ATLANTA — Aside from the “my Death Valley is more deadly than your Death Valley” thing being volleyed between Tiger nations of two different stripes, there isn’t exactly white-hot passion at play between LSU and Clemson.
The prevailing wind blowing through this chilly bowl town is one of mutual respect. Civil, dignified, but a little on the dull side.
Leave it to Sam Montgomery to light the fuse on the coming New Year’s Eve fireworks.
The only player on either team from the other school’s home state — Montgomery hails from Greenwood, a town roughly halfway between the campuses of Clemson and South Carolina — Montgomery holds his Palmetto State rivals in the utmost respect. He started wearing a No. 21 on his sleeve after South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore went down with a devastating and season-ending knee injury in October, something he plans to continue in Monday’s Chick-fil-A Bowl.
But Montgomery and LSU beat South Carolina in October. Beating Clemson is his single focus in this game. It borders on an obsession.
“It’s mutual respect, but I can’t let any South Carolina team win against me,” Montgomery said Wednesday. “It’s a personal thing. I don’t want to go around anywhere and have to hear, ‘Oh, you’re LSU, we whupped you.’
“It was the same thing South Carolina week. The same thing applies to Clemson.
“I want to play to win.”
The purpose-driven life played well for Montgomery against South Carolina. He had a pair of sacks against the Gamecocks, his only multisack game of the season (he has seven total).
He wants to do the same against Clemson. And more. Take the reactor up to 110 percent. Push the volume on the speakers that belt out the soundtrack from Sonic the Hedgehog (Sam’s favorite video game, its namesake character his adopted alter ego) in Montgomery’s mind to 11.
“I really just want to play Clemson and go all out, like South Carolina times two,” he said.
OK, we stand corrected. Crank the speakers up to 20, then.
“There’s something about being in this place that makes me want to go all out,” Montgomery said. “I love playing in this stadium. I love it.”
If Montgomery sounds a bit like a player who is throwing career caution to the wind, then perhaps it is with good reason.
He said he will decide after the bowl whether to return for his senior season, though being a fourth-year junior who is a virtual lock NFL first-rounder (ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. ranks him 13th in his latest mock draft) it appears likely his next game in the Georgia Dome will be in an NFL uniform.
All the more reason for his urgency. All the more reason, due respect to Clemson, for Montgomery to go all Super Sonic on them Monday night.
“Two-and-oh,” Montgomery said. “Need to beat all South Carolina teams.”
If it happens, call it the Sonic sweep.
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