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Tigers Top Cardinals: Clemson Defense Leads Way to Victory

Ashley Stout, Staff
Quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) celebrates after a touchdown pass in Death Valley against Louisville on Saturday. 

Game. Of. The. Year. There is simply no other way to put it. In a back-and-forth effort between two of the top five teams in the nation, the Clemson Tigers pulled away in the final few minutes of the fourth quarter. The defense, for the third year in a row against Louisville, made a fatal stop near the goal line to seal a 42-36 win for the Tigers.
Coach Swinney always has some great words to offer after the win, and Saturday night was no exception. “We want to be 12-0 and you can’t win 12 until you win five … At the end of the day, you either have the heart or you don’t. You have the will to win or you don’t.” Clemson certainly had the will to win.
Throughout the first quarter, each side’s defense was making the plays. Louisville began their first drive with two straight false start penalties, generally attributed to the near-deafening volume created by the crowd, but the defense made sure they didn’t keep the ball moving by forcing a three-and-out.
The first quarter continued on, sluggishly, as each team couldn’t capitalize on penalties and turnovers. Louisville ended up in the red zone to end the first quarter threatening to score. Then the second quarter happened.
Louisville finished their drive with a one-yard touchdown run, but the Tigers offense roared back to life and put up 28 points. “Hurricain” Deon made a leaping catch in the corner of the end zone to cap off a Clemson drive after a turnover. Cain would make another touchdown catch before the quarter was over giving him two catches for 70 yards and two touchdowns in just three minutes of play.
The second quarter continued well for the Tigers defense, forcing a fumble and setting up a 24-yard touchdown run by Wayne “Train” Gallman, his longest scoring scamper of the year putting the Tigers up 21-7.
Louisville drove down the field again, but was stopped short of the goal line and kicked a field goal with 37 seconds remaining before halftime. Refusing to concede due to time constraints, Watson moved the ball down the field with ease, finding Artavis Scott to cap off a dominant quarter for the home team.
Going into halftime, Clemson had all of the momentum in their favor. Scoring 28 points, their second-highest point total in one quarter this season, all they had to do was keep it going. But the Cardinals had different ideas.
Louisville’s 19 unanswered points in the third quarter seem like a lot, but the defense could not seem to stay off the field for long. The offense could hardly string together two positive plays and either turned the ball over or had to punt.
Watson was overthrowing receivers and rushing into walls of defenders. Because the offense couldn’t get anything together, the defense was trotting out on the field, tired and beaten, time and time again. Louisville had a total of 99 snaps on offense that lasted for over 37 minutes of the game, far outpacing the Clemson offense who only possessed the ball for 22 minutes.
The fourth quarter began with a quiet Death Valley. Louisville continued their scoring tear going up 36-28, but the Tigers weren’t done yet. Artavis Scott was back to return the kickoff after a Cardinal touchdown instead of Ray-Ray McCloud, the usual returner. After bobbling the ball near the goal line, Scott picked it back up and ran it back 77 yards to give Clemson its best field position of the game.
The crowd magically came back to life, injecting the offense with some much needed morale. Knowing the crowd was behind them entirely, Watson and the offense started to pick up speed and begin moving the ball down the field with more consistency.
Watson found Mike Williams for 20 yards to put the Tigers back in the game. The 2-point attempt was no good, but Clemson had battled back to put them in position to make a push later on.
Clemson’s defense was on their third wind and managed to stop Lamar Jackson to force a punt. In what might Clemson’s best offensive play of the game, Watson found Jordan Leggett over the middle for a 31 yard score, looking very familiar to a play earlier in the game where Leggett fumbled on the goal line. The 2-point conversion was good this time, putting the Tigers up for good 42-36.
Defense wins championships. The Tigers came up with a stop on fourth down, about one inch before the line to beat. For the third year in a row, Clemson made a defensive stop against Louisville to end the game.
Some interesting stats: Leggett’s touchdown catch gave him 13 career touchdowns which is now the Clemson school record for a tight end; Jadar Johnson had his third interception of the year and his second in a row against Louisville; Dabo Swinney is 10-5 against AP top 25 teams in his career with only three of those wins coming at home.

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