Thursday, December 27, 2012

Clemson vs LSU: Clemson’s Biggest Disadvantage

Earlier we mentioned Clemson’s biggest advantage, or which grouping provides Clemson with the best opportunity to create mismatches, would be the Clemson backs and tight ends against the LSU linebackers. This time, we’re going to look at which LSU group has the biggest advantage over Clemson.

Similar to last time, we’ll play a quick game of “Guess Who” to eliminate groupings in which Clemson is not at a stark disadvantage. These groups include Boyd/Morris vs Chavis, Clemson’s receivers vs LSU’s secondary, and Clemson’s aforementioned backs and tight ends vs LSU’s linebackers.

The remaining groups: Clemson’s offensive line vs LSU’s defensive line and any Clemson defensive unit.

All units are worthy of discussion as LSU’s defensive line is among the best in the country and Clemson has struggled on defense; however, because of LSU’s passing game, or the lack thereof, Clemson’s secondary won’t be the most challenged unit on the field, or the one with the largest talent gap. Even if Clemson is able to stop the run and force LSU to throw, Mettenburger will have to be extremely accurate to consistently move the chains. He has shown flashes (see Alabama), but has generally struggled. But because of the LSU offensive game plan, the Clemson secondary will not be their biggest disadvantage.

The next unit we can dismiss will be Clemson’s linebackers vs LSU’s backs and tight ends. LSU will throw multiple backs at Clemson, some with speed and others with power. And LSU will run those backs right at Clemson, hoping Clemson will fold. And there’s nothing to think they won’t. However, it won’t be because of the Clemson linebackers. They are a solid, physical group. Spencer Shuey has provided leadership to the middle while Tig Willard made his last game his best, with 2.5 tackles for loss and a pass breakup. Additional depth by Anthony, Steward, and Christian makes this a fun battle to watch, and ultimately not Clemson’s biggest disadvantage.

The remaining two units are at the line of scrimmage and the question is which will be Clemson’s greatest disadvantage. Clemson’s defensive line has shown tangible progress in the last few games; however, they have not played a run dominant team this year other than Georgia Tech, which challenges the linebackers and safeties more than the D-line. LSU will pound Clemson up front on nearly every play, especially in the middle, where Clemson starts two freshmen. And they love to run their patented toss-dive, where the fullback lead blocks for the running back right as they both attack the middle. And it may not always have success, but over time, the physical nature will take its toll. And that toll can only be neutralized by having early success and forcing LSU into passing situations, or to rotate multiple players to keep everyone fresh. Unfortunately, Clemson does not have the depth up front to stop 50-plus running plays. If LSU is able to pick up yards early, it will only encourage them to run more. And the more they run, the more Clemson will physically be pounded. And at this point, there is little Clemson can do to make it stop.

The other unit where Clemson will have a disadvantage is their offensive line vs LSU’s defensive line. Based on talent, and Clemson turning Clowney into a legitimate Heisman candidate for next year, this would be Clemson’s biggest disadvantage. However, Clemson will do whatever it takes to slow down Montgomery and Mingo, including max protection, jet sweeps, screens, and draws. And even with Clemson game planning around the LSU defensive line, LSU will have some success. The question will be whether Clemson can stay the course, even with some LSU success and ineffective offensive series.

Because Clemson will focus so much on LSU's defensive line, you could argue that it is Clemson's biggest disadvantage, but the good news for Clemson is there are multiple options available to combat the LSU defensive line. Unfortunately, the Clemson defensive line does not have that luxury. Clemson can run blitz and bring the safeties up to the line of scrimmage, but even with making these changes, if the Clemson defensive line is unable to have success, tackles will be made after 4-5 yard gains. And with that kind of success, LSU will keep moving the chains.

And as such, Clemson’s biggest disadvantage will be their defensive line. How this unit plays Monday night will go a long way in determining who wins this game. If they have success and can slow down the LSU running game, then Clemson will have a good shot at winning. If not, then LSU will run and run and run, and Clemson will have little to no chance of winning.

And the SEC homers will come out in full force.

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