Clemson 25, LSU 24
- 2012-2013 CFN Bowl Central
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(AP) ATLANTA -- Clemson got one last impressive drive from Tajh Boyd and company to record its first 11-win season since its 1981 national championship team.
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And Tigers coach Dabo Swinney thinks this is only the beginning.
Chandler Catanzaro kicked a 37-yard field goal as time expired to give No. 14 Clemson a wild 25-24 win over No. 9 Louisiana State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Monday night.
Trailing 24-22, Clemson (11-2) took possession on its 20 with 1:39 remaining. Boyd passed to DeAndre Hopkins for 26 yards on a fourth-and-16 play during the decisive 10-play drive.
Catanzaro's kick set off a wild celebration on the field and in the stands. Some players collapsed on the field in apparent disbelief while most of Clemson's orange jerseys met in a midfield circle.
Clemson reached 11 wins for only the fourth time in school history and the first time since the 12-0 1981 team.
"You can't win 12 until you win 11," Swinney said. "You can't win a national championship until you learn how to win games like this.
"This was a landmark win."
Catanzaro had an extra point blocked in the second quarter, but he said that didn't cause him to doubt his chances to make the last-second field goal.
"I was ready when the opportunity came to me," Catanzaro said. "It was next-kick mentality. I was so thankful for the opportunity."
Catanzaro, a former walk-on from Greenville, S.C., made 16 of 17 field goals in the regular season.
"I didn't have any doubt," Swinney said of the junior kicker. "He's just a clutch player all the way."
Boyd completed 36 of 50 passes for 346 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He set career highs for attempts and completions while winning the game MVP award.
"Tajh Boyd was phenomenal," LSU coach Les Miles said. "I did not expect the heroic, if you will, efforts that he had."
Hopkins, who had 13 catches for 191 yards and two touchdowns, also had receptions for 7 and 13 yards in the final drive. LSU safety Greg Reid was flagged for pass interference while defending Hopkins.
Jeremy Hill ran for 124 yards and two touchdowns for LSU (10-3), which carried a 24-13 lead into the final quarter.
After Hopkins' second TD catch, LSU got the ball with 2:43 remaining and threw three straight passes. Only one was complete in the three-and-out series that took only about 1 minute off the clock, leaving Clemson with enough time for its winning drive against LSU's exhausted defense.
Hill did not have a carry in the fourth quarter.
"We had to throw the football," Miles said.
"We were not running the football. They were in a position where they outnumbered us in the run."
LSU's three passes allowed Swinney to save his timeouts.
"I had three timeouts," Swinney said. "If he runs it three times, I can call timeout, timeout, timeout.
"I think (Miles) was trying to win the game. I think he felt confident in the plays. I know he knew he needed to get a first down, because if he gets a first down I have to start burning timeouts."
Boyd said having 1:39 to stage the final drive "is like having 10, 15 minutes for us."
"When I saw that clock and that we had three timeouts I said, 'Let's get it.'"
LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger was sacked six times and completed 14 of 23 passes for 120 yards. He also threw for a touchdown and an interception.
"It's a tough thing to figure our pass protection was as poor as it was," Miles said. "That's the piece that needs fixing and frankly we've got some young players here we'll address and improve and make some strides going forward."
LSU scored 10 points off Clemson's two lost fumbles, including one by Sammy Watkins on the second play of the game that set up Hill's first touchdown.
Hopkins scored on an 11-yard reception in the second quarter and a 12-yard grab in the fourth. LSU's Bennie Logan blocked Catanzaro's extra point attempt following Hopkins' first touchdown.
Clemson had a chance to tie it after Hopkins' second TD, but Boyd's pass for the 2-point conversion was incomplete.
Michael Ford had a 43-yard kickoff return for LSU to open the second half. On first down, Hill broke through the line for a 57-yard touchdown run. His 12th rushing touchdown broke Dalton Hilliard's LSU record for a freshman set in 1982.
Clemson lost Watkins to a right ankle injury on his early fumble. X-rays were negative.
Clemson already was without backup receiver Martavis Bryant, who was suspended for the game for failing to meet academic requirements.
