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.