Reviewing our keys to the game, Clemson-LSU had some surprises in store...
1) Sammy Watkins' impact in crucial yards per pass area - Chad Morris said the Chick-fil-A Bowl gameplan was built around getting the ball to Sammy Watkins, by the second offensive play of the game, that plan wasn't happening. Watkins suffered an awkward hit by LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo, on an inside-run out of the Pistol formation, turning his right ankle. But Clemson still topped LSU in the all-important yards per pass stat (over a 76 percent winning percentage with the advantage this season), thanks to one DeAndre Hopkins. The victorious Tigers held a 6.9 to 5.2 yards per pass average Monday night, with Hopkins matching his season high of 13 catches. Tajh Boyd targeted Hopkins all game - hitting 14.7 yards per connection for 191 yards and two touchdowns total. In Watkins' spot, Adam Humphries had a season-high eight catches for 27 yards, while tight end Brandon Ford was another trusty target for his season-high nine receptions for 69 yards. Going in, LSU surrendered 5.7 yards per pass, while throwing for 7.5 themselves.
2) Clemson's ability to slow the LSU run - With 2:43 left and a 24-22 lead, LSU didn't think they could run to drain the clock and finish out the win. "We were not running the football," LSU head coach Les Miles said of his thought process on their final drive. "They were in a position where they out-numbered us in the run." LSU called three-straight passes, starting at their 39 yard-line and Clemson still with three timeouts in the holster, and subsequently went three-and-out after Malliciah Goodman added a pass breakup on third down to his three sacks on the game. Was Miles right? Yes and no. Overall, the SEC Tigers averaged 4.4 yards per carry (YPC), but that's with 41 lost yards in sacks factored in. Taking out sacks, LSU averaged 7.4 YPC and true frosh running back Jeremy Hill 10.3 YPC alone. Hill rushed for explosive-play scores of 17 and 57 yards, which bumps the numbers up - without those two carries, Clemson held LSU below its season average at 3.9 YPC (4.3 coming in). The ACC Tigers controlled the clock (36:21-23:39) and plays (100-48), keeping LSU to 17 carries below their season average (25 to 42).
3) Andre Ellington getting carries and getting loose - Boyd – not Andre Ellington – getting loose was the key Monday night in the Georgia Dome. Taking hit after hit after hit again, Boyd scrambled 21 times for 63 yards and a score, taking out LSU's five sacks. While the Tigers hit bigger plays in the passing game, they didn't abandon the run against the Bayou Bengals' ninth-ranked rush defense, with a 50-50 pass-run split (literally). Ellington had the team-high in yards per carry (4.5), with 11 rushes for 50 yards, and Rod McDowell carried it seven times for 26 yards. With the sacks factored in, Clemson failed to reach triple digits in rushing yards for first time this season (99), making it the seventh time LSU held an opponent to less than 100 yards this season.