ATLANTA, Ga. - The LSU Tigers looked on the verge of a knockout entering the final five minutes of the third quarter, but couldn't stop the Clemson Tigers on its three fourth quarter drives, including a late- drive that resulted in a game-ending 37-yard field goal as time expired that gave 14th-ranked Clemson a 25-24 decision over 8th-ranked LSU Monday night at the Georgia Dome.
The game winner, a 37-yard field goal by Chandler Catanzaro as the game clock ran out, was atonement for Catanzaro who earlier had an extra point blocked that put Clemson behind the eight ball in scoring until the final field goal.
The late heroics by the ACC team put a damper on a night when freshman LSU running back Jeremy Hill scored two touchdowns for LSU, including a 57-yard run on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter that gave him the school single season freshman rushing record of 12 touchdowns, topping the mark her tied earlier in the first quarter of 11 set originally by Dalton Hillard in 1982.
Kevin Minter of LSU who had 14 tackles in the first half and 19 total for the game with one sack and he was voted the outstanding defensive player of the game. Minter was one off his season and career high of 20 set earlier at Florida and two off the school record of 21.
The rally for Clemson came after LSU had taken a 24-13 lead after gaining as many yards in the third quarter (112) as it did in the first half of the game (106) and appeared to be in control of the contest.
But LSU was unable to sustain the late challenge from Clemson as first Catanzaro at the 9:26 mark hit a 26-yard field goal to cut it to 24-16 and then on the ensuing possession, quarterback Tajh Boyd hit DeAndre Hopkins with his second touchdown of the night from 12-yards out to make it 24-22 with 2:47 to play.
Because the extra point on Clemson's second score of the night had been blocked by Bennie Logan (the first LSU block of a PAT since 1998), Clemson was forced to go for two and Boyd's pass fell short.
The Tigers were unable to get anything on its next drive attempting to get a first down to run time off the clock and put the onus on the defense as Clemson took over after an LSU punt with 1:39 to play on its own 20 yard line with all three of its time outs available. Boyd's first two pass attempts to Hopkins were incomplete. On third down, Sam Montgomery got a sack forcing Clemson to call timeout with 1:22 to play and facing a fourth and 16 from its own 14.
Boyd on the play found Hopkins down the middle of the field giving Clemson a first down on their own 40 at the 1 minute mark.
Boyd hit Hopkins, working again on Tharold Simon, for seven on first down. The second down pass was incomplete but pass interference was called on Eric Reid and Clemson had a first down at the LSU 42 with 47 seconds left.
Boyd hit Brandon Ford for three yards and Clemson called their second time out with 42 seconds left. Boyd again found Hopkins over the top of the LSU defense to the 26-yard line with 37 seconds to go. Then for the first time on the drive, Clemson's Boyd went to the other side of the field to Adam Humphries who got to the 17, one yard short of another first down and well within field goal range.
An LSU injury stopped the clock on second and one and Boyd took the snap and dropped down in the center of the field at the 20 where Clemson let the clock run down to two seconds before calling its final time out. Catanzaro came out and set up; LSU called a time out to try to ice the kicker, but when asked, the junior kicked it true from 37 for the win.
The field goal capped a quarter in which LSU was outgained, 169-1.
Boyd, who was named the Bowl's Most Outstanding Player, completed 36-of-50 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns as Hopkins caught 13 passes for 191 yards and the two scores. Clemson and its speed offense had an amazing 100 total plays (50 rush, 50 pass) with 32 first downs to just nine for LSU. Clemson finished the game with 445 yards on offense to 219 for LSU. LSU would run just 48 plays in the game (25 rushing, 23 passing).
There were sacks galore in the contest as LSU sacked Boyd six times and Clemson got to Mettenberger on eight occasions.
From the start, it appeared as if it might be another good LSU night in the Georgia Dome where the Tigers had previously won nine of 10 games going into the Bowl.
It only took two plays for LSU to get the first break of the night as Clemson fumbled on the opening drive. On a second and seven from the 28, Sammy Watkins was stuffed for one yard by Barkevious Mingo with the loose ball recovered by Craig Loston, giving LSU a first-and 10 at the Clemson 23. It was the first fumble recovery of the year for Loston and Watkins had to be assisted from the field after the play with an injured ankle.
On its first play from scrimmage, LSU went with the run to Hill who gained six as LSU went with its own hurry-up offense and caught Clemson completely off guard as Hill took the next snap for 17 yards for the score.
Drew Alleman's extra point was good and LSU had a 7-0 lead 55 seconds into the game.
Clemson started its next drive on its own 25 and used two third-down completions, one from quarterback Boyd to Andre Ellington for 10 yards and then Hopkins to take the ball inside LSU territory at the 42, forcing the Tigers to call a timeout. Boyd scrambled and Ellington kept it on the drive for another first down as the drive continued to the 31 of LSU.
