Monday December 31, 2012

ATLANTA -- Tajh Boyd said it.

So did his coach.

Monday night’s Chick-fil-A Bowl against LSU is a prime-time national stage for Boyd and Clemson’s high-scoring offense.

His coaches and teammates see Boyd as the player destined to grab the bowl spotlight. The dual-threat quarterback led No. 14 Clemson (10-2) with 34 touchdown passes to tie Philip Rivers’ Atlantic Coast Conference single-season record. He was honored as ACC player of the year.

A win over No. 9 LSU (10-2), one of the powerful Southeastern Conference’s biggest names known for its strong defense, would be a big step for Boyd. It also could be the perfect setup for Clemson’s 2013 season.

LSU ranks eighth in the nation in total defense and 11th in points allowed.

Boyd, a junior, could be playing his final college game. But he sounded as though he was making plans to return when he said this week the program "is on the verge of something great" and "we want a national championship; it’s in sight."

Clemson needs to score 25 points against LSU to become the most prolific offense in ACC history. Boyd has led Clemson to 37 points or more in 10 of 12 games.

"We want to be the most explosive offense in the country," Boyd said. "There’s no better stage for that other than the one we’re on right now, one of the best bowl games out there going against one of the best defenses.


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Clemson offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Chad Morris also spoke of the game as a chance for the nation to witness Boyd’s brilliance.

"It’s the stage that he’s been looking for, and you can’t ask for anything better than this," Morris said.

There will be no other bowl competing for the nation’s attention when the Tigers from the SEC and the Tigers from the ACC play in the Georgia Dome.

Clemson’s regular season ended with a disappointing 27-17 loss to in-state rival South Carolina. Clemson averages 42.3 points, but Boyd was held to 183 yards passing with one touchdown.

Clemson is known for its passing game, but senior running back Andre Ellington topped 1,000 yards rushing for the second straight season. Boyd had 492 yards rushing and nine touchdowns.

The loss to South Carolina raised new questions about the ability of the spread offense to dominate outside the ACC. Clemson’s second-lowest points total also came against a team from the SEC, a 26-19 opening win over Auburn in the Georgia Dome.

Boyd said the motivation is "just going out there and proving what type of team we are."

"You know, we are getting a chance to play against one of the best," he said. "But for us, it’s more about the competition, the nature of the business, the nature of the game and going out there and proving who is best out there. That’s what we pride ourselves on."

LSU will counter with a power offense. Zach Mettenberger had only 11 touchdown passes with six interceptions.

Freshman Jeremy Hill leads LSU’s balanced running game with 631 yards and 10 touchdowns. Kenny Hilliard, Michael Ford and Spencer Ware will share the carries.

While Mettenberger has not reached 300 yards passing this season, Boyd had more than 400 yards with five TD passes in wins over Wake Forest and N.C. State. Boyd passed for more than 400 yards in six games.

LSU coach Les Miles said his defense must mix its strategies against Boyd.

"There has to be a point in time where you keep him in the pocket and you play coverage and there’s an opportunity to rush the passer with four guys," Miles said. "I think anytime a quarterback can pull it down and go get yards, there’s an added responsibility to those guys that are rushing the ball, rushing the passer. And so, again, it’s something that you have to do with more than one strategy. You must rush the passer. You must contain him when you step back and let him throw it and to have coverage."

Sun Bowl

EL PASO, Texas -- A season that began with so much promise for Southern California will end Monday in a place few would have expected to see the Trojans this bowl season.

USC started the season No. 1 in the country with a quarterback favored to win the Heisman Trophy. Losses to Stanford and Oregon took the Trojans out of the national title picture, and losses to Arizona, rival UCLA and then finally to Notre Dame sent them tumbling to second-tier bowl status.

Instead of the BCS, the Trojans (7-5) will face Georgia Tech (6-7) in Sun Bowl. Both teams are unranked and riding two-game losing streaks, and USC will be without injured quarterback Matt Barkley (shoulder).

The Trojans admit they had much greater expectations for themselves, but they also are happy to be in a bowl game after a two-year ban and will try to salvage a season that slipped through their fingers after a 6-1 start.

