Projected LSU starters
LT: Josh Dworaczyk (Sr., 6-6, 300)
LG: La'el Collins (So., 6-5, 321)
C: P.J. Lonergan (Sr., 6-4, 305)
RG: Trai Turner (R-Fr., 6-3, 306)
RT: Vadal Alexander (Fr., 6-6, 350)
Key Rotational Player: G Josh Williford (Jr., 6-7, 332)
Projected Clemson starters
DE: Malliciah Goodman (Sr., 6-4, 280)
DT: Josh Watson (So., 6-4, 290)
DT: Grady Jarrett (So., 6-0, 295)
DE: Corey Crawford (So., 6-5, 280)
Key Rotational Players: DE Vic Beasley (So., 6-2, 225) and DT DeShawn Williams (So., 6-1, 290)
Breaking Down the Matchup
Brent Venables' Clemson defense has plenty of experience and tenure in the back seven. The front four, by comparison, lacks seasoning but more than makes up for it in talent and production behind the line of scrimmage.
Clemson's primary trench workers on defense are all sophomores – except for starting end Malliciah Goodman (Sr.) and substitute tackle D.J. Reader (Fr.) – and the Tigers' D-Line features five different players who've notched at least five tackles for loss in 2012. Pass-rushing specialist Vic Beasley leads the way with eight tackles for loss, all sacks, while Goodman and tackle Grady Jarrett have 6.5, end Corey Crawford six and back-up tackle DeShawn Williams five.
The starting four up front for Clemson all have pretty good size, too, with the exception of Jarrett, who is listed at only six foot. Beasley is the lightest of the starting rotation at 225 pounds, but his is more of a speed game around the corner. When he's in the game, particularly in passing situations, either Josh Dworaczyk or Vadal Alexander will have to be accountable for him at all times.
Perhaps the question of the game, though, is can LSU establish its will at the line of scrimmage in the rushing attack?
Clemson has been better against the run than pass, giving up 160.7 yards per game on the ground compared to the 250.3 yards allowed on average through the air. LSU has rushed for a shade under 180 yards per game in 2012, so it stands to reason that the Bayou Bengals will feel they can get theirs in the run game.
The right side of the line has really come together for LSU since Trai Turner and Vadal Alexander were pushed into action during and after the Florida game due to an injury to junior Josh Williford and senior Alex Hurst going M.I.A.
Speaking of Williford, the Dothan, Ala., native has returned to practice in advance of Monday night's bowl game and is cleared to play after suffering a concussion in the aforementioned Florida game. Look for him to be available in a back-up capacity (or, if needed, a rotational basis) at either guard spot against Clemson.
On the left side LSU features another combination put together during the season but also working well in tandem. Dworaczyk and sophomore La'el Collins, two players in competition with one another for the starting left guard job before the season began, have improved what was a shoddy pass-protection unit through the first half of the fall. Josh D's communication skills have been paramount toward that end.
They'll all be helped out by senior P.J. Lonergan, playing in his final game in an LSU uniform. Lonergan will be tasked with keeping at bay starters Watson and Jarrett as well as Williams.
One final question to consider when looking at this battle of the trenches: Will LSU try to set up the run with the pass or vice-versa?
Clemson does allow serious chunks of yardage through the air, but their defense has also proven it can get after the quarterback and make a difference in the opponent's backfield. I look for LSU to keep it safe in the early going, trying its hand on the ground with Jeremy Hill, Spencer Ware and Michael Ford, before opening things up more with Zach Mettenberger.
PREVIEW: The trenches (LSU O vs. Clemson D)
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