By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
Each week we take a look back at what the Clemson Tigers did right and what they did wrong on the gridiron as we grade the Tigers’ performance at every position in Monday’s 25-24 victory over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Tajh Boyd had a gutsy effort in leading Clemson to a come-from-behind victory over LSU. He completed 36 of 50 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns on his way to MVP honors. Though, he was sacked five times and was hurried countless others, he hung in there to lead three scoring drives in the fourth quarter of 63, 77 and 60 yards. His fourth-and-16 pass from his own 14 with a little more than a minute to play was perfectly thrown down the seam to DeAndre Hopkins for 26 yards to the 40. Boyd was 5 of 8 for 58 yards on the game-winning drive.
The numbers were not outstanding as Clemson running backs Andre Ellington and Roderick McDowell combined for 76 yards on 18 carries, but the blocking by both was what was the most impressive. Several times the two blew up LSU defensive ends and blitzes coming off the edge. It was McDowell’s block on the fourth-and-16 play that allowed Boyd to get the ball off on his 26-yard completion to Hopkins.
Wide receivers/ Tight ends
There is something about playing in the Georgia Dome for Hopkins. Once again, with teammate Sammy Watkins out after suffering a high-ankle sprain on the second play of the game, Hopkins went off as he matched his school-record catches in a game with 13 catches for 191 yards and two touchdowns. He had 13 catches for 119 yards in the season opener against Auburn in the Georgia Dome. Besides the 26-yard pass reception, he also hauled in passes of seven and 13 yards, while also drawing a pass interference penalty. Tight end Brandon Ford finished his career at Clemson with a career-high nine receptions for 69 yards, including a 20-yard catch on third-and-11 that allowed Clemson to keep a scoring drive alive in the fourth quarter that cut the lead to two points. Adam Humphries also had eight catches for 27 yards, including a nine-yard catch that set up Chandler Catanzaro’s game-winning field goal as time expired.
The offensive line did give up five sacks and they did allow Boyd to be knocked around, a lot, but they also had to shift things around when right tackle Gifford Timothy injured his knee late in the first quarter. With Shaq Anthony out as well due to academics, Clemson moved left tackle Brandon Thomas to right tackle and freshman Isaiah Battle came in and played left tackle. The freshman held his own on LSU’s talented defensive ends. Clemson also consistently won the battle of short yardage as on each occasion in running the quarterback power Boyd was able to pick up first downs. Also, Clemson ran 100 plays and the offensive line was way more conditioned than LSU’s defensive front.
Xavier Brewer said the main reason the defense held LSU to 99 rushing yards and to eight three-and-outs was simple. The defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage. Defensive end Malliciah Goodman recorded 3.5 sacks. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett recorded 2.5 sacks and the Tigers as a whole had 11 tackles for loss. Though he did not get to the quarterback, Cory Crawford was consistently getting pressure as well. Three times Clemson stuffed LSU on third-and-short to get off the field. Goodman also made the biggest play of the night when he batted down Zach Mettenberger’s third down pass, which gave Clemson the ball back with 1:39 to play.
Spencer Shuey had seven tackles and a tackle for loss, but more importantly his line calls played a big role on why the defensive front dominated LSU’s offensive line. The group also played well in pass coverage and in bringing blitzes which confused Mettenberger all night. Corico Wright had a key stop on a third-and-short play and Quandon Christian had a sack as well.
Safety Travis Blanks recorded his first interception of his career, while the rest of the secondary did a good job tackling after the catch. LSU’s longest pass play was 26 yards. Senior free safety Rashard Hall led Clemson with nine tackles while senior corner Xavier Brewer had six. Brewer had a big tackle on a third-and-two play late in the third quarter as he came off the edge to make a tackle for no gain. Strong safety Jonathan Meeks had five tackles. It was a nice improvement for a group without its position coach, and credit goes to Wesley Goodwin–who moved over from defensive research staff—and graduate assistant Brian Mance, who had them ready to play after Charlie Harbison left for Auburn last month.
Chandler Catanzaro’s game-winning field goal played a major role in this grade. Clemson again struggled in punt and kick coverage, but it did enough to keep any big momentum plays from happening. Spencer Benton prevented a touchdown on a kick return by fighting through blockers and making a tackle. Benton also averaged 43.3 yards per punt, while Catanzaro also had a 26-yard field goal for Clemson in the third quarter.
Dabo Swinney had his team prepared to play. LSU punched Clemson in the mouth right from the beginning and Clemson punched them back. Then when LSU again threw another punch, offensive coordinator Chad Morris adjusted and threw one himself. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables had a great game plan, especially where he brought pressure, often stunting Jarrett–the nose tackle–and Goodman as Goodman would stunt inside and blow past the slower guards, while Jarrett came off the edge untouched most times. The Clemson coaches adjusted the entire game to what LSU was doing on both sides. Clemson’s offense ran 100 plays and had the ball for 36:21. Clemson made 32 first downs and was 8 of 18 on third downs. On defense, Clemson held LSU to 219 total yards, recorded six sacks and held LSU to nine first downs and to 3 of 13 on third down conversions. Clemson outgained LSU 169 to 1 in the fourth quarter. Swinney practiced on being the more physical team during bowl practice and by the end of the fourth quarter they clearly were on both sides of the ball.