LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Earlier in the week Jayron Kearse basically said the Clemson defense was not going to need a goal line stand this time around to take down Louisville like it did in its win over the Cardinals in 2014.
He was right.
The No. 9 Tigers did not need a goal line stand. Instead they needed an interception on the game’s last play to seal their 20-17 victory over Louisville at Papa John’s Stadium in Louisville, Ky.
Cornerback Mackensie Alexander batted Kyle Bolin’s Hail Mary pass out of the end zone and into safety Jadar Johnson’s arm to complete the win. It was fitting it was the defense that once again won the game for Clemson overall Louisville.
For the second year in a row, the Cardinals had very little answers for moving the football on Clemson’s defense. Even with the losses of nine starters from last year’s No. 1 unit, the Tigers controlled the line of scrimmage and harassed Bolin all night.
“We knew coming into the week that they were a tough team on their side of the defense so we knew our defense had to win our side,” defensive end Shaq Lawson said.
Lawson played a big role on why the Tigers (3-0, 1-0 ACC) won on defense. He had five tackles, including 1.5 sacks plus several more quarterback pressures. He was even flagged twice for roughing the passer, which did not make him all too happy.
“I was surprised, especially on the first one. He kind of flopped,” Lawson said. “The second one, he said I put my hands in his face so I said, ‘Alright.’ After that, I did not want to touch him anymore unless I had a clean shot in him.”
Clemson held Louisville to 272 total yards and to just 19 rushing yards on 28 carries. The Cardinals averaged just 0.7 yards per carry.
“We came into the game wanting to stop the run,” Lawson said. “They want to run the football, that’s what they want to do. We knew if we stopped the run, everything else would take care of itself.”
The Tigers also recorded five sacks, had two interceptions and held Louisville to 2 of 14 on third down conversions. There is an argument that this year’s defense might be better than last year’s.
“It felt great to make a statement,” Lawson said. “We had a lot of people doubting us, and probably still will after this game, but we know where we need to be and what we have moving forward. We are just looking forward to playing Notre Dame.”
It wasn’t all good, however. The Tigers still have some room for improvement. The secondary gave up pass plays of 23, 37 and 55 yards to Bolin.
On the Cardinals’ last possession, Bolin hit tight end Mickey Crum over the middle for a 23-yard gain, which got them into field goal range before Kevin Dodd’s sack with 26 seconds left pushed them back. Earlier in the quarter, Louisville drove 65 yards in nine plays to set up a potential game-winning field goal, but kicker John Wallace pushed the kick wide left with 2:28 to play.
“I told them that you guys don’t have to make every play tonight,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “(Louisville) is going to make plays tonight. You just need to make more of them. Fight longer, fight harder, fight tougher and fight smarter for sixty minutes.
“You only have to beat them by one play, and sure enough it came down to the last one.”