clemson offense can’t convert third downs as they’ve actually been solid at it all year; however, you don’t want to make a habit of being in 2nd and 3rd and long against Mingo and Montgomery. If Clemson is able to get decent yardage on first down, they’ll have a chance to put up some points. If not, a string of three and outs could spell doom for the defense.

Stay the Course
A few times this year, most notably against FSU and USC, Clemson seemed to have gone away from what it does best – run the ball and keep opposing defenses guessing. In both instances, Clemson went from having the lead to trailing by double digits. Against LSU, there will be offensive series that look terrible. That’s okay – they’re great on defense – Clemson just can’t panic and abandon certain elements of its offense. If Clemson is able to stay the course, run its offense, and keep the defense honest, chunks of yards – and points – are there for the taking. If not, a prolonged dry spell on offense could put the defense in too many bad situations, which they’ve not shown the propensity to overcome.

Win 1-on-1 Battles
Football, like most sports, is one big battle settled by multiple little battles, and for Clemson to win Monday night, they need to win their share of little battles. For instance, there will be times when the offensive line will be left without help on Mingo and Montgomery. The tackles or tight ends need to win the majority of those battles. There will be times when Ellington, or another back, has a defender 1-on-1 in space, where a tackle means a minimal gain and a missed tackle means another 10-20 yards. Ellington needs to win those battles. There will be times when Hopkins or Watkins are in single coverage against a corner. They need to win those battles.

On defense, the defensive line will see few double teams. They need to win those 1-on-1 battles to minimize the running game. LSU loves to run Iso’s and Dives. The Clemson linebackers need to win those battles with the ball carrier, keeping everything in front of them.

And most importantly, Dabo and Les Miles will go head-to-head on a few key calls & plays. Dabo & Co. need to win those battles.

If Clemson can win the individual battles, they have a great chance to win the overall battle.

Nothing Cheap
LSU outplayed USC, yet barely won because of two issues: easy points for USC and USC making LSU earn everything. USC scored a touchdown on one drive that started inside the five following an interception and another that started around the 30 due to a long punt return. In addition, they kept LSU out of the end zone on multiple red zone trips. For Clemson and FSU it was a similar story. Clemson was able to get a working margin; however, a couple of big special teams and defensive plays by FSU gave them easy points and turned the game around.

Clemson can’t afford to give LSU any free points, or even easy scoring opportunities. They need to be smart with the football on offense, taking chances when appropriate, and solid on defense, with no major letdowns. LSU has shown they can struggle scoring points, especially crossing the goal line. Clemson needs to make them earn everything. Remember the NC State game where Clemson gave up leads because of major defensive gaffes? You can’t win that way against LSU.

Summary
Clemson is the underdog in this game for reason, but that’s not to say they can’t win, because they can. However, they need the majority of these keys to go their way. If they only get 1-2, it won’t be enough as LSU is too tough and too talented. If they get 3-4, they’ll have a shot at the end of the game. If they get all 5, Clemson will win, though it will still be a close game.

Check back later as we predict how the keys will fall and who will come out the victor.

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