Clemson notches ‘a landmark win’ for itself and the ACC

The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Clemson depicts the thrill of victory, LSU the agony of defeat. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Not to sound like the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, but the 45th Chick-fil-A Bowl featured the third-best matchup on this year’s cluttered postseason board. (Behind only Oregon-Kansas State in the Fiesta and Notre Dame-Alabama in the BCS title game.) You had LSU, which this time last year was preparing to play for a national championship, and Clemson, which at the dawn of 2012 was, er, readying to yield 70 points in the Orange Bowl.

And that recent history, divergent as it was, is what made the Chick-fil-A so enticing. LSU is a big-time program from The Only Conference That Matters, while Clemson remains a wild card from that basketball league. Clemson entered 10-2, same as LSU, but the orange Tigers closed their regular season by losing at home to a South Carolina team without both Marcus Lattimore and Connor Shaw.

This happened on the same day Florida State lost at home to Florida and Georgia Tech, recent conqueror of Lane Kiffin’s misguided minions, was beaten by 32 points in Athens. It was yet another in an extensive series of ACC reversals, and it left Clemson with still more explaining to do. How can such a conspicuously gifted aggregation whiff on most every big game?

Six Clemson players made first-team All-ACC, including quarterback Tajh Boyd, running back Andre Ellington, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, tight end Brandon Ford and two offensive linemen. All of which made it most curious that Florida State actually won the ACC, but that’s the Clemson way. These Tigers look sleek as long as they have the ball; it’s when they don’t that bad things happen.

Sure enough, a bad thing happened on the Chick-fil-A’s second snap. Sammy Watkins, technically a receiver, took a handoff and was greeted rudely by LSU’s Barkevious Mingo. Watkins fumbled the ball and hurt his ankle, and two plays later the orange Tigers were seven points behind.

That was the story of Monday’s first half. Clemson won the eyeball test — it outgained LSU 248 yards to 106 — but never got ahead. It managed to sack LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, once a Georgia Bulldog, four times in the first quarter, but in the second quarter Clemson had a tying extra point blocked. Thus did it trail at halftime for the first time this season.

For all its success, LSU can sometimes outsmart itself, which is to say that LSU can leave you wondering if it knows what it’s doing. The team with the fifth-best rushing attack in the brawny SEC tried only eight true runs — we won’t count the Mettenberger sacks as runs, even though statisticians do — against the team with the fifth-worst rushing defense in the finesse ACC. So why, nearly everyone wondered, would a team that runs better than it throws try to make Mettenberger into Matt Ryan?

Apparently the long halftime recess gave Leslie Miles and Co. the chance to rethink. On the first play of the third quarter, Mettenberger handed the ball to tailback Jeremy Hill, who took it 57 yards. LSU led 21-13, soon to be 24-13, and the game had assumed an odd look: Clemson was making plays and gaining yards without really putting pressure on LSU.

The orange Tigers drew within 24-16 inside the final 10 minutes. Then they sacked Mettenberger a sixth — yes, a sixth — time, and now Clemson had a chance to tie. (For the record, there was once a time when some Georgia fans considered Mettenberger superior to Aaron Murray. No one thinks as much anymore.) It got the touchdown, the splendid Hopkins catching Boyd’s pass in the back of the end zone, but a two-point try was unavailing.

And there it stood, one group of Tigers who call their stadium Death Valley leading another group of Tigers who call their stadium Death Valley separated by two points with 2:47 to play on the final night of 2012. Then LSU lost its mind and, rather than run the ball, ordered three consecutive Mettenberger passes and, not surprisingly, had to punt.

To its credit, Clemson rose to this moment. Boyd, who passed for 346 yards, found Hopkins, who caught 13 passes for 191 yards, on fourth-and-16, and Chandler Cantazaro kicked the winning field goal as the game clock struck zero. For once, the orange Tigers didn’t turn into a pumpkin with midnight at hand. Instead they outfought and outsmarted one of the big boys from the biggest league.

And nobody could say justice hadn’t been served. The ACC Tigers had been much the better team, outgaining LSU by 236 yards, running 100 snaps to the SEC Tigers’ 48 and amassing 32 first downs to LSU’s nine. “This is a landmark win,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, speaking four minutes after midnight, and it had that feel.

“They kept playing, all the way to fourth-and-16,” the effusive Swinney said, and his Clemson Tigers might still be savoring this one when 2013 becomes 2014.

By Mark Bradley

157 comments Add your comment

The Hitman

January 1st, 2013
12:29 am

unbelievable!

A person SMART enough to know.....

January 1st, 2013
12:31 am

SEC SEC SEC………………….Got beat by the ACC ACC ACC ACC ACC…………crying Cajuns in the ATL. The Saints lost to the Falcons and now Clem&Sons do it to the LSwho kitty cats.

Happy New Year everybody……even Haters

Remarkable

January 1st, 2013
12:35 am

How about them Tigers. I just hate it that anyone had to win this game.

All I'm Saying Is....