Clemson's second costly fumble came midway through the third quarter. Andre Ellington ran for 8 yards but lost the ball when hit by defensive end Sam Montgomery. Reid recovered the fumble at the Clemson 29, setting up Drew Alleman's 20-yard field goal.
The injury to Watkins left the spotlight on Hopkins, Clemson's leading receiver. He had catches of 17 and 12 yards as Clemson pulled even with an 11-play drive capped by Boyd's 11-yard touchdown run.
After LSU regained the lead on Mettenberger's 6-yard touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry, Hopkins had a 31-yard catch to set up his 11-yard score late in the second quarter.
Hopkins' sliding grab gave him TD receptions in 10 straight games to set an Atlantic Coast Conference record. Virginia's Herman Moore had touchdown catches in nine straight games in 1990.
LSU (10-2) vs. Clemson (10-2)
Dec. 31, 7:30, ESPN
Here’s The Deal … There but for the grace of an AJ McCarron drive went the LSU season, coming achingly close to winning the West and playing Georgia for the SEC championship and a shot at the national title in the BCS championship, but instead, the Tigers are playing in the final game of 2012 instead of the final game of the 2012 season.
Clemson also had a nice year, but it wasn’t quite the ACC championship campaign of 2011 with one loss to Florida State enough to be out of the conference title game. The Tigers were good, but there’s little to no respect for a team whose best win came against a mediocre Virginia Tech team. There were two key chances to shine this year, the first being the most important – the loss to the Noles – and the second was a 27-17 loss to South Carolina in a game that would’ve made it a very, very close to get into the BCS for a second straight season. Of course, Clemson has a little bit of face-saving to do on a bigger picture scale.
As good as the 10-2 season was, Clemson’s season has continued to be defined by the way the calendar year started with a 70-33 Orange Bowl thumping to West Virginia. The defense wasn’t even close, the offense couldn’t keep up, and for all the great things Dabo Swinney has done, and for all the terrific talent on both sides of the ball, anything short of a real, live win over a big-time player like LSU will still mean there’s work to do.
While the ACC’s Tigers were blasted in their BCS appearance, the LSU Tigers also clunked the last time they were on the biggest of stages, losing the BCS championship to Alabama to ruin what was turning into one of the greatest seasons in college football history. One of the better bowl teams over the last several years, LSU has lost two of its last three, but it has won six of its last eight and 11 of the last 15 including two national championships. How good has the program been since 2000? This Chick-fil-A/Peach is the weakest bowl it’s been in.
On the flip side, and going along with the theme that Clemson has to win something big, the program’s win over Kentucky in the 2009 Music City Bowl was the only post-season victory in the last six bowl appearances. If the Tigers don’t have something new in the bag, the other Tigers could give the SEC yet another feather in its cap on the way to yet another dud of a Chick-fil-A.
Only one of the last four and three of the last ten have been decided by a touchdown or less, but the respective fan bases will be fired up for the battle of Death Valley’s, each team should come out pumped, and it should be a strong, spirited game. It has been a good 2012 – it deserves to close with a bang.
Players to Watch: The 2013 Heisman campaign kicks off now for Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, who had the numbers to get consideration last year before getting thumped by South Carolina, and had the stats this season again – before getting thumped by South Carolina. The two games against the Gamecocks killed any chance of anyone making an argument for one of college football’s best quarterbacks over the last few seasons, but a great performance and a win over LSU would create a big buzz this offseason and would set the tone for what should be a big 2013. Interceptions have been a wee bit of a problem with 25 over the last two seasons, but with 7,707 yards and 71 touchdowns with 15 rushing scores, he has the career numbers along with the history to be a bigger name.
After starting out the season fifth on the depth chart – but with everyone knowing that his time would come – freshman Jeremy Hill turned into the team’s toughest runner over the back half of the season with 124 yards and two scores against South Carolina to kick off a run of three 100-yard games including one against Alabama. With three touchdowns against Ole Miss and 77 yards and a touchdown against Arkansas, he has carried the Tiger ground game and has been a steadying force. With fresh legs, he should get at least 20 carries and should be the featured man in the offense.
