LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Second-ranked Clemson defeated No. 14 Louisville, 47-21, on Saturday night at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in Louisville, Ky.
The Tigers improved to 3-0 (1-0 ACC), while the Cardinals fell to 2-1 (1-1).
How did Clemson grade out in the victory?
A week after passing his first true test as Clemson’s starting quarterback, Kelly Bryant passed his first road test of the season with flying colors. Bryant completed 22-of-32 passes for a career-high 316 yards and a touchdown, and rushed for two more scores. Bryant’s 40-yard pass to Hunter Renfrow set up his 1-yard touchdown run on Clemson’s opening possession, and his 79-yard scoring strike to Ray-Ray McCloud gave the Tigers a two-score lead late in the first half. Clemson converted 9-of-17 third-down attempts, and Bryant deserves a lot of credit for that. The junior went 6-of-9 passing for 99 yards on third down after going 6-of-7 against Auburn, so he has completed 12 of his last 16 passing attempts on third down. Bryant became the first Clemson quarterback since Tajh Boyd to win his first two games versus top-25 teams as the starting quarterback.
Running Back: A
Redshirt junior Adam Choice and freshman Travis Etienne both ran for touchdowns, but it was sophomore Tavien Feaster (10 carries, 92 yards) who handled the load and may have emerged as Clemson’s go-to guy in the backfield. Feaster missed one block that resulted in a sack of Bryant, but that was about all that went wrong for the running backs. Etienne’s 81-yard rush for a touchdown was the longest by any Clemson back since C.J. Spiller raced 83 yards against Auburn in the 2007 Chic-fil-A Bowl. It was the longest run by a Clemson freshman since 1945 when Bobby Gage had an 88-yard run against Presbyterian.
Wide Receiver: A
Clemson had a 100-yard wide receiver for the first time this season in McCloud, who recorded a game-high seven catches for 115 yards and a touchdown on 10 targets. McCloud’s 79-yard touchdown reception marked the longest offensive play for the Tigers since Nov. 2, 2013 when Tajh Boyd connected with Sammy Watkins on a 96-yard scoring pass at Virginia. Renfrow finished with four receptions for 71 yards, including a 40-yard catch that set up Clemson’s first score of the game. Both McCloud and Renfrow averaged more than 15 yards per catch, while six of the Tigers’ nine scholarship receivers notched at least one reception.
Offensive Line: B
Clemson bounced back from a poor game on the ground against Auburn’s stout front seven last weekend. After rushing for just 96 yards on 36 carries (2.7 average) against the SEC’s Tigers, the ACC’s Tigers racked up 297 yards rushing and four touchdowns against the Cardinals on Saturday. The offensive line paved the way for the Tigers to average 6.2 yards per carry. However, it also allowed four sacks and five tackles for loss. The right tackle position remains an issue.
Defensive Line: A
Clemson posted four sacks and seven tackles for loss. Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins and Sterling Johnson each had a sack and tackle for loss, while Chris Register and Albert Huggins were both credited with half a sack and half a tackle for loss. The Tigers allowed only 116 yards rushing and still have yet to yield a rushing touchdown this season.
Dorian O’Daniel was the star of the linebacker corps as he registered six tackles, including a tackle for loss, and an interception that he returned 44 yards for a touchdown. His pick-six was one of the biggest plays in the game and helped the Tigers take control of it, making the score 26-7 midway through the second quarter. It was the first turnover forced by Clemson’s defense since the Fiesta Bowl last season. Despite O’Daniel’s big game, though, it was not an A effort for the linebackers overall as they missed several tackles and got out of their lanes when trying to tackle Lamar Jackson (but who doesn’t).
Of Louisville’s 433 yards of total offense, 317 were passing yards by Jackson. All three of the Cardinals’ touchdowns came through the air, as well. One of the secondary’s bright spots, though, was Isaiah Simmons. The redshirt freshman saw the majority of action at strong safety after Tanner Muse was ejected in the first quarter for targeting. Simmons finished with a team-high eight tackles.
Special Teams: B
We’ll start with the negatives. Greg Huegel missed a 42-yard field goal and also saw one of his extra-point attempts get blocked. However, he did make field goals of 49 and 31 yards. Will Spiers was impressive and showed off his strong leg, booting four punts for an average of 51.8 yards. The redshirt freshman punted two balls over 50 yards and pinned three punts inside the 20-yard line. On kickoff return, Etienne fumbled a couple of times, though he had a nice 21-yard return.