LSU's defense wore down late in the game

By By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

ATLANTA — LSU’s often frustrating season came to a bitter end on the final play of the Chick-fil-A Bowl, when Clemson’s Chandler

Catazzaro calmly booted a 37-yard field goal to beat the Tigers 25-24.

Or, maybe it could be traced to the fourth-and-16 that Clemson converted at the beginning of the game-winning drive.

Then again, LSU could have put the game away with a first down on its final offensive drive, which started hopefully with

an 8-yard pass completion on first down but ended with two straight incompletions by Zach Mettenberger.

But, LSU head coach Les Miles had a simpler explanation.

“We couldn’t protect our passer,” he said after losing a bowl game for the third time in four years despite never trailing

until the clock struck double-zero.

“We just could not protect tonight, and that was really the mark of the game.

“If that (pass protection) was a strong part of tonight, this would have been a completely different game. That’s the part

that needs fixing.”

Clemson, which came in with a suspect

defense, sacked Mettenberger six times and often times had him on the

run — never his

forte — including the second-and-two situation where he overthrew a

wide-open Jarvis Landry for what likely would have been

a game-clinching first down.

The pressure on Mettenberger kept him from further exploiting a Clemson secondary that had given up yards in big gulps most

of the season.

Mettenberger, when given time, completed the first eight attempts he managed to get off and finished 14 of 23 for 120 yards.

“There for a while, we’d get a first down, get sacked, get a first down and get sacked,” Miles said.

Miles also said it also had a trickle down effect on a running game that finished with just 99 yards, even though running

back Jeremy Hill had 124 by himself.

“When you can’t protect your passer then it becomes very difficult to run because, frankly, there’s an extra man in the box

(clogging up the run) because you’re not throwing the ball.

“If we protect our passer, hit a few (completions), now they have to play some coverage, the running game comes to life and

it’s just a different game.”

It never really happened.

Hill, who had a 17-yard touchdown run on LSU’s second offensive play of the game, broke off a 57-yard scoring run on the LSU’s

first play of the second half.

But for the remainder of the game, LSU managed just two more first downs, none in the fourth quarter when Clemson had 12 and

outgained LSU 160 yards to ... one yard.

“I can’t blame Zach,” Miles said. “I thought Zach played really, really hard but, frankly, he was under duress from the first

series on.

“It a tough thing to figure that our

pass protection was as poor as it was. We felt like we had guys that

could protect. Really,

it wasn’t a numbers issue. It was just guys beating guys. We had a

nice plan, we just couldn’t execute it because we couldn’t

protect our quarterback.”

Miles had high praise for his defense, which was forced to go 100 plays against Clemson’s up-tempo, wide-open offense and

didn’t get much rest with nine three-and-outs from its offense.

“They played their butts off,’ Miles said. “Those young men (on defense) are spent. They gave everything they had out there.

Our football team played so well on defense (and) I thought we had an edge on special teams.”

But after holding Clemson scoreless on

only one first down in the third quarter while the offense couldn’t

capitalize on chances

to put the game away, the LSU defense finally wore down in the

fourth quarter as Clemson scored the game’s final 12 points.

Four different LSU players had to leave the game with cramps on Clemson’s final, game-winning field goal drive, which began

on the Clemson 20-yard line.

“What a miserable event for them,” Miles said. “They gave everything they had out there.”