Tahj Jones, Ware expected to start for LSU

ATLANTA — Linebacker Tahj Jones and running back Spencer Ware are expected to be in the starting lineup for No. 9 LSU when it plays No. 14 Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Monday night in the Georgia Dome.

Jones is eligible for the first time this season and will start on the strong side. Freshman Kwon Alexander, sidelined since breaking an ankle Oct. 6, is also expected to play on the strong side. Ware has not started since the game against Texas A&M on Oct. 20.

Guard Josh Williford, sidelined since Oct. 6 because of a concussion is expected to play but not start.

TV viewers will notice some minor changes to the Tigers’ familiar uniforms. The numbers are written in a different font and the shoulder stripe is slightly different. Additionally LSU has new gloves and cleats for the bowl, courtesy of Nike.

For in-game updates, follow @LesEast, @ScottRabalais and @scott_hotard on Twitter.


Six Chick-fil-A Bowl nuggets with Clemson beat writer Travis Sawchik

Our Pick Six for Monday’s Chick-fil-A Bowl is with Clemson beat writer Travis Sawchik of the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier:

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd certainly has some Johnny Football-like qualities, and it’s interesting to note that he and Manziel have both thrown and rushed for a combined 43 touchdowns this season. What makes him such a good quarterback?

Boyd developed into a dual-threat quarterback this season after being mostly employed as a pocket passer last year. He’s in better shape this season, he lost 25 pounds in the offseason, and has been more mobile. His best tool is his arm, though. He has a quick release and is accurate on downfield throws. He’s made better decisions this year but will still force throws if pressured.

For all its success this season, Clemson seems to have lacked a signature win. The two best teams it played beat the Tigers (Florida State and South Carolina). What if anything says Clemson is ready to get that big win Monday night?

Clemson was competitive in both those games, but lost along the line of scrimmage. LSU figures to be even more physical than South Carolina and that does not bode will for a suspect Clemson defensive front. For Clemson to have a chance it must have offensive balance and control the ball. Clemson’s pass protection struggled against USC but it was able to rush for six yards a carry. Clemson claims it has had a very physical and productive bowl practice but I have my doubts a team can change its identity in 15 bowl practices.

The only time this season Clemson scored less than 37 points was in its two games against SEC teams. What did Auburn and South Carolina do to slow Clemson’s offense down, or what didn’t Clemson do well in those games?

Clemson moved the ball very well on the ground against Auburn and DeAndre Hopkins had over 100 receiving yards, so it’s not as if Clemson struggled in that game. Against South Carolina, Clemson couldn’t pass block Jadeveon Clowney (4.5 sacks) and ran only 15 offensive plays in the second half. Clemson lost offensive balance in the second half against USC, which allowed their pass rushers to have a field day. Clemson must get its RB Andre Ellington heavily involved along with zone-read option with Tajh Boyd.

LSU fans will never forget losing to Alabama 21-0 in January’s BCS title game, and one doubts that Clemson fans will forget losing 70-33 to West Virginia in the 2012 Orange Bowl. In what ways, if any, has Clemson’s defense improved, and what are it’s liabilities against a run-first team like LSU?

Clemson’s defense is still very much a liability. LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis said quality defense starts with elite cornerbacks and defensive ends and Clemson possesses neither. Clemson was already thin in the secondary and will be without both of its starting corners against LSU. South Carolina backup QB Dylan Thompson looked like Dan Marino against a suspect Clemson secondary and pass rush. Clemson does have an intriguing pass rush specialist emerging in Vic Beasley (8 sacks), but he’s not an every-down player.

Clemson has only 11 seniors and 11 juniors. Do you see the Tigers as a favorite to win the ACC next season, or does that mostly depend on whether Boyd goes to the NFL?

I think the ACC will once again be a fight between Florida State and Clemson next season. Assuming Boyd is back, and he will likely be, Clemson should once again have a dynamic offense and its defense has nowhere to go but up. It needs its young defensive line to grow up and needs impact recruits.

Finally, stepping away from the game for a bit, LSU fans no doubt took note of former LSU assistant athletic director Dan Radakovich taking over as Clemson’s AD. How has he been received by Clemson’s fans, and what do you think made this a good move for him from fellow ACC school Georgia Tech?

