Clemson hit the road this week to take on Louisville. Road trips have not been favorable for the Tigers this year, and both teams are down quite a bit from 2016 when Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson dueled in Death Valley. The Cardinals were looking for their first win against the Tigers since joining the ACC in 2014, but today wasn’t the day for that record to be broken. Clemson held on to win a nail biter 30-24.
A touchback on the opening kickoff put Louisville at the 25. The Cardinals came out firing with some good throws and runs. Clemson didn’t do themselves any favors with a face mask penalty. Louisville RB Jalen Mitchell went 26 yards unimpeded for a score, helped by some nice blocking by the offensive line. At 12:08 of the 1st quarter, the Cardinal led 7-0. Clemson came out firing too. Kobe Pace started the drive with a 12-yard run. D.J. Uiagalelei hit Joseph Ngata for 17 and then hit Beaux Collins down the middle for a 46-yard TD strike. And just like that the score was tied 7-7.
The Tiger defensive line got a good start on the Louisville drive with a short stop on 1st down, knocking down a pass on 2nd down, and stopping the Cardinals on 3rd & 9. After the punt, the Tigers started at the 26. The drive started well when D.J. picked up 10 yards on 1st down, but then it stalled. Will Spiers’ 54-yard punt put Louisville at their 9.
The Cards moved out to the 30 but the Tiger defense held them there. Clemson took over at their 29. D.J. was sacked when the line didn’t pick up a blitzing linebacker. They might have converted on 3rd & long but D.J.’s pass to Ngata over the middle sailed high.
Louisville couldn’t do much against the Tiger defense but a block in the back pushed a Cardinal defender into the punt returner, causing a muffed punt. Louisville got the ball at the Tiger 27. A couple of plays later, Cardinal QB Malik Cunningham threaded his way through the defense for a 23-yard score. With 1:16 left in the 1st quarter, the Cards were back on top 14-7. A Cardinal bounce on the kickoff put the Tigers at the 13. Bad offensive line play on the first two plays out the Tigers at 3rd & 13. D.J. couldn’t pick up the 1st down with his legs and Clemson punted.
The Cardinal offensive line, on the other hand, was playing well and giving Cunningham time to throw. They moved inside the Tiger 30, but then the drive stalled. The 44-yard FG gave them a 17-7 lead. Several plays into the drive, D.J. was limping and Taisun Phommachanh came in and ripped off a 26-yard run. A timely defensive holding penalty kept the drive alive. Continued poor offensive line play doomed the drive and B.T. Potter came in to kick a 38-yard FG. With 5:44 left in the half, the Cards led 17-10.
Louisville’s drive started well, but the Tigers ended up corralling them. The punt put the Tigers at their 14 with 1:33 left. D.J. came back into the game with a brace on his right knee. D.J. was his usual inconsistent self, mixing great throws with missing a wide open Collins that would have resulted in a TD. The Tigers got to the red zone and after a targeting call against a Cardinal player, D.J. hit Davis Allen wide open in the end zone. Going into halftime, the score was tied 17-17.
Clemson got the ball to start the 2nd half and the offensive line continued their poor play. A 3rd down sack where a defender ran untouched to D.J. ended the possession. On the Louisville drive, on 3rd & 2, Cunningham ran the obvious option play and went untouched for a 51-yard score. Louisville led 24-7.
Will Shipley responded with a 76-yard kickoff return to the Cardinal 18. Two runs by Phil Mafah moved the ball down to the 6. D.J. had Justyn Ross 1-on-1 to the left but a bad snap ruined that opportunity. Allen caught a pass and got to the 1. The Tigers went for it on 4th down, and that offensive line couldn’t even give Mafah a fighting chance to get in. I tell you Tiger fans, there’s been a lot of talk about D.J.’s inconsistency, but the Tigers’ offensive woes are primarily due to poor play on the line. Period. Louisville’s offensive line was showing how to do things and the Cardinals went down the field into Clemson territory. The Tiger defense eventually held and Louisville missed a 51-yard FG.
Clemson didn’t do much with their possession and punted. Louisville got the ball at their 10 as the 3rd quarter ended, but returned the favor with a 3 & out. Clemson got the ball at their 43. Shipley scampered for 22 yards. A couple of plays later he had another good run, but it came back because of a holding penalty. Ross picked up 6 to set up 3rd & 14. D.J. hit Collins for 22 to save the drive. On the subsequent 3rd down, D.J. hit Dacari Collins for an apparent TD, but his foot was out of bounds by the thickness of the leather of his shoe. Potter came in and kicked the FG to make it 24-20 at the 10:17 mark.
Cunningham came back into the game after having left with an ankle injury earlier, but the Clemson defense kept him in check. The punt was fielded at the Tiger 43. Taisun came back in at QB and got a pass interference on a throw to Ross. D.J. returned on the next play. Ross made a good effort to get past the yard marker on a short catch on 3rd & 9. A few plays later, D.J. limped his way into the end zone on a designed run. With 4:12 left, it was on the defense to protect a 27-24 Tiger lead.
The Cardinals ran a couple of times to set up 3rd & 6. Cunningham couldn’t connect to an open receiver over the middle. They went for it on 4th down, and good coverage by the secondary forced Cunningham to scramble. Andrew Mukuba stopped him and Clemson got the ball at the Cardinal 25 with 2:40 left. Three runs, with more bad blocking, moved it to the 23 but Louisville used their timeouts to preserve clock time. Potter came in and kicked the FG to give Clemson a 30-24 lead with 2:19 left.
Cunningham hit a receiver down the sideline for 45 yards to the Tiger 30. The Tigers forced 3rd & 10, but Cunningham picked up 9 set set up 4th &1. The Cardinal receiver made a very nice catch at the 2 yard line make it 1st & goal. Two runs later it was 3rd & goal. Cunningham was stopped at the 2. On 4th down, he rolled right looking to throw but slipped and went down. With 10 seconds left, the Tigers had squeaked by with a 30-24 win. Defense saved the day.
So, another week, another close win by the Tigers. But, I have to say it again- the Tiger offensive line play is simply putrid. D.J. played a bit better tonight (18/30 for 220 yards, 2 TDs and no INTs)and showed a lot of toughness with an obviously sore knee. Mad respect for Malik Cunningham. I was having flashbacks to Lamar Jackson’s running through and around Clemson defenses. I suspect it will be a broken record, but let’s discuss the Tiger performance below. Thanks for stopping by!