Boyd made it 4-for-4 passing with a 12-yarder to Hopkins that put the ball inside the 20 and Ellington rushed down to the 11 where Clemson had second and two. From there, Boyd kept the ball on the option for 11 yards and tying the score at 7-7 with 9:46 to play after an 11 play, 75-yard drive.
The teams settled in defensively trading punts, but Mettenberger struggled in the first quarter, getting sacked three times and was called for intentional grounding in another situation.
On LSU's third possession after its initial score, Mettenberger was finally able to roll out and hit Jarvis Landry for a 17-yard gain to get the ball in Clemson territory at the Clemson 40, but lost eight yards taking another sack on first down. LSU got 10 yards back on a first down pass and as the first quarter ended, LSU was at the Clemson 38.
Opening the second quarter, Mettenberger launched a nifty side-arm pass to Spencer Ware that aided by a roughing the passer penalty put LSU at the Clemson 12. Ware gained five to the seven on first down, got one on second down and on third and four from the Clemson six, Mettenberger found Landry in the left corner of the end zone for LSU's second touchdown of the night and a 14-7 lead with 13:12 to go in the half. The drive was eight plays, 65 yards for the score.
Mettenberger, despite the sacks, was 6-of-6 passing in the first 17 minutes for 59 yards.
Clemson got the next shot after a long Boyd pass to Hopkins for 31 yards and an 11-yard rush by Ellington that gave Clemson first down on the LSU 18. A short pass moved the ball to the 13 where Boyd kept to the 11, giving Clemson a third and three. Boyd on third down found Hopkins between two LSU defenders sliding into the end zone for the 11-yard score. It marked the 10th straight game Hopkins has caught a touchdown pass, an ACC record. The play was reviewed and confirmed.
However this was where the extra point attempt of Catanzaro was blocked by Logan and LSU kept a 14-13 advantage with 5:43 to go in the first half. The block snapped a 56-extra point streak for Catanzaro.
Clemson got a drive going late in the half and moved into LSU territory after a 14 yard pass from Boyd to Hopkins that made it first down at LSU 38 with just under two minutes to go. But Clemson got only one yard in two plays and on third down from the LSU 37, Boyd was flushed out of the pocket and threw the ball out of bounds with 1:08 to go in the half.
Coach Dabo Swinney elected to go for it on fourth and nine, and Boyd scrambled down very close to the first down marker, but Kevin Minter made a saving tackle a yard short to give LSU the ball back with 1:01 to play.
The Tigers used two big explosive plays to open the second half as Michael Ford returned the opening kickoff 43 yards to the LSU 43 and on first down Hill found a seam in the line and broke clear for 57 yards to the end zone to give LSU the 21-13 advantage with 14:43 to go in the third quarter.
Clemson gave LSU a chance to expand the lead on its third possession of the second half when Ellington fumbled after an eight-yard gain on a hit by Sam Montgomery and the ball was recovered by LSU's Reid at the Clemson 29.
Hill handled the work load, getting four on first down to reach 100 yards for the game and then 18 yards to the Clemson nine. He took the pitch from Mettenberger for two yards to the seven on first and goal. Dickson took a short pass from Mettenberger down to the three and on third and goal, Mettenberger tried to hit Landry on a little slant that was incomplete in the end zone.
Alleman came on for a chip shot 20-yard field goal that pushed the lead to 24-13 at the 4:49 mark of the third quarter.
But in the start of the fourth quarter momentum changed as the constant pressure of play-after-play by Clemson took its toll on LSU.
Clemson's first scoring drive of the fourth quarter started on its own 29 and moved inside the LSU 30 thanks to a 21 yard pass from Boyd to Hopkins. On a third down play from the 25, Jalen Collins was called for pass interference giving Clemson first and goal from the 10 of LSU.
Clemson gained two yards on first down, Boyd got nothing on second down and on third and goal from the eight, Boyd looked like he would scramble free, but he stumbled and gained nothing, forcing Clemson's Catanzaro to kick a 26-yard field goal to cut the LSU lead to 24-16 with 9:26 to play.
The Tigers next possession started great after another strong 48-yard kickoff return by Ford, but after losing 7 yards on three plays, LSU was forced to punt, giving the ball back to Clemson with7:08 to play.
Clemson on the possession needed two third down conversions, the second on a big pass and hook and lateral play from Boyd to Humphries and then Ellington for 25 yards that carried the ball to the LSU 33. After losing a yard and throwing incomplete in the end zone, Clemson again had a third down play, with 11 to go on the LSU 34.
Boyd under pressure threw the ball toward Brandon Ford who turned around just in time to see the ball fall in his hands for a first down at the 14.
Boyd on second down found Hopkins in the back of the end zone for his second touchdown of the night from 12 yards out to make it 24-22 setting the stage for the final Clemson heroics.