The 55,588 fans in second largest crowd in Papa John’s Stadium history were treated to a great quarterback performance – but by Kelly Bryant and the Tigers, not the reigning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson and his Cardinals.
While Lamar Jackson is still an incredible quarterback who has a bright NFL future, he was not superhuman and the rest of the Cardinals struggled against superior talent.
Louisville signed seven four stars over the past four years, while Clemson signed 38 four stars and six five stars over the four years. Clemson has a national championship qualifying rate of blue chip recruits (56% according to SB Nation), while Louisville is nowhere near the 50 percent threshold.
The difference in talent was evident from the first half and the talent gap widened in the second half.
After Louisville went three and out, a Kelly Bryant 40 yard throw to Hunter Renfrow lead to a daring 4th and one conversion by Clemson that set the tone for the whole game. Kelly Bryant then ran for an eight-yard score.
Lamar Jackson crafted an impressive 95-yard drive in two minutes where he accounted for all of the yards either passing (45) or running (55).
On the drive Clemson lost safety Tanner Muse due to a targeting call and ejection, then Jackson rolled out and threw an eleven-yard score to Standberry while Clemson had twelve men on the field.
Louisville failed to capitalize on the momentum from that drive, nor the momentum that resulted from Huegel’s missed 42-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
Clemson then scored on the last three drives of the first half and never looked back. The two field goals (49 and 31 yards) were sandwiched by a 79-yard throw to a wide open Ray Ray McCloud.
The dam broke loose when hybrid cover-backer Dorian O’Daniel intercepted a Jackson pass for his first career touchdown (and Clemson’s first turnover of the year) to make the score 26-7. Renfrow praises O’Daniel as the only player that can cover him, and Coach Swinney described him as one of the best players to come through the program.
After another Louisville punt, the teams exchanged five consecutive touchdowns (three Clemson, two Louisville) to make the score 47-21 with six minutes left in the game.
Travis Etienne showed his youth by muffing two kick returns (both recovered), but showed his brilliance by running for a 81-yard score along the edge of the sideline.
The statistics don’t show how dominant Clemson was, especially on defense. Clemson’s backups were in the fourth quarter of the game and the game was decided by the time the Cardinals racked up their bulk stats.
Louisville was 5-16 on third down but 0-6 in the first half, while Clemson was 9-17 for the whole game on third downs.
Clemson doubled Louisville’s time of possession in the first half, but only eked out 35 minutes total due to fast scores.
Clemson ran for 297 and passed for 316, while Louisville passed for 317 and rushed for an anemic 116 yards.
Tavien Feaster ran ten times for 92 yards and bore most of the load as the game wore on, it will be interesting to see if he emerges as the lead back.
Between his improved punt return skills (including on the run) and his playmaking, Ray Ray McCloud has matured and has taken the next step to become a star player.
The 79-yard score doesn’t happen without his double move on the corner, and the mark of a mature player is when he uses technique to win.
Questions about Kelly Bryant are answered, and he is the quarterback to lead Clemson throughout 2017.
He can run like a running back, but is a quarterback at heart who can make all of the throws. He made few obvious mistakes and stepped up to the challenge of out-dueling the reigning Heisman winner.
Clemson’s defense could be better than the 2014 edition and could become the best defense in school history if they keep up the pace. This is an athletic, fundamentally sound, hungry defense lead by the genius coordinator Venables.
The offensive line struggles of Clemson’s yore are gone, as 2017 carries the mantle of the successful lines of the past couple of years. They dominated the line of scrimmage, gave time for Bryant to throw, and pushed Louisville’s line off the ball.
The season is young and the Tigers will need to keep their focus, but Clemson going all the way is not out of the question. The questions from fall camp have been answered in a positive way, and leaders are stepping up.
Enjoy the defense and the ride, Tiger fans.