Projected LSU starters
QB: Zach Mettenberger (Jr., 6-5, 230)
FB: J.C. Copeland (Jr., 6-1, 272)
RB: Jeremy Hill (Fr., 6-2, 235)
TE: Chase Clement (Sr., 6-5, 265)
TE2: Travis Dickson (So., 6-3, 230)
WR (Z): Odell Beckham (So., 6-0, 187)
WR (X): Kadron Boone (Jr., 6-0, 207)
WR (3): Jarvis Landry (So., 6-1, 195)
Projected Clemson starters
LB: Quandon Christian (Jr., 6-2, 220)
LB: Jonathan Willard (Sr., 6-2, 220)
LB: Spencer Shuey (Jr., 6-3, 250)
CB: Bashaud Breeland (So., 6-0, 185)
CB: Xavier Brewer (Sr., 5-11, 190)
S: Rashard Hall (Sr., 6-1, 210)
S: Jonathan Meeks (Sr., 6-1, 205)
Breaking Down the Matchup
As exemplary as Dabo Swinney's Clemson offense has been in 2012, the Tigers' defense has been downright average under first-year coordinator Brent Venables, who came over to the South Carolina-based school last offseason after more than a decade leading Bob Stoops' defenses in Oklahoma.
Venables was brought in to replace Kevin Steele, the scapegoat released by Swinney after Clemson got shellacked 70-33 by West Virginia in the 2012 Orange Bowl. (Steele's son, Gordon, is currently a graduate assistant at LSU working under John Chavis.)
In year one for Venables, Clemson hasn't given up 70 again on any occasion, but the Tigers have let up a few lump sums, including 49 (in a loss to Florida State) and 48 (in a win over North Carolina State). All-told, CU has surrendered at least 27 points to opposing teams in half – six – of its games this fall.
The Palmetto-state Tigers concede 160.7 yards per game on the ground, eighth in the ACC, and allow 250.3 yards per game through the air, also eighth in the ACC.
But Venables' group has done a decent job behind the line of scrimmage, a testament to stout recruiting in the front seven of Clemson's preferred 4-3 set. The Tigers average 2.3 sacks per game, fifth in the ACC, and 6.6 tackles for loss per outing, good enough for fourth in their league.
Senior linebacker Jonathan Willard is the defense's chief playmaker in the offense's backfield, accounting for a team-high 9.5 tackles for loss. Senior cornerback Xavier Brewer has notched seven tackles for loss of his own, making him a dangerous man in nickel and dime sets.
Elsewhere across Clemson's back seven, safety Rashard Hall – another senior – leads the team in interceptions with four. Brewer has two picks of his own as does safety Jonathan Meeks.
Considering all four of the previously mentioned players are seniors, it comes into focus pretty quickly that this is a veteran, experienced bunch for Venables defending the pass. Only cornerback Bashaud Breeland looms as an underclassman in the group.
That Clemson gives up more than 250 yards per game passing, however, makes it clear that LSU and Zach Mettenberger can have some success through the air.
In receivers Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Kadron Boone, LSU won't have a size advantage at the position (unless the Bayou Bengals look for 6-2 junior James Wright deep), but the Pelican-state Tigers will test Clemson with quickness and play-action ability out of run-predictable offensive sets.
Where the real damage will be done for LSU, if everything goes according to plan, is in the backfield.
Greg Studrawa's offense would do well to treat the Clemson game as it did Oregon in the 2011 opener. In other words, run often to tire the opposing defense and keep the ball away from a high-powered opposing offense.
With that in mind, expect a heavy dosage of freshman Jeremy Hill and junior Spencer Ware, who is quite likely to be playing in his final game wearing the purple and gold. The powerful duo will follow wrecking ball fullback J.C. Copeland and senior tight end Chase Clement, competing in his final game as LSU's sixth offensive lineman, a role he's fulfilled for the past three seasons. Copeland and Clement will be seeking out 250-pound linebacker Spencer Shuey, third on the team with 63 tackles, all night.
Should Clemson jump ahead early in the ballgame, though, it will be interesting to see if LSU can play catch-up. Aside from the Mississippi State game, there have not been many occasions in 2012 where the Tigers have been able to almost solely get it done through the air to fetch a win.
PREVIEW: Skill players (LSU O vs. Clemson D)
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