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Hobbs: LSU, Clemson have different styles, vastly different philosophies

Last Modified: Saturday, December 29, 2012 7:30 PM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

ATLANTA — By some kind of oddball coincidence at the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the media and the Clemson football team are sharing a downtown hotel with an eclectic and chatty group attending some sort of mega-national convention of university philosophy professors.

Perplexing group, the latter.

Hundreds of them, running around philosophizing all day and holding the lobby lounge hostage by night with their light banter and wit.

It makes for an awkward mix on the atrium elevators, as you might imagine, with the tweed coats and scholarly beards clashing noticeably with the orange warm-ups and tattoos of the Clemson lads and the cheap windbreakers preferred by the media types.

It rivals that year in Omaha for the College World Series when some delightfully fun-loving old goats in for a World War II bomber division reunion were sharing hotel lobby space with the national Barbie Doll Collectors’ annual convention (which was also mostly men, believe it or not, though no apparent WWII veterans).

Several philosophers have wondered aloud if the Clemsons are the Atlanta Falcons, so maybe they’re not as brainy as they claim.

Just imagine if LSU, which is quartered across the street at the Hilton, was here.

I don’t know how LSU would fare in the raging existentialism debate I happened to overhear at breakfast.

But LSU would clash with Clemson football just about as glaringly as all these latter day Platos and Sartres do. It’s hard to believe they’re both Tigers.

And that’s basically what Monday night’s Chick-fil-A Bowl comes down to.

Two different styles — two vastly different, well, philosophies.

You know LSU, traditional SEC old school.

“Their form of a trick play is a play-action pass,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said Saturday.

Most of Les Miles’ mad-hatter riverboat gambler image comes from special teams sleights of hand and fourth-down gambles (usually up the middle where the real men live).

The Tigers’ offense is ball-control, establishing the running game, using the clock, big burly fullbacks, being physical, and all the while striving desperately to cobble out enough of a passing game to enter that ethereal world of the “balanced attack.”

The Jumbo Package.

Clemson’s isn’t.

Clemson is the new-wave, read-option, no-huddle, fast-break on turf, a beep-beep, point-a-minute, video game come to life.

Just spread the field and see what happens. Fullbacks might find game-day work as tuba players.

It’s not all that new, but in much of the SEC, at least, it’s viewed as a spreading menace gaining popularity at an alarming rate.

Much of the conference’s smug claim to national superiority has been based on still putting defense first, and there are still lingering philosophical questions whether or not that’s remotely compatible with the spread offense.

Cam Newton got away with it at Auburn that year and Urban Meyer supposedly brought it to Florida, but with a different animal like Tim Tebow it didn’t really seem like the all-in version.

For the most part the SEC stalwarts are resisting change, the last bastion holding down the fort for traditional football.

The message: Don’t be bringing that stuff in here (said with a knowing cackle.) There are real athletes on these defenses.

And for the most part, the SEC teams that have dabbled with it did it out of desperation.

But an old defensive coot like Nick Saban is so alarmed by it that he’s trying to get parts of it banned from football (and that was well before Texas A&M slipped his Alabama team the hot foot).

He better hurry.

Texas A&M shut up a lot of naysayers with unexpected success in the Aggies’ first SEC season, including Alabama’s only loss.

Gus Malzahn, one of the spread’s biggest salesmen, is back as a head coach at Auburn. Ole Miss had quite a turn-around introducing it to the SEC’s sterile system.

“I think it’s here to stay,” LSU defensive guru John Chavis said, and he didn’t look happy about it when asked if the spread was a passing (and read-option) fad.

“You are seeing some of it in the NFL now ... when you see it moving to the NFL, you know there’s no doubt.”

Chavis was rubbing his temples, as if dealing with a nagging headache.

“It makes it more exciting for fans, but it (only) makes it easier for defensive coordinators to get gray hairs.”

A few years ago Chavis admitted that defensive coordinators hadn’t really caught up with the new bells and whistles of the no-huddle spread, but he’s actually had fairly good success.

After a hectic first quarter, LSU shut down Texas A&M for the duration and forced Johnny “Heisman” Manziel into four of the Aggies’ five helpful turnovers.

Last year, West Virginia somehow managed to roll up 533 yards without really scaring the Tigers, who won easily, 47-21.

That was on the heels of a season-opening classic matchup — LSU’s athletic defense against Oregon’s pop-gun offense — which LSU dominated with its defensive front, 40-27.

Oregon coach Chip Kelly marveled that his team had never seen athletes in the defensive front like the Tigers who mauled his Ducks.

That was supposed to be the end of it, the final word on these culture clashes.

But they keep coming back.

Clemson puts up the standard Monopoly-money numbers (518 yards per game). But those Tigers also lost to the two best defenses they played, Florida State (49-37) and South Carolina (27-17).

That doesn’t mean Chavis has been sleeping well at night.

• • •

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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