Forget the last two weeks, let’s go ahead and call this the official start to the bowl season.
The Chick-fil-A bowl between Clemson and LSU was circled on everyone’s bowl calendar as the first good matchup of the bowl season. And it didn’t disappoint with Clemson edging out a 25-24 win after a last-second field goal.
It was by far the most exciting and entertaining game of the bowl season.
And it wasn’t just the ending, which included Clemson converting a fourth-and-16 to keep its final drive alive, it was the entire game. From Clemson's Sammy Watkins getting derailed on the Tigers' opening drive to Les Miles being Les Miles on LSU’s final offensive series.
This game was high drama and kept everyone watching interested from start to finish.
And that’s how this game should have been.
From the outset, this game was tabbed as Clemson’s offense vs. LSU’s defense and that’s kind of how it shook out. Quarterback Tajh Boyd, who took a beating as the Tigers main passer and rusher, orchestrated three scoring drives in the fourth quarter to give Clemson the win.
First, he led the Tigers 63 yards for a field goal, then 77 yards for a touchdown. However, he failed to connect on the 2-point conversion, which left LSU with a two-point lead and just 3 minutes to victory.
But that’s when Miles’ Mad Hatterness showed up.
Instead of running down the clock with running back Jeremy Hill, who was averaging 10.4 yards per carry in the game, Miles opted for three consecutive pass plays that took a mere 1:08 off the clock and left Clemson with 1:39 and three timeouts to win the game.
But things looked bleak early for Clemson. Boyd tried – and failed – twice to hit his star receiver DeAndre Hopkins and then was sacked, giving the Tigers a fourth-and-16. But somehow, as he had done all game, Boyd found Hopkins, who had 13 catches for 190 yards and two touchdowns, for a 26-yard reception and the Tigers were in business. They got down to the LSU 20-yard line with 2 seconds remaining and left the rest to kicker Chandler Catanzaro.
While the offense will get a lot of credit for this comeback – the Tigers trailed by as many as 11 points – it was the Clemson defense that showed its mettle in the fourth quarter. It forced three 3-and-outs on LSU’s three offensive possessions. Clemson forced eight 3-and-outs, the most by an LSU team since 2009.
There are a lot of places in the game where the momentum turned, but the most obvious was the playcalling in the fourth quarter. Early in the period, LSU was playing conservative with its 11-point lead. And then when it needed to chew clock, it got adventurous. It was the exact opposite of what you would have expected LSU to do in that situation and that’s what cost it the game.
This is the second consecutive season LSU has lost its bowl game and this will be the second consecutive season people will question the offensive decisions. However, that doesn’t take away from Clemson’s defense, which played its best game of the season against its best opponent of the season.
This win will no doubt vault Clemson in the national ranking to end the year and might give the Tigers a little boost to start 2013 depending on whether Boyd and Hopkins decide to stay for their senior seasons. If they do, this could be a scary Clemson team in 2013.
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