LSU Tigers expect reinforcements for bowl

Tahj Jones
Tahj Jones

LSU expects to have reinforcements for its game against Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Tigers coach Les Miles said Wednesday that he expects guard Josh Williford, linebackers Tahj Jones and D.J. Welter and offensive lineman Evan Washington back for the New Year’s Eve game in the Georgia Dome.

Williford hasn’t played since suffering a concussion in a 14-6 loss at Florida on Oct. 6 and was replaced in the starting lineup by redshirt freshman Trai Turner. The other three players were declared ineligible, apparently for academic deficiencies, shortly before the season opener. Jones was a projected starter at strongside linebacker, and Welter and Washington were backups.

“I don’t think that we’ll change the starting lineup at this point,” Miles said. “Practice at bowl week will determine how that all goes and what we’ll expect. Certain guys come back with a lot of experience, and we don’t want to disregard that.

“There’s a point where you don’t want to put in someone who’s rusty when everyone else is tuned up. It’s a good measuring stick for a bowl practice. We’ll have to see who the best is.”

Miles was joined at the news conference by LSU athletic director Joe Alleva, Chick-fil-A Bowl CEO Gary Stokan and Chick-fil-A Senior VP Steve Robinson.

This game will mark the end of the college careers for the Tigers seniors and possibly some juniors. Several underclassmen likely will be tempted to turn pro after this game.

“A team that has a close bond and some real feelings for one another have that need to play well for a teammate, and I think this football team has it,” Miles said. “There’s a quality group of seniors and certainly some underclassmen that will certainly consider the NFL draft. This may well be a, for this team, a last opportunity to play best. I think they’re looking forward to it.”

No. 9 LSU and No. 14 Clemson are both 10-2, giving the Chick-fil-A Bowl one of the more attractive bowl match-ups.

“I think that our matchup is likely one that will be one of the more exciting games in college football during the bowl season,” Miles said, “and very likely better than some of the BCS games.”

LSU and Clemson both played Auburn and South Carolina. LSU beat both; Clemson beat Auburn and lost to South Carolina.

“We’re watching game film and really seeing their talent and their abilities and how their matchups might fit against us,” Miles said. “I don’t know that common opponents are any more of an indication. The only thing you do recognize is that we played South Carolina, and certainly we know what their offensive and defensive lines are capable of. We recognize that Clemson played them awfully well to a point.

“There’s the Auburn team, and I really thought they played well against them. Auburn, early on in this season, was a force to be reckoned with. They have talent, and they certainly can be a quality team.”

Clemson was 7-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Its lone loss came to eventual champion Florida State, which is headed to the Discover Orange Bowl.

“I thought they played extremely well against Florida State,” Miles said. “I thought there were a number of spots where this team really stepped up and made plays. I think you can see it in virtually every game.”

Clemson has the most productive offense in school history, led by quarterback Tajh Boyd, the ACC’s Player of the Year.

“I think he’s a very talented quarterback with a very strong arm,” Miles said. “They have a very capable receiving core, and there are big plays in that receiving core. He has the ability to move his feet, run and extend plays. He was named All-American for a reason, and it’s certainly evident when you watch his film.”

An LSU victory would give the Tigers 11 victories for the seventh time in school history and likely move them higher in the top 10 in the final polls.

“I think our football team wants to be seen as one of the best teams in college football,” Miles said. “The goal there is not so much the finishing number, but how we can play and what we can accomplish on the field.”

LSU is 9-1 in games in the Georgia Dome, having played there in previous Chick-fil-A Bowls, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and Southeastern Conference Championship games.

“It’s a great place for us to play,” Miles said. “We love the dome. Atlanta is a city the players like visiting. Our football team really is anxious for a quality game.”

One of the purposes of Wednesday’s news conference was to try and generate enthusiasm for this game. LSU began the season hoping to reach the BCS Championship Game and ended it hoping for a berth in the Sugar Bowl or Cotton Bowl.

Fans don’t seem overly excited as LSU is still about 6,000 tickets short of selling its allotment of 16,000 tickets. Miles did his best to gin up ticket sales.

“If I was looking for a New Year’s Eve event, and I was really trying to impress the missus,” Miles said, “I think taking her to Atlanta, getting a game in with my favorite team and finding a way to celebrate New Year’s is great.

“Let’s say the game is over by about 10:30 p.m. We can freshen up a little bit, and go find a place I can twirl my sweetheart. At midnight, I’d get a kiss. To me, it will be a great weekend highlighted with a tremendous game. In our time here, every time we pull up to a stadium, we see purple and gold, every time. It’s one of those things that we play to and feel very passionate about.”