Dan Radakovich is a football-first guy, I think. He played college football and was around a powerhouse program at LSU. I think he wanted to get back to a school that had a strong football culture. Clemson has a greater commitment to football than Georgia Tech.

Live chat during the Chick-fil-A bowl

LSU football chat with Advocate sportswriter Les East

Tigers (both of them) arrive for Chick-fil-A Bowl

ATLANTA – The Tigers – LSU’s and Clemson’s – got right to work Wednesday with practice and preparations for the Chick-fil-A Bowl (6:30 p.m. CST, ESPN).

Clemson’s players actually arrived Christmas night for a team meeting, then practiced Wednesday at the Georgia Dome. LSU’s players arrived here Wednesday and also worked out at the site of Monday’s game.

“It’s a great place,” LSU coach Les Miles said Wednesday. “It’s a destination for our guys. We  love being here.”

Miles said a major point of emphasis in practice has been improving LSU’s pass defense.

The Tigers still rank ninth nationally in pass efficiency defense and 19th in pass defense (allowing 194.3 yards per game), but LSU surrendered more than 300 yards passing in each of its last three regular season games (Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Arkansas).

“We recognize this is a great challenge that we’re taking on with this Clemson team,” Miles said, “especially their offense.

“We kind of focused on a couple of key pieces that we needed to have improvement on and felt like improvement was made. We have a good, quality game week here so we feel like that improvement will continue. We threw the ball effectively and wanted to have effect on our secondary and I felt like it happened that way.”

Strong practices will be the key come Monday night, according to Clemson senior tight end Brandon Ford.

“You’ve got two top-15 teams,” Ford said. “You get teams like that, the margin of error is small. The team that executes and prepares will come out on top.”

Both teams will practice at the Georgia Dome again Thursday.


LSU football chat with Advocate sportswriter Scott Rabalais

Early poll puts LSU at No. 3 for 2013

The 2012 season isn’t over yet, but when is it every too early to look ahead to next year, right?

The website nationalchamps.net has come up with an early, early 2013 preseason top 25, pegging the LSU Tigers at No. 3.

That’s good news for LSU. The bad news? Six teams on LSU’s schedule also made the list. They include No. 1 Alabama, No. 6 Georgia, No. 7 Florida, No. 8 Texas A&M, No. 23 TCU and No. 25 Ole Miss.

The website lauds LSU’s running game but says the passing game must improve on the momentum it found late this season.

“The LSU offense is built around its running game and a deep backfield,” it says. “That formula will never be more evident than what 2013 is likely to offer as literally six different players can carry the rock on any given day.

“Quarterback Zach Mettenberger posted three consecutive 250-plus yard passing games down the stretch in 2012 before struggling in the finale (against Arkansas). LSU must continue to build on these positives in order to get his team back to an SEC title.”

The website goes on to say that if “every player on defense decided to stick around for another year, this would easily be the most talented defense in America.” Of course the website notes that as many as six Tigers – Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery, Bennie Logan, Kevin Minter, Tharold Simon and Eric Reid – could leave after their junior season.

The website also denotes Mettenberger and running back Spencer Ware as possible early departures, but omits punter Brad Wing, who is eligible to go pro as a third-year sophomore. Mettenberger has indicated he will return in 2013.


LSU sports chat with Advocate sportswriter Les East

LSU sports chat with Advocate sportswriter Scott Rabalais

Miles: Four players to return for Chick-fil-A Bowl

LSU coach Les Miles said Wednesday that four players will return for the Chick-fil-A Bowl: offensive guard Josh Williford, linebacker Tahj Jones, offensive lineman Evan Washington and linebacker D.J. Welter.

Williford (6-7, 332) hasn’t played since suffering a concussion Oct. 6 at Florida.

Jones, Welter and Washington were all declared academically ineligible for the remainder of the regular season on Sept. 12.

Williford and Jones were both starters, but Miles said he didn’t think the starting lineup for the bowl against Clemson would change. He said how the players practice leading up to the bowl game would likely determine how much they play.

Miles did not mention running back Alfred Blue, who went out Sept. 15 against Idaho with a knee injury, as a player who could return for the bowl. Miles indicated late in the regular season that Blue may not be ready to return until at least spring practice.