Clemson kicker Chandler Catanzaro is hoisted into the air after he kicked the winning 37-yard field goal against LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Clemson won 25-24. (Associated Press)
LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger takes a break during a timeout against Clemson during the second half of the Chick-fil-A Bow Monday night in Atlanta. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Monday, December 31, 2012 11:01 PM
ATLANTA — It was a fitting end to LSU’s season less than an hour before the year ran out.
LSU’s offense left its defense hung out to dry one too many times.
One third-down conversion might have done it — and it wasn’t for going ultra-conservative.
One late defensive stop might have done it — and you couldn’t point to any “prevent” defense as the culprit this time.
But the Georgia Dome floor turned into a sea of ecstatic orange as Clemson kicker Chandler Catanzaro nailed a 37-yard field goal on the final play of the Chick-fil-A Bowl to give the ACC team a crushing 25-24 victory over LSU.
But it’s LSU, which collapsed on the field as the final boot sailed true, that will be kicking itself over this one.
The Tigers — the team that had trouble finishing cleanly all year — finished the season 10-3, with two of the losses coming in the final 51 seconds.
“The guys expended all the energy they had,” LSU head coach Les Miles said. “But this is a painful moment.”
This one went all the way to zero for the Tigers to blow what was a 24-13 lead five minutes into the final quarter and still a 24-22 lead after the LSU stopped Clemson on a 2-point conversion with 2:47 to play.
LSU beat Clemson star quarterback Tajh Boyd to a pulp, sacking him five times and hitting him on most of his 50 pass attempts, but he kept getting off the deck to complete 36 of them for 346 yards.
None were bigger than the perfectly floated 25-yarder to DeAndre Hopkins on fourth-and-16 from the Clemson 14 that kept the game-winning drive alive.
LSU never did solve Hopkins, whose 13 receptions were just one less than LSU’s entire team and whose 191 personal receiving yards were 71 more than the Tigers passed for.
Clemson rang up 445 yards even though the Tiger defense seemed to have a handle on the wide-open attack most of the second half.
LSU actually looked in control most of the second half.
Bennie Logan’s blocked extra point in the first half was looking like the key play of the game, particularly after Clemson was forced to go for (and failed) on a 2-point conversion with just under three minutes to play.
And the offense — shades of a heartbreaking loss to Alabama — had a chance to put the game away with a late first down.
“I liked our chances,” Miles said. “Just get a couple of first down, run the clock out, game’s over.”
It didn’t happen — and it wasn’t for being overly conservative at the end — maybe the opposite.
After taking over at their own 39 nursing a 24-22 lead with 2:43 to play, LSU threw three straight times, but after an 8-yard completion on first down, Mettenberger overthrew a wide open Jarvis Landry on second down and had his third-down pass batted down.
Thus the Tigers, who converted only 3 of 13 third downs all night, had to punt to set up Clemson’s remarkable game-winning drive, which also included a crucial pass interference call against LSU.
After quick scoring strikes to open both halves, LSU’s offense mostly struggled against a suspect Clemson defense.
Their first three offensive plays of the two halves got touchdowns — 14 of LSU’s 24 points.
But the other 58 minutes, LSU struggled to protect Zach Mettenberger — he was sacked six times — and never got a consistent running attack going.
The Tigers got on the board less than a minute into the game despite kicking off.
After Craig Loston recovered a fumble on Clemson’s second play from scrimmage, Jeremy Hill needed only two runs to score from 17 yards out only 55 seconds into the game.
Hill also scored on LSU’s first play from scrimmage in the second half, sprinting 57 yards after a 43-yard kickoff return.
But LSU led at the half 14-13 despite being outgained 248-106 with Clemson running 54 plays to only 24 for the Tigers.
Boyd ran for a 11-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and completed an 11-yard pass to Hopkins in the second before the blocked extra point.
“He was phenomenal,” Miles said. “I looked out there, we kept hitting him and it was amazing he kept getting up and making plays.”
One too many, it turned out, for LSU.