A day has passed since Clemson beat Louisville 42-36 in a matchup of top five teams in Memorial Stadium. With that full day to consider what transpired, my reaction is distinctly this:
Some might “Wow” at the result. After all, this was billed as the game that would ultimately decide the Atlantic Division (and it probably will). Louisville’s loss may take it out of the College Football Playoff race (although we really don’t know that yet). Clemson’s win keeps alive any number of streaks—19 regular season wins, 19 home wins, 10 conference wins—and firmly places the Tigers back into the national title picture. Winning the game was a very big deal.
Others might “Wow” at the emotional roller coaster nature of the contest. The two teams combined for eight turnovers, including three on consecutive snaps in the second quarter. At one point, Clemson scored 21 unanswered points, and at another, Louisville countered with 26 of its own—and then Clemson scored the last 14 of the game. It ended with a fourth-down stand inside the home team’s five-yard line, just a yard from the first down marker.
Still others might “Wow” at the scene. Longtime observers of Death Valley football have already put Saturday’s showcase in rarified air. The 83,362 (and there may have been even more) that slammed into the stadium rode the aforementioned roller coaster at hyper speed and with total embrace of each moment, both the positive and the negative. The noise was among the loudest I’ve ever heard. An Olympic gold medalist was honored before the game. A national television audience got to feast on all of it.
Another “Wow” factor was the punch-counter punch nature of the coaching battle. Nowhere was this more apparent than on first downs. Louisville came into the game with a particularly gaudy reputation for abusing opponents at the beginning of drives, but Clemson changed that dynamic quickly. In the first half, including penalties, the Cardinals gained zero or negative yardage six times in their ten drive-opening plays. For the half, they had -1 yards overall on those downs. Clemson, on the other hand, averaged 9.3 yards per play in those situations, and its offense never went backwards.
Fast forward to the second half. Bobby Petrino adjusted, and his array of maneuvers worked like a charm. The Cardinals averaged nine yards per play to start drives in the second half, with only one negative play and buoyed by a 38-yard run by Lamar Jackson. Louisville’s use of a quick snap, nifty tailback motion, and more direct quarterback runs appeared to catch the Tigers off-guard. The Tigers still averaged 3.9 yards per play to start off drives, but it didn’t look the same.
Then there was the “Wow” factor of the quarterback matchup. Jackson was responsible for an incredible 75 plays—44 passes, 31 rushes—during Saturday’s game. He amassed 457 total yards and scored three touchdowns, cementing his status as a true contender for the Heisman Trophy—and perhaps, even in defeat, planting his flag at the top of the hill for the moment. Deshaun Watson turned the ball over four times, but he also threw five touchdown passes and had 397 total yards on only 45 plays (31 passes, 14 rushes). Both players proved worthy of the hype they have received thus far.
Another “Wow” factor was the ending. A Clemson fourth-down stop on a threatening final drive by Louisville appears the logical ending for this game, as the Tigers have provided one in each of the three meetings between the squads as fellow ACC members. This time, Marcus Edmond bumped James Quick out of bounds a yard shy of the marker, setting off a display of emotion inside the stadium that wreaked of relief and jubilation.
I’d say all of these are part of the “Wow” I still feel today. Truthfully, I’m just feeling blessed to be there and thankful for the opportunity. We may have born witness to the game of the year in college football. That’s enough to make me say “Wow”—even more than 24 hours later.