It didn’t look good for Clemson on New Year’s Eve when Sammy Watkins fumbled a hand off on the opening drive and exited the game with an ankle injury. Things looked even more bleak minutes later when LSU effortlessly put the ball in the end zone.
Then a strange thing happened. The Tigers’ defense showed its mettle, forcing eight three-and-outs, the most by an LSU team since 2009 — ironic since it was LSU’s defense that has been billed as the dominant one.
Clemson played on all cylinders, though, stifling LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger who tossed three straight incomplete passes on what turned out to be LSU’s final possession. 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 backed 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.
LSU averaged 180 rushing yards per game before Clemson held the Tigers to only 99 on Tuesday. LSU was only 3 of 13 on third down, was sacked six times, totaled only nine first downs (to Clemson’s 32) and was manhandled in time of possession by nearly 13 minutes.
Clemson ran 100 plays – 50 passes and 50 runs. LSU’s defense was drained at the end and after taking a 24-13 lead with 4:49 left in the third, the offense netted only 5 yards and gained no first downs the remainder of the game.
Trailing 24-22, Clemson took possession on its 20 with 1:39 remaining. Quarterback Tajh Boyd completed a pass for 26 yards to DeAndre Hopkins on fourth-and-16 during the decisive 10-play drive.
Chandler Catanzaro booted a 37-yard field goal with .2 seconds on the clock for the win, setting off a wild celebration on the field and in the stands.
Boyd completed 36 of 50 passes for 346 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He set career highs for attempts and completions while winning the game MVP award.
“You can’t win 12 until you win 11,” said Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney. “You can’t win a national championship until you learn how to win games like this. This was a landmark win.”