CLEMSON, S.C. — Dabo Swinney’s message to his Clemson team following last week’s loss at Notre Dame was simple. How will you respond?
The 10th-ranked Tigers responded by beating up on Louisville at Memorial Stadium. Behind a balance offensive attack and a defense that pressured the Cardinals’ quarterbacks all afternoon, Clemson earned a 31-16 victory to extend their nation long home-win streak to 39 games.
With the win, Clemson won its 10th straight ACC game and clinched the ACC Atlantic Division Championship outright.
“I love how they responded. They responded like champions,” Swinney said. “You go back to work. You let everyone else pout, cry, moan and groan and you get yourself up and go back to work. And that is what they did. I am just proud of the team.”
The Tigers (9-1, 7-0 ACC) went back to work by leaning on their running game. They ran for 248 yards, as Phil Mafah ran for a career best 106 yards and a touchdown, while Will Shipley added 97 yards and a score.
Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei also added a rushing touchdown, while netting 32 yards on the ground. The junior also threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Williams, while throwing for 185 yards on 19-of-27 passing.
Williams finished the game with a career-high 10 catches for 83 yards.
But it was not a perfect performance by the offense. Despite gaining 439 yards, Clemson put the ball on ground four times and lost three of them.
The good news was the defense did not allow Louisville (6-4, 3-4 ACC) to score a single point on any of the turnovers. In fact, the Cardinals got just one first down with their three extra possessions, with one three-and-out and one four-and-out.
The Tigers also got four sacks, seven quarterback pressures, forced two turnovers, and had nine tackles for loss. Louisville was just 3-of-14 on third down.
“The word was just respond the whole week. Just respond,” linebacker Barrett Carter said. “Whatever that looked like. Respond and be more physical. I think we did that tonight. They challenged us to respond after the loss and we did that tonight.”
The defense was led by Carter, who recorded the best defensive game by any player in college football the last 11 years. Carter became the first player to record 3.5 or more tackles for loss, two or more sacks and an interception in a game between two Power Five teams since South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram did it against Auburn in 2011.
“As I have told you guys many times, he is one of the best football players I have seen in my twenty years at Clemson,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “Pure football player. The guy can play anything. He can play tailback. He can play corner. He can play nickel. He can play MIKE. He can play SAM. He can play safety. He is special.
“In high school, they played him everywhere. He is so smart and has unbelievable instincts.”
But it was not a perfect might for the Clemson defense, either. They allowed 400 yards. Louisville ran for 150 yards and averaged 5.0 yards per carry.
Quarterbacks Malik Cunningham and Brock Domann combined to throw for 250 yards on 23-of-36 passing. Cunningham was knocked out of the game on the last play of the first half after re-injuring his left hand, the same hand he was protecting with a protective glove.
The Tigers gave up a 31-yard touchdown pass on the last play of the game.
“We weren’t perfect, but you got some glimpses of what we can do when we do put it together,” Swinney said. “It is just a great win, and I am proud of how they responded.”
Clemson will host Miami next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN.