No. 3 Clemson easily handles Jackson, No. 14 Louisville
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Clemson’s Kelly Bryant looked more like a Heisman Trophy candidate than Lamar Jackson Saturday night.
Bryant, a junior quarterback making the first road start of his career, passed for a career-high 316 yards and a touchdown and ran for two scores as No. 3 Clemson rolled past No. 14 Louisville 47-21 Saturday night at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
Bryant completed 22-of-32 passes and was 6-for-9 on third down.
“Kelly was awesome,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “He’s gifted with his legs and made some big scramble throws, too, but the big stat for him was he was 6-for-9 (passing) on third down.”
Clemson (3-0, 1-0 ACC) improved to 4-0 against Louisville (2-1, 0-1) since the Cardinals joined the ACC in 2014 and has won a school-record 11 consecutive road games dating back to the 2014 season.
The Tigers also have won a school-record six consecutive games against ranked opponents.
“We didn’t win the division or anything like that tonight, but it’s certainly good momentum,” Swinney said. “We had two goals tonight — one was to get the job done and the other was to leave no doubt.”
While Clemson’s offense had its way with Louisville, amassing 613 yards, it was the Tigers’ defense that set the tone. Clemson held Louisville to 433 total yards — 181 yards below its average — and kept reigning Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Lamar Jackson under wraps for the most part.
Jackson entered the game accounting for 505 yards per game; he was held to 381 yards by the Tigers, with 201 of those yards coming in the fourth quarter.
Louisville was unable to convert a third-down play until 10 minutes remained in the third quarter.
“I’m really disappointed in the way we played,” Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. “We knew they were good coming in, but their front was very, very good and their linebackers can run and tackle. But we didn’t do the things we needed to do.”
Clemson led 19-7 at half, but really appeared to take command when linebacker Dorian O’Daniel intercepted a Jackson pass and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown with 8:57 left in the third quarter, pushing the Tigers’ advantage to 26-7. Bryant added a 1-yard scoring run with 2:16 left in the quarter and Clemson began substituting liberally in the final quarter.
Clemson, the defending national champion, flashed its offensive muscle with 297 yards rushing. Junior running back Adam Choice had a 39-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter and sophomore Tavien Feaster had 92 yards on 10 carries.
But the biggest play of the night for Clemson came when freshman running back Travis Etienne, who had 98 yards on only six carries, broke down the left sideline for an 81-yard touchdown run that ranks as the longest since C.J. Spiller had an 83-yard run against Auburn in 2007.
“Defensively we battled in the first half, but in the second half they just beat us up,” Petrino said. “What hurt us was not getting people to the ball. We didn’t set edges and didn’t put pressure on their QB to have to throw the ball. He was comfortable.”
Jackson was not. He was sacked four times and was held to a 21-of-42 night passing by the nation’s top-rated pass defense. Jackson’s totals also got a boost from the fourth quarter when he tossed two touchdown passes — a 36-yard strike to Jaylen Smith and an 8-yarder to Dez Fitzpatrick.
Jackson rushed for 64 yards on 17 carries, an average of only 3.8 per attempt.
“Their defense beat us to the punch,” Jackson said. “They did a great job, I’m not going to lie.”
Clemson opened the game by driving 79 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown on its first possession of the game. Bryant completed three passes for 46 yards, including a 40-yarder to Hunter Renfrow, before capping the drive with an 8-yard scoring burst up the middle.
It marked the 12th time in 34 games under co-offensive coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott that Clemson has scored a touchdown on its first possession of the game.
Louisville responded on its ensuing possession, marching 95 yards in six plays to score a tying touchdown — the first allowed by the Clemson defense this season. Jackson had 55 yards rushing on the drive before tossing an 11-yard touchdown pass to Charles Standberry with 4:22 left in the first quarter.
Clemson’s Greg Huegel, who missed a 42-yard field goal early in the second quarter, converted from 31 yards with 6:57 left in the first half to give the Tigers a 10-7 lead, then the Tigers extended their lead to 16-7 a few minutes later when Bryant connected with a wide-open Ray-Ray McCloud for a 79-yard touchdown. The PAT was blocked.
Huegel added a 49-yard field goal 28 seconds before the half to put Clemson ahead, 19-7.
McCloud had seven receptions for a career-high 115 yards for the Tigers while Smith led Louisville with five catches for 79 yards.
NOTES: QB Kelly Bryant’s 79-yard touchdown pass to Ray-Ray McCloud in the second quarter was the longest scoring play by Clemson since a 96-yard pass from Tajh Boyd to Sammy Watkins on Nov. 2, 2013 at Virginia. ... PK Greg Huegel’s 49-yard field goal with 28 seconds left in the first half was the longest of his career. ... P Will Spiers averaged 51.8 yards on four punts, including a 64-yard kick. ... Louisville QB Lamar Jackson became the ACC’s career rushing leader among quarterbacks with a total lof 2,834 yards, passing Georgia Tech’s Joshua Nesbitt. ... LB Stacy Thomas had a game-high 10 tackles, the third time he has had at least 10 tackles in Louisville’s last five games. ... WR Traveon Samuel had two receptions for 100 yards, including a 78-yarder.