By Jeff Milby–
Touted by pundits and fans alike as the biggest home game in program history, fourteenth-ranked football team was outclassed and outplayed by the defending national champion and third-ranked Clemson Tigers, falling at home 47-21.
“We got beat in all phases,” coach Bobby Petrino said, after the loss. “(It’s) disappointing to me, because I really felt like we would be in the game and compete.”
A rematch of a classic 2016 game, and with ESPN’s College GameDay in town, this did not live up to its billing. Clemson controlled the game most of the way, dominating at the line of scrimmage. The Tigers gained 613 yards of total offense, including 297 yards on the ground. Louisville was often gutted with simple runs up the middle.
“For a while there we were moving our front, and we did some good things,” Petrino said of his run defense, which allowed four rushing touchdowns. “Then we just wore out.”
Clemson marched down the field behind on its opening drive, scoring on an 8-yard designed run for quarterback Kelly Bryant to cap off a 10-play, 79-yard drive to give the visitors the early lead.
Louisville’s lone touchdown in the first half came on a short, explosive drive. Jackson was able to find space, getting outside for runs of 15 and 30 yards, and Louisville was aided by a ten-yard targeting penalty assessed to Clemson’s Tanner Muse. Charles Standberry caught an 11-yard touchdown to complete the 95-yard drive which took just 1:58. Louisville tied the game at 7 with 4:22 remaining in the first.
With junior quarterback Kelly Bryant making his first ACC road start, Clemson’s offensive game plan was conservative to start the game. Easy roll-out throws and runs up the middle marked the Tigers’ offensive play-calling, which found success.
A Greg Huegel field-goal gave Clemson a 10-7 lead with 6:57 on the clock in the second. On the Tigers’ next drive, junior wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud beat Louisville’s Cornelius Sturghill with a double-move, and the junior found himself wide open to catch a 79-yard touchdown. It was the longest scoring play for the Tigers since November of 2013. The extra-point was blocked, giving Clemson a 16-7 advantage.
Louisville was forced to punt after a four-play drive, and Clemson took advantage to extend the lead before the halftime break. Starting on their own 20, the Tigers took it 49 yards on 11 plays, leading to a career-high 49-yard field goal by Huegel.
Clemson lead 19-7 at the intermission.
The third quarter was all Clemson. Linebacker Dorian O’Daniel returned an interception 44 yards for his first career touchdown, and Clemson later completed an 11-play, 66-yard drive with Bryant scoring on a one-yard run to take a 33-7 lead.
To start the fourth quarter, Jaylen Smith scored on a 36-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 19 following the extra point, with 13:45 to go in the game.
Dez Fitzpatrick scored a touchdown to close the gap to 19 at 40-21 with 7:37 to play, but that was as the best comeback the Cardinals could muster.
An 81-yard touchdown from fourth-string running back Travis Etienne put Clemson on top 47-21, and a Louisville turnover on downs at the Clemson five-yard line was the final touch to a resounding Tiger victory.
What can Louisville do after such a deflating loss on the national stage? Petrino says the solution is simple.
“What we need to do is come back next week and practice – get better in practice.”
- With a 30-yard scamper in the first quarter, Lamar Jackson became the ACC’s all-time leading rusher from the quarterback position, surpassing Georgia Tech’s Joshua Nesbitt. Jackson finished the game with 64 yards on 17 carries, giving him 2,834 rushing yards for his career.
- Jackson’s fourth-quarter touchdown throw to Jaylen Smith was the 84th of his career, which passed Dave Ragone for second all-time among Cardinal quarterbacks.
Photos by Nancy Hanner / The Louisville Cardinal
Photos by Laurel Slaughter / The Louisville Cardinal
You can follow Jeff Milby on Twitter @j_milbz.