LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The scoreboard on Clemson’s 45-10 victory over Louisville on Saturday tilted long before a string of dropped balls, overthrown passes and missed tackles washed away any opportunity the Cardinals had to topple the No. 3 team in America at Cardinal Stadium.
A Louisville team with Lamar Jackson, Jaire Alexander, Josh Harvey-Clemons and a few other studs from recent seasons might have won a game that Clemson seemed primed to give away in the first half.
As loudly as Clemson coach Dabo Swinney preached all week that coaching matters, I’ll preach this two-word reminder even louder:
Clemson had more. Considerably more. At nearly every position.
"They're more talented than us," U of L coach Scott Satterfield said. "Their talent took over the game."
This game was decided in 2016, 2017, 2018 and the last recruiting season when Swinney stacked the skilled performers that led Clemson to the 2018 college football national championship — and likely will lead the Tigers back to the national playoffs again.
In the end, no matter how creatively Satterfield and his staff schemed or how relentlessly his players competed, Clemson was too big, too quick, too long, too strong, too athletic, too deep, too experienced and too talented for the Cardinals.
The Cardinals were there for a quarter, intercepting two Trevor Lawrence passes in the end zone. They were competitive for a half, trailing 17-3. They were overwhelmed in the third quarter.
They were outclassed over the final 15 minutes. Clemson more than doubled Louisville's yardage total for the game, outscoring the Cards 28-7 in the second half. The Cards completed only eight of 22 passes for 107 yards. Clemson averaged 7.9 yards per offensive snap, almost double Louisville's 4.0
"In the first half, we had opportunities," Satterfield said. "We just didn't capitalize ... we just didn't do anything in the passing game."
"You can't miss when you have opportunities like that," said U of L quarterback Evan Conley. "We learned we have a long way to go."
Trying to make the Clemson victory anything more than that is overthinking it.
There are likely 30 guys on Swinney’s roster likely to play in the National Football League one day, while the NFL isn’t likely to be in the future for even 10 of Satterfield’s guys.
The recruiting rankings tell the story — and you know how little I love the recruiting rankings.
Over the last four seasons, Clemson’s recruiting classes have ranked first, first, third and first in the Atlantic Coast Conference, according to 247Sports. They’ve also ranked 10th, 7th, 16th and 11th in America.
The Tigers are supposed to beat up on the rest of the ACC. We’ll see how they perform against Alabama, Ohio State or Louisiana State.
The Cardinals are competing with classes that ranked 14th, seventh, sixth and seventh in the ACC — and 69th, 30th, 34th and 38th in America.
"Over a period of time we'll be able to put a product on the field that compares to Clemson," Satterfield said. "They are the standard (in the ACC) right now."
You saw the difference while watching Clemson stuff the Louisville running game.
You saw it while watching Clemson receiver Justyn Ross soar over the Louisville secondary for a ridiculously acrobatic touchdown catch in a crowd in the back of the end zone in the final five seconds of the first half.
"That's good recruiting, that's what that is," Satterfield said.
You saw it in the challenge Louisville had controlling Clemson halfback Travis Etienne, who rolled to 192 yards and a touchdown. "Once he gets out there, he's gone," Satterfield said.
You saw it in the struggle the Louisville offensive line had in keeping the powerful Clemson defensive front off Micale Cunningham and Evan Conley, Louisville’s harried quarterbacks.
You saw it on numerous other plays.
But understand these two things:
One, eventually Satterfield figures to substantially close the talent gap between his team and Clemson, the gold standard program in the conference.
And, two, there is not another team on the Cardinals’ 2019 schedule that will come close to out-talenting Louisville the way Clemson did Saturday. In fact, there is not another game on the Louisville schedule that the Cardinals cannot win.
I’m not predicting that a team that finished last season 2-10 will finish this one 9-3. I am predicting this team (now 4-3) will win at least six games — and seven would not shock me.
At minimum, U of L figures to pick up the two victories the Cardinals need to earn a bowl trip that seemed like an outrageous prediction prior to the season.
Virginia at home next weekend? The Cavaliers had been wobbling until they thumped Duke, 48-14, Saturday.
Miami on the road? The Hurricanes lost to lowly Georgia Tech, 28-21 in overtime, Saturday in Coral Gables, Florida.
North Carolina State in Raleigh? The Wolfpack lost to an ordinary Boston College team by 21 points Saturday.
Syracuse in Louisville’s final home game? Western Michigan is the best team the Orange have beaten while ringing up a 3-4 overall record and losing three conference games. Ranked in the AP Top 25 before the season, the Orange have been a colossal bust.
Kentucky? You’ve seen the scores as well as the injury reports from Lexington this season.
Louisville lost a game the Cardinals were supposed to lose Saturday. Now, Scott Satterfield’s team will play five consecutive games they have a reasonable shot to win. How the Cardinals perform over this finishing stretch will determine the final report card for this season.
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