January 1st, 2013
12:35 am

Great game! Happy New Year!

Dawg Fan

January 1st, 2013
12:37 am

Big whoop Lsu was over confident in this one and Clempson played way over their head.

JazzChaz

January 1st, 2013
12:38 am

FIRST of the NEW YEAR

Todd grantham

January 1st, 2013
12:40 am

Happy new year Mark

wreckmaniac

January 1st, 2013
12:47 am

Dawg Fan: You’re right. This never happened. The Athens paper will never mention it. Go back to sleep. UGA won this years NCAA championship for the 18th year in a row.

wreckmaniac

January 1st, 2013
12:48 am

Fire Les Miles

wreckmaniac

January 1st, 2013
12:50 am

Surely UGA will beat Clemson by at least 50 when they play next year.

Todd grantham

January 1st, 2013
12:51 am

Enter your comments here

A person SMART enough to know.....

January 1st, 2013
12:54 am

Dawg Fan
January 1st, 2013
12:37 am

Big whoop Lsu was over confident in this one and Clempson played way over their head.
===============================================
Is that like the UGa v UCF game or the UGa v Boise St or UGa v MSU? I can’t remember which UGa loss it is most like so can you help me decide?

IggyStooge

January 1st, 2013
12:55 am

Dawg Fan: Exactly. LSU was overconfident in the last drive of the game that decided the outcome, so they lost the game. Jeez you Walmart UGA fans are such losers.

Innocent Bystander

January 1st, 2013
12:56 am

Big whoop Alabama was over confident in this one and Uga played way over their head.

Just as accurate a statement.

GB's Hamburgers

January 1st, 2013
1:13 am

I agree. Les Miles does get stupid from time to time. Time of possession is Football 101. An all passing attack never wins that battle. So their game plan kept their defense on the field for 100 plays.
Georgia, at times, has a similar problem with their offensive scheme working against their own defense.

A person SMART enough to know.....

January 1st, 2013
1:18 am

With all the NFL HC openings do you think RICHT will get some consideration?

Buford T. Pusser

January 1st, 2013
1:19 am

Clempsun victory over LSU and GT victory over the other USC bodes well for the ACC considering all the haters on this website/blog.

It is apparent that the ACC Bowl wins are being characterized as not “TRUE” wins but a simple matter of the other team not showing up!!!???

Simple fact, ACC not great but decent at the national level. SEC way over rated.

Mark Bradley

January 1st, 2013
1:21 am

Happy New Year, y’all.

A person SMART enough to know.....

January 1st, 2013
1:25 am

Mark it is a new year for sure but wait until the political stuff shakes out and will let you know if it is Happy or not. :roll:

drbasic1

January 1st, 2013
1:25 am

get that means dawgs would have whipped LSU’s butt then…..

Don’t worry LSU we will show you how to beat Clemson in just a few short months

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE…….EVEN TECH FOLKS AND BRADLEY!!

jbill

January 1st, 2013
1:27 am

Happy New Years to you also Mark. and your family…Thanks for a great year reporting for all sports in Georgia. Looking forward to coming year..

eddie willers

January 1st, 2013
1:39 am

As a long time Georgia fan (hello Wally Butts) I was so sad when South Carolina came into the SEC and Clemson went with the ACC. Should have been the other way around.

I really miss Ga. vs. Clemson. A great rivalry lost.

A person SMART enough to know.....

January 1st, 2013
1:42 am

eddie willers then tell McGarity to stop playing ez paid for wins and schedule Clemson more.

SAWB

January 1st, 2013
1:47 am

Looks like UGA got the better of the two quarterbacks in Murray. Mettenberger might not even be number two if he had stayed at UGA.

LakeDawg

January 1st, 2013
1:51 am

Happy New Year, Mark.

A person SMART enough to know.....

January 1st, 2013
1:55 am

SAWB…..so Mettenberger lost to a top 25 team and that makes Murray better? What is Murray’s record against top 25 teams? 3-10 in 3 years I believe. Mettenberger is 3-3 against top 25 teams in 1 season.

terry

January 1st, 2013
3:34 am

Get over yourself. LSU’s offense is terrible. The ACC didn’t make a statement. LSU’s defense was crushing people tonite even to though their offense kept them on the field all nite.. Imagine if Clemson had to play Alabama next week instead of Maryland. they just can’t handle it.

Stinger 2

January 1st, 2013
3:42 am

Dabo must have studied offense under CPJ. It was not triple option but it worked last night.

Stinger 2

January 1st, 2013
3:43 am

Dabo learned how to coach offensively under CPJ.

james

January 1st, 2013
3:48 am

Say what you will about them, but Clemson is never an easy out. Better be ready for a scrap when they are on the other sideline.

Bama Fan #2

January 1st, 2013
4:43 am

Dabo is a Alabama guy who coached his butt off and won the
BIG GAME finally for the ACC!!

