Clemson faces another physical test

Nobody has to tell Clemson coach Dabo Swinney what the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against LSU comes down to on Monday night in Atlanta.

The more physical team will win.

To that end, Swinney ratcheted up the physicality during bowl practices leading up to the game. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris told local reporters in South Carolina earlier this month, "Coach Swinney’s got his foot up our butts, basically, and he doesn’t plan on taking it out for about four days."

Swinney's reaction was only natural, after watching his team lose the battle up front in the regular-season finale against South Carolina. Jadeveon Clowney owned Clemson, getting 4.5 of his team's six sacks. Tajh Boyd had no time to set his feet and throw, and the Tigers' offense completely stalled, gaining 165 yards over the final three quarters of the 27-17 loss.

Now the Tigers are facing a team just as physical in LSU, another huge test against an opponent from the SEC.

"This is a game that’s won and lost in the trenches for sure," Swinney told ESPN.com. "No doubt about it. This is a team that’s going to line up and just challenge you physically and come right at you. You can either match that or you can’t. Very few teams have been able to match that versus LSU. We’re going to have to play great up front. Our guys are going to have to play great and learn from the two games we’ve lost because we’ve had the lead in both our losses in the third quarter but we haven’t been able to quite finish in the fourth quarter. It’s a big challenge for us, as big of a challenge as we’ve had in a long time here at Clemson."

While Swinney called Clowney the best player in the country, the Tigers counter with one of the best defensive end duos in the country in Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Clemson center Dalton Freeman said in a phone interview that LSU has better interior defensive linemen than South Carolina.

"They’ve got really good players in their front seven," Freeman said. "Their secondary is extremely athletic. They play a lot of man coverage with one safety over the top, a man free kind of look that gives you the one-on-one matchups. They feel so confident in their guys, and rightfully so, they can go out there and match one-on-one and put seven or eight in the box and force us to throw the ball. I think there is some similarities with South Carolina but again, this is a pretty stout LSU defense."

So what did Clemson learn from its game against South Carolina to apply against LSU?

"We just have to be physical back," Clemson running back Andre Ellington said. "We have to take on the challenge, to understand that football’s a physical game. Just going against a team like that is definitely not going to be easy. We just have to execute the game plan."

That game plan includes trying to keep LSU off balance. That means taking advantage of some one-on-one matchups on the outside, with Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins. If they can hit a few big plays like that, then it will be a lot easier to run the ball and keep LSU guessing.

One of the bigger problems against the Gamecocks was that Clemson was forced to throw the ball in the second half. So that allowed South Carolina to come all out after Boyd.

"If we can continue to establish the run game and give ourselves a chance to operate our offensive scheme instead of having to go out there and throw the ball every time, we’ll be able to keep them off balance and generate some offense," Freeman said.

That all goes back to the challenge ahead of Clemson. To establish the run, you have to win the line of scrimmage. Bowl hopes are riding on that.