For two straight years the 3rd ranked Louisville Cardinals have fought the fifth ranked Clemson Tigers to the end only to be on the losing side each time. Year one in the ACC it was James Quick getting caught from behind and then losing the ball on downs in the red zone. Last year it was a 20 – 17 Clemson win in Louisville that broke the hearts of Cardinals’ fans.
Billed as the game of the year so far, this top five matchup lived up to its billing. The No. 5 Tigers pulled out a tough 42- 36 win over the No. 3 Cardinals.
The game pitted two Heisman contenders in Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson. Both struggled at times, but they lived up to their Heisman potential with both putting up solid numbers. Jackson led the Cardinals with 162 yards rushing and two touchdowns. He was 27 – 44 for 295 yards and one interception. Watson through three interceptions, but did throw five touchdowns. He was 21 – 30 for 306 yards.
Touchdowns have come easy for U of L through the first four games of the year. The Cardinals had scored a touchdown in every quarter of the season. The first quarter against Clemson saw neither team score. Clemson’s pass rush and their extremely loud crowd confused and kept U of L off balance.
Louisville finally broke through and scored the game’s first points on a Jeremy Smith one yard touchdown run early in the second quarter.
Clemson roared back by scoring three touchdowns in the next four minutes to go ahead 21 – 7. Two Louisville fumbles led to 14 Clemson points. U of L’s Blanton Creque kicked a 26 yard field goal to cut the deficit to 21 – 10, but the Tigers drove down the field in only 32 seconds to take a 28 – 10 lead into the half.
Louisville has not faced any adversity this season in scoring 63.5 points and giving up only 22.5 points per game. The big question is how they would handle adversity especially in a place like Death Valley.
The question of adversity would be answered quickly in the third quarter. Chucky Williams’s interception in the beginning of the third quarter led to a Jackson touchdown pass to Quick. Creque missed the PAT and the lead stayed at 28 – 16. After a Clemson punt, Creque would redeem himself with a 21 yard field goal to bring the Cardinals closer at 28 – 19.
A Clemson fumble in the red zone led to the Cardinals’ next score. U of L used seven plays to drive 77 yards to cut the lead to 28 – 26 as Jackson scored from one yard out.
Another Clemson turnover gave the Cardinals the ball. U of L drove down inside the red zone, but as was the case throughout the game, they struggled to score a touchdown. However, they did take the lead on another Creque field goal.
Watson was then picked off by Jaire Alexander on the Tigers next possession. Alexander had two interceptions and one forced fumble. The turnover led to an 11 yard touchdown run by Jackson. Jackson highlighted the drive with a 37 yard run to get the Cardinals inside the 20.
Clemson’s Artavis Scott then returned the kickoff 77 yards to setup the next score. Watson needed only two plays to pull the Tigers to within two at 36 – 34.
Defense has been Clemson’s calling card this season and it showed in the end as they held Louisville and forced them to punt. Watson took them down they field 85 yards for the go-ahead score.
Louisville had one last chance and Jackson looked unflappable taking them down the field and putting them in a position to win the game. However, it was not meant to be as Quick was stopped a yard short on a fourth and twelve play inside U of L’s 15 yard line.
This game was a heartbreaking loss for the Cardinals who are trying to show they belong in the playoff hunt. Clemson is now in the driver’s seat in the ACC, but the Cardinals proved they belong in the discussion. Not many teams go into Death Valley and have Clemson on the ropes.
Now the Cardinals will be back home on October 14 to face the Duke Blue Devils to start a stretch of games in which they should be big favorites in on their path to the College Playoff.