ATLANTA – I’m usually not a believer in the idea that bowl games impact the following season. But I think Monday’s Chick-fil-A Bowl might be an exception.
I think the last day of 2012 could have significant meaning for Clemson in 2013.
For starters, Clemson changed its perception with the 25-24 last-second victory against LSU. It changed the conversation that will surround the program over the next eight months. That means something.
Clemson no longer wears the Scarlet O. The team with the funky offense that can’t compete with big, bad SEC defenses. Clemson proved it can.
This perception change matters. Perception bends reality. Voters who make out preseason polls will believe more in Clemson. Nine of the last 11 national champs were preseason top 10 teams. This matters. The win matters for the confidence and expectation level of the 63 freshmen and sophomores. And this good feeling, a game that ended with the team swarming Chandler Catanzaro on the Georgia Dome playing surface, might even compel a player like DeAndre Hopkins to return for a senior season. (OK, that might be wishful thinking for Clemson partisans.)
I think LSU was something like 36-1 in its last 37 games against non-SEC foes. This was a national-championship program. This is the kind of win people will take notice of and remember. The Orange Bowl is now a distant memory.
Clemson answered many critics in 2012.
The Tiger proved they can play consistently to a standard – there were no let-down losses in 2012. Clemson proved it could build off of 2012’s offense. It proved it could beat a top 10 team. It gave reason to believe 2013 could be a special season.
“We are at the doorstep of greatness,” Swinney said.
Perhaps Swinney is not speaking in hyperbole. Perhaps he is onto something.
10. What a courageous performance form Tajh Boyd.
He ran the ball 29 times into the teeth of a SEC defense. He engineered two fourth-quarter scoring drives, including the game-winning drive. He threw the ball 50 times, a career high. He touched the ball 79 times and did not commit a turnover.
I think it was the best performance of his career.
Said Les Miles: “Tajh Boyd took a number of shots. It’s amazing he continued to play as well as he did…. He was phenomenal. I did not expect his heroic efforts.”
Boyd looks like a guy who will be invited to New York next December.
10a. Even more impressive is that Clemson did all this while creating a game plan on the fly. Sammy Watkins was a big part of the game plan but he was hurt on the second play from scrimmage. (And, no, I don’t fault Chad Morris’ play call for the injury. Watkins should be used all over the field in a number of different roles)
Body said Watkins figured in the gameplan “pretty adequately.”
Swinney said Watkins should be OK. No fracture to his ankle.
9. What a performance by the Clemson defense. Where did that come from?
LSU was held to 219 yards. LSU was 3 of 13 on third downs. LSU was held to 99 yard rushing. LSU had only 1 yard in the fourth quarter. It was the Clemson defense producing three-and-outs in the third and fourth quarters to bail out a stalled out offense. What a role reversal.
I thought Clemson’s offense would make some plays, I thought the physicality issue was more on the defense. Serve me up a heaping pile of crow.
8. I asked Brent Venables what he did over 15 bowl practices. He said there was a focus on basic technique. He said players trusted each other more, trusted themselves more, and the extra physical practices didn’t hurt. I don’t expect Clemson’s defense to play this level in every game in 2013, but I think what Venables showed is that with time – 15 bowl practices and now with an offseason– he can improve this group.
8a. Young players like Vic Beasley, Travis Blanks, Carlos Watkins, D.J. Reader and Stephone Anthony will also improve next year. Just think what this Clemson team can be with an improved defense? A national title contender, perhaps?
7. Malliciah Goodman made some money tonight. He was explosive and played with a great motor. He helped cover up for a depleted secondary. Where was that his entire career? Consider Goodman had 5 sacks in the first three-and-a-half years of his career. He had three tonight.
6. Clemson got back to offensive balance against LSU, which was huge. Clemson ran the ball 50 times and threw the ball 50 times.
5. I suspect that was Hopkins’ last game as a Tigers. And what a game. 13 catches, 189 yards, 2 TDs. He had 26 catches in the Georgia Dome this year. We can talk about his hands, his body control, his improved footwork. But the thing I really love about Hopkins is his competitiveness.
4. The pass protection was shaky at times. Clemson allowed five sacks. But Isaiah Battle held up OK at left tackle, following Gifford’s injury. Battle is what NFL left tackles look like and he could become a hugely valuable asset.
3. Without Watkins and the suspended Martavis Bryant Clemson was without its two top vertical threats, it makes Boyd’s performance even that much more impressive. It was a dink-and-dunk, Tom Brady like passing effort tonight.
2. Chandler Catanzaro, you are clutch.
1. Clemson’s front four has promise and it really grew up tonight. You have to have a dynamic front four to win a national title and this unit has upside and could be really good if can land some more help in the 2013 recruiting class. Watch this group this spring and summer I expect major growth.
Happy New Year, Clemson Nation. 2013 could be a special year.
STATS OF THE WEEK
2 – Snaps by Sammy Watkins in the Georgia Dome this year. Tough, tough season for the sophomore
3- Consecutive three-and-outs produced by the Clemson defense to close the game.
23 – LSU’s third down conversion rate
79 – Runs and passes combined by Tajh Boyd without a turnover
100 – Plays for Clemson
THEY SAID IT
Dabo Swinney: “They fought every fricking play, they played with a lot of love and toughness they played with a desire to win. This is a national championship team. We grew up tonight.”
Brandon Ford – “We tempo’d them. After watching them, we knew they didn’t like tempo. We knew they liked to keep it at 60 plays or less.”
Les Miles: “I thought the difference in the game was their pass rush”
MODEST PROPOSAL OF THE WEEK
The Clemson play-action game needs work, the packaged plays seem to be a lesser part of the offense as the season went along, I want to see more of both in 2013. What’s scary is there is still room for this Clemson offense to grow. I expect to see it reach another level in year 3 of Chad Morris.
I’m going to see Lincoln again. So should you.