BOZICH | Clemson widens its gap over Louisville with 47-21 win
Clemson had too many weapons on offense and defense and defeated Louisville, 47-21, Saturday night.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – This time even Lamar Jackson couldn’t fix things for the University of Louisville football team.
Couldn’t overcome the Cards’ absence of a dependable running game. Couldn’t dance away from a stream of harsh Clemson tacklers.
Couldn’t pass the football as accurately and productively as Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant.
Couldn’t prop up a Louisville defense, which has started the season by allowing at least four touchdowns in every game.
Couldn’t stop ESPN, which brought its College GameDay crew to town, from flashing Clemson’s upcoming schedule on its national telecast with more than 10 minutes to play. Consider that the surest sign this game was as one-sided as an argument with the IRS.
The gap between the Tigers and Cardinals was only a combined 15 points during the first three meetings between the teams. It was only supposed to be 3 points this year, according to the wise guys in Las Vegas.
By game’s end, the gap stretched to 26 points Saturday night in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
Clemson made certain of that, running over, around and through the Cardinals for a 47-21 victory.
"You have to give them credit because they're a good football team but I'm really disappointed in the way we played," U of L coach Bobby Petrino said. "It's disappointing to me because I really thought we would be in the game and compete."
The Tigers’ powerful defense was as unrelenting as advertised. Lamar Jackson shook the defending national champions with 11-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter. It pushed the Cards into a 7-7 tie and was noted as the first touchdown scored against Clemson in more than 130 minutes of football this season.
Clemson scored the next 26 points. Fans started exiting with less than three minutes to play in the third quarter after Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant danced into the end zone untouched to push the Tigers ahead, 33-7.
"In the second half they just beat us up," Petrino said. "They ran the ball at us."
That Clemson won cannot be considered shocking. Mark it down as the eighth consecutive victory for coach Dabo Swinney’s team, which beat Ohio State and Alabama on its path to the national championship last season. Clemson intends to make the national playoff for the third straight season, and I have no intention of arguing against the Tigers.
What was jarring was this: Bryant outplayed Jackson.
Bryant had some moments in Clemson’s first opening victories against Kent State and Auburn, but had thrown only one touchdown pass and averaged 208.5 yards passing. Good.
But nobody was comparing him to DeShaun Watson, the guy he replaced, or Lamar Jackson. Bryant looked ready for prime time against Louisville.
Bryant punished assistant coach Peter Sirmon’s defense by passing for 316 yards while completing 22 of 32 throws and running for another 26 yards. He passed for one touchdown and ran for two.
"We didn't put pressure on the quarterback to have to throw the ball at all," Petrino said.
Jackson did not have the kind of game he had last year against Florida State when College GameDay visited. He misfired on his first four passes.
"I think I was too excited," Jackson said.
Bobby Petrino kept Jackson in the game on Louisville’s final offensive series with the Cards down by four touchdowns in the final 80 seconds. It didn’t change the outcome, but it did help Jackson improve his stats to 317 yards. He completed only half of his 42 attempts, sailing a pass away from an open receiver in the end zone on the Cards' final snap.
He threw scoring passes to Charles Standberry, Jaylen Smith and Dez Fitzpatrick, but also had one returned for a 44-yard Clemson touchdown. Jackson also ran 17 times for 64 yards.
"We didn't do the things we've been able to do offensively," Petrino said.
"I don't know (what went wrong)," Jackson said. "I really don't. We just weren't doing the right things, I guess. I don't like putting our defense in those situations. We're supposed to score points."
The Tigers hung two touchdowns and two field goals on Louisville in the first half, surging to 19-7 halftime lead.
Clemson outgained Louisville, 334-to-154. With a persistent pass rush and solid coverage, Clemson made passing the football a challenge for Jackson. He missed misfired on 12 of his first 20 throws.
Bryant finished the half 17 of 27 for 238 yards while Jackson eight completions only generated 83 yards. Jackson led Louisville’s rushing attack with 47 yards on seven carries.
Clemson (2-0) started like a team determined to flash its national championship contenders. The Tigers won the toss, deferred, kicked off, stopped Louisville without a first down and marched 79 yards in 10 plays to jump ahead of the Cardinals, 7-0.
Louisville did not have an answer – not until the Cards’ third series.
Bobby Petrino changed the vibe of his play calling, encouraging Lamar Jackson to run. When Lamar Jackson runs, good things have been known to happen – as they did on the Cards’ third drive.
Watch Jackson dance 15 yards to the left. Watch him crackle 30 yards down the right sideline. Just when Clemson had to be thinking Jackson was going to run on every snap, he worked with Malik Williams on a swing pass that Williams turned into a 19-yard gain.
The Louisville sidelined on the next snap. Jackson sprinted right for 10 yards. He was surrounded by three Clemson defenders. The final hit Jackson took was to the head – and it resulted in the ejection of Clemson safety Tanner Muse for a targeting penalty.
The Tigers paid on the next play. Jackson scrambled right and found Charles Standberry for an 11-yard scoring pass. It was the first touchdown allowed by Clemson this season, and the defender Standberry beat was Muse’s replacement, Isaiah Simmons.
Those would be the final points Louisville scored in the first half. The Cards were fortunate to trail by nine points at halftime. Clemson had a field goal wiped off the board when Louisville was ruled offsides – and the Tigers’ Greg Huegel missed the shorter 43-yard kick.
Huegel rallied to make a 31-yard field goal in the third quarter before Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant floated a 79-yard strike to Ray-Ray McCloud, who ran past and then away from U of L cornerback Cornelius Sturghill. Touchdown.
Tack on three more points on a 49-yard field goal by Huegel in the final 28 seconds of the half, and Louisville had considerable work to do in the second half.
Too much work. The Cards have back-to-back home games against the two most user-friendly spots on their schedule – Kent State next Saturday and Murray State Sept. 30 – before they play at North Carolina State Oct. 5.
"Monday night we'll go through the video, which will be a little tough on everybody," Petrino said.
"The season's far from over," Jackson said.
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