Improbable victory caps 11-win year

Special to The StateJanuary 1, 2013 

  • INSIDE •  Notebook: Hopkins and Boyd set records in Atlanta, B5 •  Bowls: Vandy tops N.C. State, and Georgia Tech stuns Southern Cal, B4 •  Commentary: BCS bowls prove costly for participating schools, B4

ATLANTA

ANYBODY THAT SAID they saw this coming was lying or naive.

Nothing about Clemson’s 25-24 win against LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl fit any wisp of fantasy or twisted logic.

Clemson needed to be near-perfect Saturday night and wasn’t. On this night in the Georgia Dome, Clemson was better.

Displaying a defiant courage in the face of LSU’s lethal defense, quarterback Tajh Boyd ran for one touchdown, passed for two others and orchestrated a 60-yard drive for the game-winning field goal as time expired, a 32-yarder by Chandler Catanzaro.

LSU came into the game eighth nationally in total defense (296.2 yards per game), 11th in scoring defense (16.9 points) and allowed more than 22 points only once all season.

Clemson totaled 445 yards.

LSU (10-3) allowed more than 200 passing yards in four games. Boyd completed 36 of 50 passes — both career highs — for 346 yards. DeAndre Hopkins caught 13 passes for 191 yards.

After a season under first-year defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ system, the Clemson defense gave the team a chance with an effective pass rush which registered a season-high six sacks. LSU was limited to 219 total yards and quarterback Zach Mettenberger completed 14 of 23 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown. Freshman running back Jeremy Hill rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns and was named the offensive MVP, but the vote was conducted before Clemson’s rally.

Clemson (11-2) slowed the assault by putting the ball in play quickly with little deliberation, but LSU, which lost to Alabama by four points and Florida by eight, built an 11-point lead on a touchdown and field goal off the turnovers.

In 38 games under coach Les Miles, LSU is 36-2 in games with non-conference opponents.

Clemson recovered nicely after its fate seemed cast in the game’s first minute and trailed at the half for the first time this season, 14-13.

On the second play from scrimmage LSU end Barkevious Mingo split Sammy Watkins with a waist-high tackle. The ball was knocked loose, and Craig Loston recovered at the Clemson 23.

Helped from the field, Watkins sustained an ankle injury that would end his season.

LSU needed two plays for a 7-0 lead with Jeremy Hill breaking a tackle at the line and scooting 17 yards 55 seconds into the game.

Clemson countered with an 11-play, 75-yard drive to tie the score on an 11-yard run by Boyd with 9:46 to play.

A pass rush, missing in action this season, reappeared. Clemson had four sacks in the first quarter alone, one shy of the season high, and forced LSU to punt in its next two possessions.

Aided by a roughing the passer, LSU had first down at the Clemson 12 where on third down Mettenberger hit Jarvis Landry on fade to the left corner of the end zone and a 14-7 lead 1:48 into the second quarter.

After the teams swapped punts, Clemson drove 70 yards in eight plays with Boyd and Hopkins connecting on a 31-yard pass to the LSU 28 and an 11-yard touchdown. Bennie Logan broke through to block the conversion kick and preserve the one-point lead with 5:43 remaining in the half.

Playing also without right tackle Giff Timothy, Clemson had two chances to flip the game late in the quarter.

A drive that began at the 10 ended on downs at the LSU 30 with 61 seconds remaining in the half.

Then Travis Blanks intercepted a Mettenberger pass, but Clemson failed in four plays to advance the ball from the LSU 46.

Still, it was an impressive half after a start reminiscent of the Alabama in the Georgia Dome opening the 2008 season.

No. 14 in the BCS rankings, Clemson is 17-18 in bowl games, ending a two-game bowl skid.

Clemson, which began the season here against Auburn, also is 3-4 in the Georgia Dome and 6-5 indoors.

LSU is 23-20-1 in bowl games and 25-7 indoors.

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