A year ago, Clemson gave up 70 points to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. In 2012, their defense had given up 411 yards per game but they had not faced LSU's offense. They did Monday night in the Georgia Dome.
They came. They saw. The ACC's Tigers conquered, with a big assist from LSU coaching and Les Miles in a 25-24 last-second victory.
What else can you deduce?
LSU's offense was absolutely brutal to watch. Brutal! Clemson is not good defensively. LSU totaled 208 yards on offense and Jeremy Hill accounted for 125 yards and two touchdowns of that total. Of course, he only touched the ball 12 times. Got to make sure you play those other backs, right? He did not touch the ball in the fourth quarter. Of course, the LSU offense barely touched the football in the period, running just six plays due to its ineptitude.
While they are fine, none are close to the caliber of Hill, who set an LSU record for a true freshman with 12 touchdowns on the season.
LSU's offense snapped the ball just 51 times. They had the ball for just 23:32.
With the game still belonging to LSU at 24-22 with 2:43 remaining, LSU got the ball back at their own 39-yard line. Clemson possessed all three timeouts. LSU needed one first down to win the game. They did not get one.
How they arrived at this particular failure was remarkable.
Miles, clearly one of the most conservative, if not the most conservative offensive coach in the United States, went completely out of character. I know he has an offensive coordinator in Greg Studrawa but Miles has control of the game, at that point.
On first down, LSU calls a pass play. Zach Mettenberger hits Kadron Boone for eight yards to the 47-yard line. It is second-and-two. Run the ball twice, if you have to, and make the first down. In the process, make Clemson call timeouts. Simple, right?
Not for Miles.
Inexplicably, he puts the game in the hands of an average quarterback. Mettenberger bootlegs right, has Jarvis Landry wide open and badly overthrows him. LSU fans understand that Mettenberger is not particularly accurate when he is moving. Of course, that stops the clock, preserving Clemson's timeouts. Okay--you can still run for two yards on third down to convert. Think again.
LSU elects to throw again and it is batted down. Stops the clock again. Absolutely amazing. Absolutely inexplicable. LSU has to punt and Clemson gets it back with 1:39 left. LSU took 1:04 on three plays WITHOUT FORCING CLEMSON TO CALL TIMEOUT. If you did not see it, you would not believe it.
“I was very fortunate that I didn’t have to use any of my timeouts (on defense),” Swinney said. “That was huge.” You think?
"We have to improve," Miles said. "Certainly adjustment has to be made. We need to get better on offense." You think?
Of course, Clemson had to execute offensively to win. LSU's defense, which played its hearts out, came within one play of winning it, anyway. Tajh Boyd made a great throw to DeAndre Hopkins, who got by Eric Reid, for a 26-yard completion on fourth-and-16 to move the chains. From that point, you knew what was coming.
The Tigers drove to the LSU 17 and Chandler Catanzaro, who was 17-of-18 on the season, booted a game-winning 37-yard field goal to give Clemson the 25-24 victory.
What else can be said?
How about the fact that LSU's nearly unwatchable offense had eight series in the game where they went three-and-out? They averaged under four plays per possession, leaving their defense on the field too long, way too long. Clemson ran a mind-boggling 104 plays. To give up just 25 points when you are on the field that long is a more than admirable performance but it was not enough, thanks to a lousy offense and lousy coaching decisions.
This is the latest chapter in the late game foibles of Miles at LSU. You know the other debacles, including Ole Miss, Tennessee, etc.
How can you not run the ball twice on that final offensive series with two yards to make? Seriously, do you think Hill would not make two yards on two plays? Even if he does not, you force Clemson to call a pair of timeouts, leaving them with just one. Seriously, did you really think Mettenberger was the guy you wanted to deliver the kill shot?
LSU should have been up in larger fashion. Up 21-13 and with momentum, Mettenberger missed a wide open Boone for a touchdown in the third quarter on a post pattern. Good quarterbacks make that throw. Underthrow him, if you have to. You must make that throw. Mettenberger did not. He also forced pass for an interception earlier.
