Tajh Boyd and DeAndre Hopkins exorcised a few demons on New Year’s Eve. High profile games and bowl games were both albatrosses for this Clemson program. With a match-up against 2011 SEC champion LSU, a team that came one drive shy of playing in the conference title game this season, Clemson’s woes were expected to continue.
That bellwether indicator out of Las Vegas saw LSU jump from a three to five-point favorite. Frankly, it’s somewhat surprising the disparity wasn’t greater given Clemson’s 70-33 loss in the 2012 Orange Bowl. The beat-down CU suffered against West Virginia loomed large over everything the Tigers did in 2012. Boyd put up All-America worthy numbers, with Hopkins primarily on the receiving end.
Yet, other tandems commanded more attention. CU was easily dismissed as incapable of winning The Big One. The term Clemsoning is widely understood in the college football lexicon as finding ways to lose the most meaningful games — the Orange Bowl rout and surrendered leads vs. Florida State and South Carolina are examples. The Chick-Fil-A Bowl was both catharsis, and a declaration from Boyd and Hopkins that their performances could not be downplayed.
Beating LSU is a significant milestone for Dabo Swinney and Clemson — “landmark,” Swinney called it. The Tigers proved they could hang with an elite SEC program, playing its style. Clemson’s defense rose up to put quarterback Boyd and receiver Hopkins in the positions they occupied in the fourth quarter.
The outstanding effort from the CU defense, with Malliciah Goodman as its anchor, set the stage for a fitting conclusion. Maybe the final two scoring drives were the conclusions of Hopkins’ and Boyd’s collegiate careers. Both proved their value against NFL-caliber defensive talent: Hopkins with 13 receptions for 191 yards and two touchdowns, and Boyd with 346 yards in the air, two touchdowns, and a fearlessly earned 22 rushing yards with another score.
LSU’s defensive 11 is comprised of pro prospect after pro prospect. The Tigers held opponents to 194 yards passing through the 2012 season — Hopkins alone nearly matched that. Nothing John Chavis schemed for his unit could contain Hopkins in the final stretch, and none was more critical than his sliding grab of a 26-yarder on fourth down-and-16.
Such a perfectly fluid connection between quarterback and receiver was a thing of beauty to observe, but hardly an aberration. Hopkins had five 100-plus-yard receiving games, three games with multiple receiving scores and at least one touchdown 11 times coming into Monday’s bowl. Boyd was good for over 3500 yards and 34 touchdowns. Should they leave for the NFL, they put fitting punctuation marks on their Clemson chapters. But should the duo return, Clemson can be considered a very legitimate 2013 national title contender. Clemson is Clemsoning no longer.