New Year's Day Clash

Bowl preparations are underway at LSU and Penn State as the Tigers and Nittany Lions prepare for their New Year's Day clash.

INSIDE SLANT

Les Miles is 4-0 in bowl games as LSU's coach going into the Capital One Bowl matchup against Penn State Jan. 1 in Orlando.

And the Tigers have not only won in the postseason under Miles, they have won big.

A year ago they whipped Georgia Tech 38-3 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, holding the Yellow Jackets' triple-option attack to 120 yards under its usual run production.

Before that, the Tigers beat Ohio State 38-24 in the 2007 season national championship game, blitzed Notre Dame 41-14 in the 2006 season Sugar Bowl, and routed Miami 40-3 in the 2005 Chick-fil-A bowl.

The secret to their success?

"I don't know that there's any magic to it in any way," Miles said at an early pre-bowl press conference. "I just think our guys get to the back end of the season and recognize the opportunity to play a quality opponent and win a championship.

"A bowl championship is a very realistic and very engaging opportunity for our football team."

With apologies to the Buckeyes, Penn State offers what could be the toughest postseason challenge for the Tigers yet. At 10-2 the Nittany Lions were a strong candidate for an at-large BCS Bowl bid that instead went to Iowa from the Big Ten.

The Lions have a 1,000-yard rusher in Evan Royster and an experienced, savvy quarterback in Daryll Clark, who completed 62 percent of his passes and averaged 232 passing yards a game.

Defensively, the Lions rank 10th in the country against the run, limiting foes to less than 94 yards a game.

Considering the problems the Tigers have had getting their running game going, that could throw a lot of the offensive load on sophomore quarterback Jordan Jefferson.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The LSU-Penn State clash figures to be one of the more attractive non-BCS affairs in the postseason.

Both teams entertained bigger hopes at one time, but both sustained losses that squelched those dreams. LSU dropped early games to Florida and Alabama (plus one to Ole Miss) while Penn State lost conference affairs to Iowa and Ohio State.

This will be just the second meeting between the Tigers and Nittany Lions. Penn State won the other, 16-9 in the 1973 season's Orange Bowl.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Injuries to running backs Charles Scott, Keiland Williams and Richard Murphy severely impacted the running game, which ranked 11th in the SEC in producing only 130 yards a game. QB Jordan Jefferson developed as the year wore on but never really took advantage of the receivers in his command. The Tigers were only ninth in the league in passing, netting about 180 yards a game.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: LSU limited opponents to just 16 points a game to rank third behind division winners Alabama and Florida in scoring defense. The linebacker corps is solid and deep with starters Kelvin Sheppard, Perry Riley and Harry Coleman, and backup Jacob Cutrera. CB Patrick Peterson is considered one of the top cover corners in the league.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: LSU WR Brandon LaFell vs. Penn State CB A.J. Wallace -- These two are bound to clash throughout the afternoon provided that LaFell is healed from the knee injury he suffered in the regular season finale. LaFell is the leading receiver for the Tigers. Wallace is one of four Nittany Lions with two interceptions.

OTHER KEY MATCHUPS:
--LSU's secondary vs. Penn State receivers Derek Moye and Graham Zug.

Moye and Zug have combined for 87 catches for 1,281 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Lions also have an experienced quarterback pulling the trigger in senior Daryll Clark, who isn't going to make any stupid decisions. Clark is completing 62 percent of his passes and has 23 touchdown throws against only 10 interceptions. LSU cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Chris Hawkins could be in for a very busy day.

--LSU's defensive front four vs. Penn State's offensive line.

The Tigers face the dual task of getting pressure on QB Daryll Clark and stopping 1,000-yard rusher Evan Royster, a senior who has 1,104 rushing yards. The Lions gave up only 16 sacks in the regular season, second fewest in the Big Ten. They averaged just under 174 rushing yards a game and should have LG Johnnie Troutman, who missed the last two regular-season games because of a strained calf muscle, back at full strength.

--LSU's offense vs. Penn State's linebackers.

The Lions have long had a reputation for outstanding linebacker play, and 2009 is no exception. Junior Navorro Bowman, who may be ticketed for early entry into the NFL Draft, was twice the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Week and was second on the team in tackles with 84, including a team-high 15.5 for losses. Senior Josh Hull leads the Lions in tackles with 110 stops (8.5 for losses). Senior Sean Lee was No. 3 in tackles with 80 (10.5 for losses). If the Tigers have to double-team DT Jared Odrick up front, those linebackers become even more effective.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know our players wanted to play in the best bowl, against a quality opponent in the greatest bowl destination, and Orlando was the pick." -- Coach Les Miles, after the Tigers were invited to play Penn State in the Capital One Bowl.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

BOWL BREAKDOWN: LSU vs. Penn State, Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1, Orlando, Fla. -- This will be LSU's 10th consecutive bowl appearance and the third in the Capital One Bowl. The Tigers split the other two, losing to Iowa in the final seconds in 2005 and beating Wake Forest in the 1979 game, when it was called the Tangerine Bowl.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:
WR Brandon LaFell -- LaFell is one of the top receivers in the conference with 52 receptions for 705 yards. He tied Auburn's Darvin Adams for the league lead in touchdown catches with 10.

RB Trindon Holliday -- A kick return specialist, LSU got Holliday more involved in the running game after injuries sidelined Charles Scott and Keiland Williams late in the season. Holliday is a burner; LSU bills him as college football's fastest runner.

LB Kelvin Sheppard -- Sheppard is a busy guy on defense, leading the Tigers in tackles with 103, good for fourth in the league.

CB Patrick Peterson -- Peterson was third in the league in passes defended with 15, including two interceptions. He was denied a potentially game-changing pick in the loss to Alabama following a controversial replay ruling.

ROSTER REPORT:
--RB Charles Scott, whose collarbone was broken in the loss to Alabama on Nov. 7, sidelining him for the rest of the regular season, is "probable" for the bowl game, coach Les Miles said at an early press conference in advance of the Capital One Bowl. RB Keiland Williams (ankle) and RB Richard Murphy (knee) both remain out, the coach said.

--Frank Wilson, who served as receivers coach at Tennessee in 2009, replaces assistant coach Larry Porter, who was named head coach at Memphis on Nov. 29. Wilson was the running backs coach and special teams coordinator at Ole Miss from 2005-07.

--Billy Gonzales, who coached wide receivers the last five years at Florida, replaces D.J. McCarthy. In addition to handling receivers, Gonzales assumes the title of passing game coordinator in working with offensive coordinator Gary Crowton.


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