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Let’s talk football: Louisville Reflections

Laurel Slaughter // The Louisville Cardinal

Lamar Jackson has never in his college career been extremely flustered against any defense anywhere, especially not at home. At least not until last Saturday. Clemson embarrassed Louisville 47-21 and answered any and all questions about whether this is a playoff-ready team.  

The defense was, in a single word, stifling, and the offense proved, yet again, that it can be effective with Kelly Bryant under center. 

Though the defense tallied less sacks this game than they did against Auburn (it’s fairly difficult to sack Lamar Jackson), they didn’t need them to keep Louisville from moving the ball. Last week against Auburn, sacks were the fuel to the defensive fire, but just keeping Jackson from being able to break free, whether it was for a loss or not, was perfectly fine. 

Most of the defensive coverages were based on keeping the quarterback contained within the pocket and taking away his short passing game. 

Jackson has been known to sail easy throws over his receivers, so making him beat Clemson with the long passing game was going to be the only way to win. 

This was evident when Jackson faked a handoff to his running back and dropped back on a play in the middle of the second quarter. Linebacker Kendall Joseph and defensive end Clelin Ferrell sandwiched Jackson between them, and he had to throw it away mere milliseconds before he was crushed between them. 

Louisville put together one good drive against the first-string in the fourth quarter mostly because Jackson sprinted for a long run. A couple of plays later, after Tanner Muse was ejected for targeting, Jackson completed a touchdown pass to tie the game at seven. 

Notably, it was Muse’s replacement, redshirt freshman Isaiah Simmons, who missed the coverage on the touchdown. Coach Dabo Swinney attempted to call timeout, but he had to hustle down the sideline in order to do so. 

After the first quarter, Jackson had no answers to the complex coverages and blitzes Clemson sent his way. Even when he did see an open receiver, more passes missed than hit. 

It was a standout effort from all levels of the defense that culminated in Jackson’s first pick of the season with 8:57 left in the third quarter. 

Linebacker Dorian O’Daniel faked a blitz and dropped back into coverage. He baited Jackson by pretending to cover the slot receiver, but instead dropping underneath the outside man. Jackson didn’t see the drop and it resulted in a 44-yard pick-six, O’Daniel’s first of his career. 

The second-string defense made its way onto the field by the fourth quarter followed closely by the second-string offense. Louisville had a couple of garbage time touchdowns that will pad Jackson’s stats, but overall the reigning Heisman Trophy winner was entirely ineffective against the best defense in the nation. 

Bryant looked more like a quarterback during this game than in his previous games this season. He was limited to only 26 yards on 18 carries, but still had his usual two touchdown runs. As a quarterback, he found Ray-Ray McCloud on a beautiful vertical route way downfield for a 79-yard score. That was Clemson’s longest passing touchdown since November 2, 2013 against Virginia. 

One thing that was evident, and showed why Bryant tends to rush more, is his arm strength is less than that of Deshaun Watson or even Tajh Boyd. 

He vastly underthrew a pass to Deon Cain in the first quarter even though Cain was three steps ahead of his defender. It was a touchdown for sure if Bryant had stepped into his throw. 

On McCloud’s score, he had time to step into the throw and give it the extra oomph it needed to reach him.

The running game flourished as well to help keep pressure off of Bryant and keep a more balanced offense. Adam Choice and true freshman Travis Etienne scored touchdowns on the ground and the entire rushing offense put up 297 yards against the number two rushing defense in the country. 

Granted, Louisville hasn’t played any intimidating running backs yet, but the 34 yards on average they had been giving up is still impressive. 

All in all, the Tigers played like the number one team in the nation. Alabama may have beaten Florida State and Oklahoma may have beaten Ohio State, but Clemson has beaten two top-25 teams and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. It’s time to give them the credit they deserve. 

Clemson will play Boston College at home next week at 3:30 p.m.

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