After opening the game 8-of-8, Mettenberger finished 14-of-23 for just 109 yards with one touchdown and one interception, a microcosm of his mediocre season.
LSU lacks a top-shelf wide receiver. Boone is okay. Jarvis Landry improved and is solid, but not a killer. Ditto for Odell Beckham, Jr. None are in the same area code as DeAndre Hopkins of Clemson, who set a Chik-fil-A Bowl game record with 13 catches for 190 yards and two touchdowns.
A young offensive line, particularly the tackles, struggled to pass protect. Josh Dworaczyk and P.J. Lonergan are not young but the others up front for LSU are.
LSU's tight ends are okay, nothing special. The running backs are a good group but Hill is head and shoulders above the others. He should be getting the ball 15-to-20 times per game at all times.
Bottom line--this offense needs better quarterback play, better overall play at wide receiver and for a young offensive line to improve.
Miles wants to line up and run at people. LSU was not good enough to do so against a mediocre Clemson defense.
After the game, Miles correctly praised his defense.
"That defense played their butt off," Miles said. "There are young men there that just are spent. I'm really proud of them. I thought they played as hard as they could have."
Guys were cramping everywhere. Players were hurt regularly. They hung tough. They did all they could, other than getting off the field on fourth-and-16 on the final series. Clemson ran 104 plays and totaled 445 yards. Boyd took a beating, surviving five sacks, countless knockdowns and big hits and getting up to play and play very well. He completed 36-of-50 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He rushed 29 times for 22 yards and a score. He had to carry the load after star Sammy Watkins went down on the first series of the game with a badly sprained ankle. Clemson also lost starting tackle Gifford Timothy for the game early on.
There was a huge disparity at quarterback. Boyd was tough and terrific. Mettenberger was who he was all season long, with the exception of an exceptional second half performance against Alabama. Under Miles, LSU has lacked a top-shelf quarterback since Matt Flynn departed. The inability to recruit one, given how well he has recruited otherwise, is a mystery.
I like Les Miles and he has done an excellent job at LSU. The body of work surely suggest this in clear fashion. 11 wins five times, 10 wins this season among his eight seasons. A national championship and a national runner-up finish. Consistent recruiting to replenish talent annually. I have defended him in strenuous fashion for years now. He is not Nick Saban but who is?
Saban did not leave LSU for Alabama. He left for the NFL. He may leave Alabama at some point for the NFL. Either way, the issue is not Saban vs. Miles. It is Miles vs. any other potential head coach. Is there is someone else that can do a better job than Miles has done, overall, at LSU? That would be hard to imagine though many disgruntled LSU fans are now conjuring up names and images in their minds.
Still, what he did in Atlanta is hard, very hard to defend. You can say that Mettenberger had Landry wide open for a first down. Again, you cannot make that call with that player in that situation. Do you know any other coach, given the same circumstances, that does so?
LSU has now lost three of its last four bowl games. The Tiger offense has a grand total of 14 first downs in its last two bowl games. Tough, very tough to watch. Is the bloom off the rose?
It is likely that LSU will lose juniors Bennie Logan, Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery, Eric Reid and possibly Kevin Minter to the NFL draft. Tharold Simon may consider coming out, also. All are defensive players. Still, there is good talent returning on that side of the football.
If LSU wants to return to seriously challenging for an SEC title and national championship, the Tigers must improve significantly on offense. Will Mettenberger get better? Will the young offensive line mature? Is there a No. 1 receiver in waiting?
All of that would help. So would sound, intelligent play-calling.
Another LSU season ends with a loss. The Tigers were totally out-prepared, out-coached and outplayed by Alabama in last year's national championship game. With all due respect to a good Clemson team, the Tigers (LSU) and their coach beat themselves this time around. It was a gift which a good team that played well was happy to accept.
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