"We wanted to be in a better bowl game, and that’s typical, but we decided our own fate and this is where we’re at," All-American receiver Marqise Lee said. "Things happen to the greatest teams out there. Sometimes situations happened where there’s struggles, and that’s what we had. So now we’re here, just ready to play and focused -- enjoying practice and enjoying our days here, and we’ll be ready to play on Monday."

Barkley, the first three-time captain in team history, injured his right shoulder injury in the loss to UCLA. It was announced Thursday that Barkley was not cleared to play in the Sun Bowl. He put together one of the greatest careers in USC history and is expected to be one of the first quarterback drafted by the NFL in April.

It certainly is not the season Barkley envisioned when he decided to return for his senior season and put off the NFL.

"I wouldn’t say tough. It’s not like you really have an example to look to as how to handle it with all the success teams in the past have had at this school," Barkley said. "It’s been definitely a learning lesson, not something I could have imagined, but then again nothing is guaranteed.

"When you strive for something, there are times when you’re going to be disappointed. Knowing we were shooting for a very high goal . it just happens that way sometimes. But it doesn’t take away from the fact of the experiences I’ve had."

Barkley’s injury means that redshirt freshman Max Wittek will get his second start. The first was the 22-13 loss to Notre Dame in which he was 14 of 23 passing for 186 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

The Yellow Jackets have to prepare for a USC offense that features two of the best receivers in the nation in Lee and junior Robert Woods, who is expected to make a decision after the game regarding whether or not he plans to enter the NFL draft. Woods is USC’s all-time receptions leader, while Lee won the Biletnikoff Award and finished fourth in this year’s Heisman voting.

Music City Bowl

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Vanderbilt Commodores have made plenty of history this season, and now they can do something not seen at this private university in nearly a century: Win nine games.

Coach James Franklin isn’t talking about the opportunity his Commodores have Monday in the Music City Bowl against North Carolina State (7-5). Not yet, even though it would be their first nine-win season since 1915 and only their third all-time. Not when he’s been so busy coaching and trying to sell as many tickets to turn LP Field, home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, into a home field.

"This is a perfect situation for us," Franklin said.

"We’re still trying to build our brand. We’re still trying to build our following. We’re still trying to claim our stake of being Nashville’s team and really establish it so this is a great opportunity to play in our city, to play LP Field, which is kind of like our other stadium. From what I understand, they used our stadium for a time period, and now we’re using theirs."

This is a second straight bowl for Vanderbilt, something the Southeastern Conference’s smallest university had never done before. The Commodores also come in with an SEC-best six straight victories and their best season since 1982. That helped Franklin earn a second straight contract extension a month ago.

Now they want to improve on a year ago when the Commodores lost the Liberty Bowl 31-24 to Cincinnati. Franklin said he realized some of his players were just happy to be in a bowl. This time around, the Commodores say they know that winning bowls will prove how much Vanderbilt has changed in Franklin’s two seasons.

The Wolfpack have won two straight bowls, and they also have 6-foot-6 senior Mike Glennon, considered among the top quarterback prospects in the NFL draft in April. Glennon has thrown for 3,648 yards with 30 touchdowns and 14 interceptions this season and is the quarterback who started last season when Russell Wilson left N.C. State for Wisconsin.

Liberty Bowl

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Iowa State and Tulsa don’t necessarily think of the Liberty Bowl as a rematch, even though they faced each other Sept. 1 in the season opener for both teams.

So much has changed since Iowa State’s 38-23 victory over Tulsa that both teams feel as though they’ll be facing an entirely new opponent Monday in a game sponsored by AutoZone.

"Obviously they look like a completely different team, as do we," Tulsa defensive end Cory Dorris said.

Tulsa (10-3) seeks its second 11-win season in school history. Iowa State (6-6) is aiming for its second winning season in the last seven years.

Iowa State’s depth chart reveals how much has changed since these teams last met.

Steele Jantz threw two touchdown passes and ran for a third score in the regular-season victory over Tulsa. He has since been replaced by Sam Richardson.

