Clemson relishes underdog role against favored LSU

Quarterback Tajh Boyd knows few pundits are picking Clemson to ring in the New Year with a victory over LSU. Not that it bothers the All-America quarterback.

After the team held its first bowl practice Wednesday at the Georgia Dome, where the Tigers will square off against the Bayou Bengals in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve, Boyd says the team doesn’t mind wearing the underdog mantle one bit.

“That doesn’t define the game at all; that doesn’t mean that the outcome is going to be what people expect it to be,” Boyd said. “For us, it’s just going out there and battling and showing people who Clemson is.”

Boyd said the Tigers were excited to get back to work following a couple of days off for Christmas after the team wrapped its bowl preparations in Clemson on Dec. 21.

“The energy was good, the tempo was good, the intensity was good, so we just have to make sure we have a great day tomorrow as well,” Boyd said. “It’s going to be a solid week of preparation. They’ve got it set up where there are opportunities for us to have fun as well, but people know that we’re here on a mission, we’re here for one reason – and that’s to go out and compete in this game and win this game.”

Clemson arrived in Atlanta on Tuesday night and practiced at the Georgia Dome on Wednesday morning before proceeding to the Dave & Buster’s in Marietta, Ga., where the Chick-fil-A Bowl served as host an official welcome party for the team in the afternoon.

“As opposed to just walking in there for the first time on game day, you get a chance to get used to that environment and the surface and catching balls with the ceiling,” head coach Dabo Swinney said of practicing in the Georgia Dome. “It’s a whole different environment than what you’re used to.”

But at least this Clemson team has played in the facility this year, a 26-19 season opening triumph over Auburn.

The Tigers (10-2) will also practice at the Georgia Dome on Thursday and Friday before holding their final pre-bowl practice at Georgia Tech on Saturday.

“We had great preparation in Clemson and were able to get our objectives done, and we got back started today with good meetings and really just fine-tuning the plan,” Swinney said.

“We’re really just trying to spend this week on execution, knowledge, fundamentals and technically just trying to be as sharp as we can. Because in a game like this, that’s what it’s going to come down to. “With two really good teams, it comes down to just a few plays, and we need to be as technically sharp as we can be.”

As Swinney alluded to, the game boasts one of the best matchups of the entire bowl season. The Tigers of the SEC finished No. 8 in the final BCS standings, while the Tigers of the ACC finished No. 14.

Of the five BCS bowls, only the National Championship and Fiesta Bowl have better matchups in terms of the combined  BCS standings than the Chick-fil-A.”Certainly we’ve got a big task in front of us,” Swinney said. “This is a top-10 team and one of the best bowl teams out there for a reason.”

The matchup also pits one of the nation’s most explosive offenses against one of its stingiest defenses. Clemson has scored at least 37 points in 10 of its 12 games, while LSU has allowed more than 22 points just once.

“They have as good a defensive front as we’ve played and are probably the fastest defense that we’ve played from an overall speed standpoint,” Swinney said. “And offensively, this is the best combination of backs that we’ve seen maybe in a long time. They are going to roll four or five guys in there, and they all look alike – just downhill runners. So, it’s a very complete football team in every regard.”

The Tigers have put together a very solid season in their own right. After losing its only conference game of the season at Florida State on Sept. 23, Clemson ran off seven straight victories by a margin of at least two touchdowns to notch its first 10-win regular season since 1981 before falling in the regular season finale to South Carolina.

LSU will be the highest-ranked team Clemson has faced in a bowl game since the 2003 season when the Tigers upset sixth-ranked Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

“There’s not going to be many people that pick us in this game,” Boyd said, “but the game is played on the field, not in the papers or things of that nature. We’re excited about getting out there and playing against one of the top teams in the country.”

Swinney also announced on Wednesday that Shag Anthony and Tony McNeal were not with the team and would not play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl due to academic reasons.

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