A year after getting humiliated to end their season, Clemson got some of their swagger back, against a stronger team from the toughest conference in the nation. The Chick-Fil-A Bowl usually produces good football games, and this one, with Tajh Boyd and DeAndre Hopkins pulling off some late game heroics to set up the winning field goal, was no different.
It’s been a very long time since LSU lost to an ACC opponent, but Clemson, despite not beating a ranked team this season, are the cream of the crop of that conference, at least offensively. They had much more to prove as well, as many teams do when they face the SEC. Their defense struggled to keep up with the LSU running game at times, especially Jeremy Hill, scoring two touchdowns and going for 124 yards, but Clemson surprised many with their toughness and execution on D.
Zach Metternberger was always going to be the Achilles heel of the LSU offense, but he did a decent job. He finished with 14-23 for 120 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He got no help from his offensive line, sacked six times. He didn’t get any help from his head coach, who for the second consecutive season makes very weird decisions in a Bowl game. Last year it was pure ego. This year? Who knows, but he complete puzzled everyone.
With LSU leading 24-22, Miles didn’t call a single running play, around the two minute mark. Pass, after pass after pass. Clemson didn’t need to take a timeout as they took control of the ball on their own 20 with 1:39 remaining and all their timeouts left for them to use. Tajh Boyd found DeAndre Hopkins on a 26 yard pass during a 4th and 16 snap. With two second left, Chandler Catanzaro got to hit the winning field goal, that left both winners and losers stunned. Les Miles got to talk about his team’s toughness and being proud of them, while saying he had to call for passes on those plays. Weird.
Tajh Boyd had a very bid day, throwing for 346 yards and two touchdowns, mostly to DeAndre Hopkins, setting aside the fact that Sammy Watkins got injured very early in the game after a big tackle from Mingo. Hopkins caught two touchdown passes and torched LSU with 191 yards, the most LSU have allowed for a receiver in two years. He set a new ACC record with 10 consecutive games of scoring a touchdown, and set a new records for reception yards in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
When your team is held to only one yard for the entire fourth quarter, you probably did something wrong. LSU entered the fourth leading 24-13, but allowed 12 points and 169 yards in a single period, as their defense simply couldn’t keep up with their offense’s ineptitude.
Clemson, despite being an ACC team, think about the national title. At 11-2 this season, they’re probably not that remote from it. A tough loss to Florida State and to South Carolina made sure they weren’t close this season, but a win against USC, hoping they keep their Boyd-Watkins-Hopkins core for another year, means that they won’t be expecting any less in Clemson next season.