Shontrelle Johnson, who rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown against Tulsa in September, will sit out the Liberty Bowl with a knee injury. Iowa State linebacker Jake Knott, who had 11 tackles in the Sept. 1 matchup, missed the Cyclones’ last four regular-season games with a shoulder injury and also won’t play Monday.

"It isn’t the same team we had in Week One," Iowa State running back James White said.

White, who has rushed for 469 yards on 89 carries this season, replaces Johnson as the Cyclones’ main running back. He will be joined in the backfield by Richardson, who threw seven touchdown passes without an interception and rushed for 162 yards in Iowa State’s final two regular-season games.

Richardson faces a Tulsa defense that has recorded 48 sacks and 104 tackles for loss to set school records in each category. Tulsa ranks third in the nation in sacks per game and fourth in tackles for loss per game.

Tulsa recorded four sacks in its loss to Iowa State, which yielded only 10 more sacks the rest of the regular season.

"The matchup with our offensive tackles and their defensive ends will be one of the pivotal matchups in determining the outcome of the game," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said.

Tulsa believes it has come a long way since Sept. 1, when it squandered a 16-7 lead over Iowa State.

"It was our first game," said Tulsa linebacker DeAundre Brown, one of eight seniors on the Golden Hurricane’s first-team defense. "We had to get our bumps and bruises over with. After that, we just became a better team and corrected our mistakes."

They also became a more run-oriented team. In their loss to Iowa State, the Golden Hurricane attempted 49 passes and 34 rushes. Tulsa has run the ball nearly 60 percent of the time in 12 games since.

Tulsa’s versatile ground attack includes three 700-yard rushers: Trey Watts (161 carries, 959 yards), Ja’Terian Douglas (129 carries, 857 yards) and Alex Singleton (187 carries, 765 yards). Singleton also has run for 21 touchdowns.

They work alongside 6-foot-4, 247-pound quarterback Cody Green, whose size makes him tough to tackle. Green, a Nebraska transfer, went 23 of 49 for 198 yards with two touchdown passes and a pair of interceptions in Tulsa’s earlier loss to Iowa State.

"Offensively, we know a little more who we are," Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said. "We had a new quarterback, three new offensive linemen. On offense (in September), we weren’t sure if we could run block or not. We weren’t sure if we could protect. We weren’t real sure what our personality was going to be like with a new quarterback. We’ve evolved a little more to a run-first team than we were in the first game."

Tulsa’s defense got a boost from the addition of linebacker Shawn Jackson, a three-year starter who didn’t play against Iowa State in September while serving a three-game suspension.

All these changes have given this familiar matchup a new dimension.

"It still kind of feels like a rematch because watching them on film brings back memories of the game and the tendencies of the guys we were playing against, but it’s also two different teams from the beginning of the season to the end of the season," Iowa State offensive tackle Carter Bykowski said.

Tulsa should be accustomed to rematches. The Golden Hurricane edged UCF 23-21 on Nov. 17 and beat the Knights again 33-27 in overtime in the Conference USA championship game two weeks later.

The difference here is that so much time has passed since Tulsa last faced Iowa State.

"The identities of the teams are the same, (but) the personnel has changed," Iowa State linebacker A.J. Klein said. "We have two teams here who are hard-nosed teams who love to play gritty football. It’s going to be a battle. It’s going to be a four-quarter battle just like it was the last game."

Glennon has some talented receivers led by Quintin Payton and Bryan Underwood, who had 10 TD catches. The Wolfpack averages 304 yards passing per game, 20th nationally, though they face a Vanderbilt defense that ranks 10th nationally allowing 175.8 yards passing per game and fifth in pass efficiency defense (99.8).

The bigger challenge for N.C. State may be the fact that this isn’t a home game. In their six home games, the Wolfpack allowed just 14.3 points per game. In the six games on the road or at neutral sites, they gave up 34.8 points.

Vanderbilt comes in averaging 29.3 points led by Zac Stacy, the school’s career leading rusher who had 1,034 yards this season, and Jordan Rodgers, the younger brother of the Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The quarterback was benched in the Liberty Bowl loss, and he’s determined to show how much he’s grown this season.