GRADES: Landmark win for Clemson

ATLANTA - As far as bowl victories go, there aren't many bigger than this for the Clemson Tigers.

Playing most of the game without star wide receiver Sammy Watkins and starting tackle Giff Timothy, Clemson rolled up 445 yards of total offense and 25 points against one of the top defenses in the nation. Nuk Hopkins played one of the most spectacular games of his Clemson career, recording 13 catches for 193 yards an two touchdowns. And what about Tajh Boyd? He threw for nearly 350 yards and came through on the ground time and time again when his number was called. It was a gutsy performance that answered a lot of questions about how this unit can hold up against a physical team like LSU. The final two drives were spectacular, including a 4th-and-16 conversion with the game on the line and several brillant passes by Boyd to Brandon Ford and, of course, to Hopkins. In all, Clemson pounded out 32 first downs in 100 plays, and did whatever it wanted to in outscoring the SEC Tigers 12-0 in the fourth quarter. Wow.

Where has this been all season? Clemson recorded six sacks, including three by Malliciah Goodman alone. The pass-rush thwarted numerous drives and kept Zach Mettenberger on edge the entire evening. The ACC Tigers also limited LSU to just 99 yards rushing- which would have been an unthinkable number before the game began. Credit Travis Blanks for forcing a key turnover near the end of the first half and Gerry Peters also had a big pass breakup in the endzone on third-and-goal as well. Let's not forget Brent Venables' game plan too- as the Tigers routinely stacked the box to defend LSU's power running game. It wasn't always pretty, but this unit showed considerable improvement over the course of the season, and it culiminated with a total team effort in the win over LSU. Clemson's defense played winning football Monday evening, and it was a thing of beauty against one of the nation's most physical teams.

Chandler Catanzaro capped a spectacular season by splitting the uprights for the game-winner. (Roy Philpott)
The biggest special teams play of the game, and obviously the season too, was Chandler Catanzaro's 37-yard game-winning field goal as time expired. Outside of that, this unitstruggled at times Monday night, giving up chunks of field position in the punting game and on kickoff returns. There was also a blocked extra point which loomed large until the game winning kick. Despite the overall struggles of the special teams, the winning field goal yields the "B" grade... and what a year for Catanzaro: 18-of-19 on field goals, including Monday night's game winner. He is, indeed, Mr. Automatic.

It was a strange game in the sense Clemson gave up a combined 14 points in the first minute of the game and the second half. Outside of that, the ACC Tigers played extremely well. Chad Morris remained patient with the running game and Brent Venables outschemed the LSU offense. This was the kind of win fans have been begging for and they finally got it. A ton of credit goes to the coaching staff for having this team play after a disappointing loss to South Carolina to end the regular season. Great scheme. Great execution. And most importantly, this team showed that it could handle adversity against one of the elite programs in the game and come away with a win. Bravo!

Simply put, this was a landmark win for Clemson. It was reminiscent of some of the postseason victories of the Danny Ford era as the Tigers stood toe-to-toe with one of the most physical programs in all of college football and came out on top. The win sets the stage for perhaps even greater things in 2013. Clemson returns just about every key contributer next season and has a favorable home schedule that features matchups Georgia and Florida State. And now with this new-found confidence after beating LSU, the sky is the limit. A win like this certainly helps recruiting and will likely push the team inside the top 10 of the final national polls. Enjoy this one Tiger fans... it's been a long time coming.

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