Reality

January 1st, 2013
4:43 am

Will people in this state ever give the ACC football props – unlikely. But, who cares? With more ACC wins over the SEC, soon even the AJC will give a few lines to ACC football teams….

Dagny Taggert

January 1st, 2013
5:14 am

@eddie willers-

Get off of this blog and get back to work.

The real Phil

January 1st, 2013
5:28 am

If I ever again hear that Les Miles is one of the top coaches in the nation, I will puke. He lost the Alabama game by stupid special teams calls and he lost this game by passing it three times when they could have ran the clock down the last time they had the ball. Didn’t even make Clemson call a time out. 2nd and TWO and he throws the ball twice. Moron. And Mettenberger? Pfffft. He is terrible. And its good enough for anyone who would allow a criminal, kicked off one team, QB to play for them to get beat.

7576DAWG

January 1st, 2013
5:39 am

I am 100% all Dawg so I don’t care which team won between Clemson and L.S.U. So this is an unbiased opinion.
Mettenburger may be one of the worse Quarterback’s in the SEC. Those haters out there who earlier in the year wished that Mettenberger was Georgia QB instead of Murray need to find another sport because evaluating talent in college football is not your thing. If he was still at Georgia Mettenberger would be 3RD string at best.
Now for the game. I have never seen a Quarterback either that great or that lucky than I saw with Boyd. He threw up at least 6 HELL MARY’S and the ball fell in the exact place it needed to go. I just don’t think he could ever be pressured by a rush, like he was against L.S.U., again and be able to complete that many passes. If just one of L.S.U.’s Defensive back’s would have turned around to see the passes coming, L.S.U. could have had 3 or 4 interceptions.
This may have been one of the worst L.S.U. loses I have ever seen. I didn’t think I would ever see one of Les Miles teams lose a game more than the other team win a game.
Either way Georgia plays both teams in 2013 and I feel much better about our ability to beat both, after what I saw tonight.

ACC RULES YEAH BABY!!!

January 1st, 2013
6:39 am

CLEMS@N TIGERS!!! coming back with a vengence gonna whip the puppies next year in DEATH VALLEY!!! BOOK IT!!

Buddy Landel

January 1st, 2013
6:56 am

A person SMART enough to know…..

January 1st, 2013
1:18 am

With all the NFL HC openings do you think RICHT will get some consideration?
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Hopefully, the above statement is a joke. There could be 32 openings and he wouldn’t get a sniff. Good at selling his beliefs and personality to teens and their moms. Very average as a gameday coach. There’s a reason he’s never mentiones as a possible NFL coach.

Woofy One

January 1st, 2013
7:21 am

@The real Phil….
You are correct. Clemson won because of Les Miles mistakes not by being a better team.

fanbase

January 1st, 2013
7:22 am

another choke by the overrated les miles—lsu should have won this game easily

Hal

January 1st, 2013
7:37 am

Lets give a cheer to Coach Sweeny and his staff. They got their kids prepared for this game. That was a Clemson effort that they can build on.

Larry

January 1st, 2013
7:38 am

Congratulations to GT for beating Lame Kitten and Les Miles just may be the worst in-game coach since Bobby Cox.

A Dawg Fan

Real Problem

January 1st, 2013
7:47 am

Les Miles is the Joe Biden of college football. LSU team and fans deserve so much better. Saban with LSU talent beats Clemson by 21 points, PROBABLY MORE THAN 21 POINTS.

SatchelBuzz

January 1st, 2013
7:56 am

Good win,…..I will enjoy it even more knowing that it is causing MB some heartache.

THWG!
GO IRISH!!

ylojkt

January 1st, 2013
7:58 am

Cloudodust

January 1st, 2013
8:06 am

In A.D.786, the ancient Mayans predicted a Clemson win over LSU circa 2012. It was based on the possibility that the world wouldn’t end but would die a slow death. Really. USCw turned sour going into the Sun Bowl. KIffin lost that team somewhere along the line. May he end up coaching long term, The University of Alaska-Fairbanks Fighting Snow Hares 9 man football team.

MB

January 1st, 2013
8:13 am

If there is ever a reporter that should know about a team that ” whiffs on most every big game” it would be the true Dawg himself.

3d

January 1st, 2013
8:17 am

I just like football and I’ll leave all of the tit for tat nonsense to the idiots on here.

Clemson played well. Questionable play calling by Les Miles on their last possession.

It finally caught up with him.

There have been many games LSU was lucky to win in the past.

Mel

January 1st, 2013
8:30 am

I guess that shows you the state of the Clemson program when a Chicken Bowl victory is a “landmark win”. They needed terrible officiating and even more terrible playcalling by LSU on offense to do it.

An what’s with Clemson fans booing hurt LSU players? Really classy folks.

I heard that this was the 4th 11 win season in the history of Clemson football. When you do it 7 times out of the last 10 seasons and win some championships, come back an talk. Until then, Clemson will still be Clemson.

Get It Right

January 1st, 2013
8:39 am

The only thing that matters is 25-24. Geaux back to the bayou, LSWho!

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