Clemson’s running game needs senior Andre Ellington to do what he did in Atlanta to open the season against Auburn, running for 228 yards in the win, but he has had an inconsistent year on the way to 1,031 yards and eight scores. With only one rushing touchdown in the last five games and just two 100-yard days since Auburn, he’s overdue to come up with a nice day. It might be tougher than it appears against LSU’s run defense, but he at least has to be effective.
LSU will win if … the offense controls the ball and the defense gets to Boyd early and often. South Carolina never let Boyd get comfortable in his 11-of-24 day, and while LSU doesn’t have the ferocious pass rush the Gamecocks do, Sam Montgomery and company has to take advantage of a leaky offensive front and not let Boyd be able to wait for his tremendous receivers to get deep. Clemson can strike quickly, but LSU will be in great shape if it’s able to hang on to the ball for close to 40 minutes like South Carolina did. Florida State held the ball for six minutes more than the Tigers did in its win.
The LSU defense hasn’t been gouged on the ground this season finishing ninth in the nation, but it allowed 100 yard or more in six of the final eight games of the season with two of the three worst days coming in the losses to Florida and Alabama. Towson came up with the best day with 188 yards and two scores in an unfocused effort by the Tigers, but the Gators and Tide were able to pound away and have a little bit of success. Clemson needs to get tough up front, but …
Clemson will win if … Boyd is fantastic. Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Arkansas all threw for over 300 yards as the LSU secondary all of a sudden lost its mojo after McCarron’s epic late drive for the Tide. Yes, Boyd will be under pressure, and yes, he’ll get picked off a couple of times, but he has to keep pressing and has to keep pushing the ball down the field. This is the most dangerous passing attack that LSU has faced all season long, and Clemson can’t be afraid to go for the big play.
More than anything else, Clemson has to want it more. That might seem hokey and it might not be enough, but LSU has had a strange habit of going through the motions at times this season – coming way too close to suffering bad losses in games against Auburn, Ole Miss and Arkansas. Both Tiger teams thrive on momentum, and Clemson has to get it early.
What Will Happen: Clemson will have the fire early and will have an early lead, but as the game goes on the LSU offensive line will slowly start to take control. LSU will keep a good rotation of backs going to always keep fresh legs in running the ball, and then Hill will drop the hammer in the second half with two good drives to put the game away. Clemson won’t get embarrassed like it did in the Orange Bowl, but it’ll come up short.
CFN Prediction: LSU 31 … Clemson 23
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) LSU -4 O/U: 58.5
Chick-fil-A Bowl History
2012 Clemson 25, LSU 24
2011 Auburn 43, Virginia 24
2010 South Carolina 26, Florida State 17
2009 Virginia Tech 37, Tennessee 14
LSU 38, Georgia Tech 3
Auburn 23, Clemson 20 OT
Georgia 31, Virginia Tech 24
LSU 40, Miami 3
Miami 27, Florida 10
Clemson 27, Tennessee 14
Maryland 30, Tennessee 3
North Carolina 16, Auburn 10
LSU 28, Georgia Tech 14
Miss State 17, Clemson 7
Georgia 35, Virginia 33
Auburn 21, Clemson 17
LSU 10, Clemson 7
Virginia 34, Georgia 27
NC State 28, Mississippi State 24
Clemson 14, Kentucky 13
North Carolina 21, Mississippi State 24
East Carolina 37, NC State 34
Auburn 27, Indiana 23
Syracuse 19, Georgia 18
NC State 28, Iowa 23
Tennessee 27, Indiana 22
Virginia Tech 25, NC State 24
Army 31, Illinois 29
Virginia 27, Purdue 24
Florida State 28, North Carolina 3
Iowa 28, Tennessee 22
West Virginia 26, Florida 6
Miami 20, Virginia Tech 10
Baylor 24, Clemson 18
Purdue 41, Georgia Tech 21
NC State 24, Iowa State 14
Kentucky 21, North Carolina 0
West Virginia 13, NC State 10
Texas Tech 6, Vanderbilt 6
Georgia 17, Maryland 16
NC State 49, West Virginia 13
Mississippi 41, Georgia Tech 18
Arizona State 48, North Carolina 26
West Virginia 14, South Carolina 3
LSU 31, Florida State 27