ATLANTA, GA – Talk about responding to adversity. And talk about ringing in the New Year with a bang.
Clemson must have thought it was in for a long night after what could only be called the most inauspicious of starts. Instead, the Tigers showed the mettle to produce one of their most meaningful wins of recent vintage.
Down 24-13 to No. 7 LSU going into the fourth quarter, Dabo Swinney‘s team came off the mat to score three times in the final stanza against one of the nation’s staunchest defenses, and Chandler Catanzaro‘s 37-yard field goal as time expired lifted his team to a 25-24 victory in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Monday night at the Georgia Dome.
“This is a landmark win,” Swinney said afterward. “An 11th win for the first time in 31 years and only the fourth time ever – 1948, 1978, and 1981. The 2012 team now hitches their saddle up with those three elite teams in our program’s history.”
But the Tiger defense quickly got the ball right back to its offense by forcing a three-and-out with 1:39 to go, and Boyd engineered a drive that covered 60 yards in 10 plays and culminated in Catanzaro’s game-winner.
“It was unbelievable,” Catanzaro said. “I have to thank the team for setting me up. It seemed like that last drive was meant to be.”
Suffice it to say, however, things got off to a rocky start for the 13th-ranked Tigers.
Clemson (11-2) turned the ball over on the second play from scrimmage, as Sammy Watkins was hit by Barkevious Mingo after taking a handoff and fumbled the ball.
Two plays later, the Bayou Bengals (10-3) cashed in. Jeremy Hill burst off tackle and cruised into the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead just 55 seconds in.
Making matters worse, Watkins was lost for the night on that opening drive. He was taken to the locker room soon after, and while X-rays on the star wideout’s right ankle were negative, he did not return.
“We knew we were going to have some adversity hit us in the face; we just didn’t know it was going to be the second play of the game,” offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “We had a huge game plan built around Sammy too, so we had to do a lot of cutting and pasting and adjusting. But what a great job our guys did of stepping up against an unbelievable defense.”
But with things already looking bleak, the ACC Tigers mustered a big-time response against the vaunted LSU defense, marching 75 yards on 11 plays and finding the end zone on an 11-yard run by Boyd to tie the game 7-7.
Clemson also stiffened on defense and recorded four quarterback sacks in the first quarter alone, the most by the ACC Tigers in a quarter this year, and held their SEC counterparts to just 39 yards of total offense in the opening stanza.
LSU jumped back on top early in the second quarter, however, as it capped an eight-play, 65-yard drive with a six-yard pass from Zach Mettenberger to Jarvis Landry and led 14-7.
But later in the quarter, Clemson marched the ball 70 yards on eight plays and found the end zone on an 11-yard bullet from Boyd to Hopkins to make the score 14-13 after Catanzaro’s point-after attempt was blocked.
Clemson’s defense continued to provide its offense chances, forcing its fourth three-and-out of the first half on the ensuing possession and later coming up with an interception by Travis Blanks.
The Tigers couldn’t cash in, however, and Clemson trailed going into halftime for the first time all season despite outgaining LSU 248-106 and rolling up 18 first downs to the Bayou Bengals’ six.
As badly as the first half started for Clemson, the second half followed suit. Michael Ford returned the second-half kick 43 yards, and on the next play, Hill rumbled 57 yards to pay dirt for a touchdown and a 21-13 lead just 17 seconds after halftime.
The Bayou Bengals added to their lead with 4:49 left in the third quarter on a 20-yard field goal by Drew Alleman after LSU took over at the Clemson 29 on a fumble.
And by that point, LSU’s pass rushers had begun to assert their dominance against a Tiger offensive line that had lost one of its starting tackles, Gifford Timothy, to a knee injury in the first half.
Clemson was held to just 28 total yards in the third quarter, while LSU had 112.
The Tigers of the ACC got their offense back on track on their first drive of the fourth quarter, though, marching the ball 63 yards on 13 plays before being forced to settle for a 26-yard Catanzaro field goal that pulled them back within one score at 24-16.
Clemson’s defense continued to do its part and got the ball right back to its offense, as Malliciah Goodman and Grady Jarrett combined for the Tigers’ sixth sack of the night – a season high – on third down to force a three-and-out.
Goodman, one of the seniors playing his last game as a Tiger, finished with a career-high three sacks on the night.
“I just had to sell out,” Goodman said. “I knew it was my last game. I had to be that senior leader. It felt great out there – great environment, great game, top-10 teams – and it was intense.”
The offense took advantage of the opportunity, as Boyd engineered an 11-play, 77-yard drive and hit Hopkins in the back of the end zone for a 12-yard score to make it 24-22 with 2:47 left.
