by: Alex Welch
ATLANTA -- The LSU Tigers did not trail for a single second of the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl, yet at the end of the night as the new year rolled around, they found themselves on the losing side of a 25-24 battle.
Head coach Les Miles looked like he was surely on the way to his sixth bowl victory while coaching down in the bayou. LSU led 24-13 heading into the fourth quarter. All it needed to do was control the ball, run the clock and walk away from the Georgia Dome with a win. That plan didn't materialize, though, as quarterback Tajh Boyd and the Clemson offense mounted one of the most exciting comebacks we witnessed in all of 2012.
At the end of the day, neither side of the ball stepped up for LSU. Its offense gained a miserable 208 total yards, while the defense, supposedly the backbone of this team, yielded 437 yards and 32 first downs.
Despite the offensive woes, running back Jeremy Hill found plenty of success on the ground. He finished the night with 124 yards and an average of 10.3 yards per touch. The problem? He only carried the ball 12 times. Twelve carries for a running back averaging double-digit yards each time he took a handoff doesn't quite create a winning strategy, it would appear.
Hill, clearly dejected after the finale of his freshman season, was disappointed overall with the effort on offense afterward.
"We have to take the blame as the offense," said Hill. "We just put the defense in a bad position all night long until the end of the game. Way too many three-and-outs, we have to convert on third down, and just as an offense we have to get better. That's just unacceptable."
LSU was successful in converting just three of 13 third-down attempts. Not exactly the kind of execution that wins bowl games.
Late in the fourth quarter you might have expected Miles to turn to his running back who shredded the Clemson defense throughout the night. But it never happened.
With 2:43 left to play, quarterback Zach Mettengberger threw three straight passes, missing an open receiver on second down and launching another pass into a defender's outstretched hand on third-and-short. Surely Hill could have managed a measly two yards.
"Three-and-out after three-and-out. We had a couple third-and-shorts that I definitely should have gotten myself," Hill said. "The O-line did a great job of blocking, I just gotta find a way to get those third-and-shorts and keep the drives going."
Hill failed to cross the sticks on two third-and-short situations prior to the fourth quarter, which apparently sent him to short-yardage purgatory late in the game.
Was Hill upset about his workload, though? Not at all. He stayed humble through his discussion with the media, never voicing any regret in his lack of touches.
"I just do what the coaches ask me to do," said Hill. "I really don't want to point any fingers. As far as play-calling, I think the coaches did a great job of calling plays. We had a great game plan, just gotta execute on the field."
Clemson knew LSU wanted to run the ball. It's no secret this facet of their offense paved the way to 10 wins in 2012.
"They made it tough for us by stacking eight or nine guys in the box," said Hill. "When you see that lineup you know it will be tough to get yards. But we left some plays out there also. We didn't convert on third downs and put our defense on the spot. Late in the game we had good position but just didn't execute."
"We had to throw the football," Miles said in his postgame press conference. "Well, we were not running the football. They were in a position where they outnumbered us in the run."
Regardless of Clemson stacking the box, though, Hill seemed to find yards on just about every run.
Maybe it was due to the fact that he's a true freshman. Maybe Miles really believed in Mettenberger's ability to throw the ball. Whatever the case, running the ball, and the clock, with Hill late in the game should have been a bigger priority.
The Tigers will certainly be able to ponder what went wrong as they head into a long offseason.
by: Alex Welch