It wasn't, said Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, as if the Tigers suddenly flipped a switch.
They've been getting there for a while: learning to play with better technique and pad level, focusing, making better decisions, sustaining effort and intensity for longer periods of time.
For the Clemson defense, it all came together during four special quarters of the Chick-fil-A Bowl, as the Tigers imposed their will on a team that's made a living off imposing its will.
Eight times Clemson's defense slammed the door on LSU with three-and-out stops, including two in the fourth quarter - the Bayou Bengals' only two possessions of the fourth quarter, in face.
The Tigers gave up a pair of short-field scores after turnovers, as well as one long touchdown run. Other than that, LSU got next to nothing. Les Miles' team finished with 219 yards, just 48 snaps, and managed just nine first downs (compared to Clemson's 32).
The Tigers played like the bully on the block. They stacked the box, dared LSU to throw the football, and got away with it. They sacked quarterback Zach Mettenberger six times, including several occasions on plays that LSU kept everybody home and max-protected.
Malliciah Goodman finished off a sometimes-too-quiet career with a beast of a game.
"Our team imposed its will longer and found a way to win," said Venables afterwards. "The guys showed great focus and intensity throughout the game. We played with better technique, better pad level, and played harder and longer and tougher for four quarters."
The difference between Clemson's defensive performance between the LSU and South Carolina games?
Continued improvement and "three or four plays," said Venables.
"The motivation for us is playing the next game, playing to our ability and accepting the challenge of playing a great team and program like LSU," Venables said. "Every game, most of the time when you play good-on-good, there are a few plays that make the difference in the game.
"When you win like we did today, it's because of what our guys did in all three phases of the game, with everybody pulling their weight and overcoming the challenges that are inevitable in this type of game...
"The team that we beat tonight is a model of toughness, consistency and physicality. That's what you strive to be. That's a team that played for the national championship less than 12 months ago and was just a few plays away from playing for it this year.
"To beat them in the fashion that we did, to fight through adversity in all three phases of the game was a team effort. It was a great team win.”