The two-point try failed, but the Tigers’ defense once again did its job by forcing a quick three-and-out, and a touchback on the ensuing punt gave Clemson the ball at its own 20 with 1:39 to go in the game.
At that point, Boyd worked his magic, hitting Hopkins for a 26-yard gain on fourth-and-16 to get the drive rolling and eventually completing his last five passes of the game to set up Catanzaro’s game-winning kick.
“1:39 is like 10 to 15 minutes to us,” Boyd said. “When I saw that clock and that we had three timeouts, I said, ‘Let’s get it.’ It didn’t look promising after the first few plays, but it became a special moment.”
Clemson vs. LSU
In Game Notes
December 31, 2012
Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
*Clemson had four sacks in the first quarter, the most by the Tigers in a quarter this year. Clemson’s high for the year for a game is five against Wake Forest. Clemson ended the night with six sacks, a season high and tied for the second most in a bowl game by the Clemson defense. The Clemson record for a bowl game is seven against Tennessee in the 2003 (season) Chick-fil-A Bowl.
*Clemson trailed 14-13 at halftime, the first time Clemson has trailed at the half this year.
*Clemson had one touchdown rushing and one receiving in the first half. Clemson has had at least one of each in every game this year and the streak is at 15 games in a row over two years.
*Clemson finishes the year with 11 wins, just the fourth team in Clemson history with at least 11 wins. The others are the 1948 (11-0), 1978 (11-1) and 1981 (12-0), Clemson teams.
*This is the highest ranked team Clemson has beaten in a bowl game since the 2004 (2003 season) Chick-fil-A Bowl when Clemson defeated sixth ranked Tennessee, 27-14. Clemson is now 4-2 in bowl games against teams ranked seventh or better.
*Clemson trailed 24-13 entering the fourth period tonight, then came back to win 25-24. This is the first time Clemson has trailed going into the fourth quarter and came back to win a bowl game since 1959 Bluebonnet Bowl. That year Clemson trailed TCU 7-3 going into the fourth period, then scored 20 straight points to win 23-7. That TCU team, like tonight’s LSU team, was ranked seventh in the nation entering the game.
*This is the fifth win over a top 11 team for Dabo Swinney. He defeated a third ranked Virginia Tech team in the ACC Championship game and that was the highest ranked team he has defeated.
*Tonight marked the highest ranked SEC team Clemson has defeated since downing sixth ranked Tennessee in the 2004 Chick-fil-A Bowl.
*DeAndre Hopkins established a Clemson record for reception yardage in a season on Clemson’s first touchdown drive of the game in the first period. He had two receptions for 29 yards on the drive to give him 1243 receiving yards for the year. He finished the game with 13 receptions for 191 yards and finished the season with 82 receptions for 1405 yards. He broke Sammy Watkins record of 1219 receiving yards last year.
*This is the third straight game Hopkins has had at least 100 receiving yards in a bowl game, a first in Clemson history.
*Hopkins caught an 11-yard scoring pass from Tajh Boyd in the first half, giving him 10 straight games with at least one touchdown reception. The record of nine in a row had been held by Herman Moore of Virginia in 1990. He also had a 12 yard touchdown catch from Boyd in the fourth period, giving him 18 touchdown receptions for the year, an ACC season record. Clarkston Hines had the old record with 17 in 1989 for Duke..
*Hopkins seventh catch of the first half was the 200th of his career. He and Aaron Kelly (232) are the only Clemson players with at least 200 career receptions in school history.
*Hopkins tied his own Clemson record for receptions in a game with 13. He also had 13 in the opener against Auburn, the first game of the season in the same facility.
*Tajh Boyd had 368 yards of total offense tonight on 79 total offensive plays. He set a Clemson record for plays in a game by a quarterback. He finished the season with a Clemson record 4410, breaking his own previous record of 4046 set last year. He is the first player in ACC history with two 4000-yard seasons in terms of total offense.
*Chandler Catanzaro kicked a 37-yard field goal on the last play of the game to give Clemson the 25-24 win. It is the just the fourth walk-off field goal in Clemson history. He has two of the four. He also had a 43-yard field goal to beat Wake Forest last year, a win that put Clemson into the ACC Championship game. The others were done by Mark Buchholz against South Carolina in 2007 and David Treadwell at Georgia in 1986.
*Boyd also set the ACC record for touchdown passes in the first half with his 35th of the year. He threw another in the second half to finish with 36 for the season. He broke the record of 34 that had been held by Phillip Rivers of NC State in 2003.
*Dalton Freeman started his 49th game at center for the Tigers tonight. That ties the record of 49 starts by Landon Walker, a tackle who played from 2008-2011.