Having a big game can mean many things. In the case of the Clemson Tigers and their defense in last night’s Chick-fil-A Bowl, it meant doing the things and stopping the necessary people so their team could win, as well as the fact that that they played exceptionally well in a bowl game against a top-10 opponent. Thanks to a tremendous performance from a defense known for giving up points rather than any kind of prevention, Clemson upset the eighth-ranked LSU Tigers on a last-second field-goal.
Clemson’s defense has the reputation, and rightly so, of being one that is pushover to opposing offenses. See last year’s Orange Bowl, see this year against the Florida St. Seminoles or North Carolina Tar Heels or a host of other games in the past few seasons. That is where this reputation comes from and Clemson hasn’t done much to change it, apparently going under the Dana Holgorsen line of thinking that if the offense can get the job done, why bother with a defense?
Clemson seemed to find their defensive spark at the best possible time. It kicked in inside the Georgia Dome against an LSU team that were favorites and appeared to have the offensive tools to school this Clemson defense while rolling to a bowl win. But Clemson, maybe just sick and tired of being another team’s punching bag in a major game, didn’t see things that way and made sure the rest of the country were witnesses.
In terms of LSU’s offense, Clemson’s defense unintentionally made a trade: Jeremy Hill, LSU’s freshman running back, would have a big game, but quarterback Zach Mettenberger wouldn’t. Hill ran for 124 yards and two touchdowns while Mettenberger struggled all night.
It wasn’t just Mettenberger that struggled as LSU’s offensive line had a poor outing. This gave Clemson’s defensive line and pass rush a chance to shine. The six sacks that LSU gave up were costly simply because it’s bad to give up six sacks in a game period, let alone letting that many up against an otherwise inferior defense. The other way the Clemson defense stifled Mettenberger was with their secondary. Mettenberger had only nine incompletions in the game, but his three straight incomplete passes on what turned out to be LSU’s final possession gave Clemson their final shot to win the game.
Also, this was a scenario that doesn’t happen too often in football: a team trying to run out the clock, but because their three & out is on straight incompletions, the other team doesn’t have to use their only remaining timeout. It was the biggest stop of the year and maybe in the last couple of years for the Clemson defense.
There were also some statistics that back up Clemson’s big night on defense. They gave up 22 points, but Clemson held the ball for almost an entire quarter longer than LSU thanks to their defense getting and keeping LSU off the field. Other numbers favorable to the Clemson defense include LSU going 3/13 on third downs in the game and having only nine first downs to Clemson’s 32.
A performance the likes of which a defense like Clemson’s put on last night deserved to be rewarded with a win. The fact that it came on a field-goal in the game’s final seconds only made it all the more important and all the more special. It also added the final touch to what was a classic southern football game.
So I guess the third time ended up being the charm and LSU’s third appearance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl under Les Miles was where they finally met a team worthy of sharing the field with them. And it would appear that team might be a little more than worthy after last night.