With arguably one the best defenses in the country, second-ranked Clemson had its work cut out for it when facing No. 14 Louisville and quarterback Lamar Jackson.
But the Clemson defense wasn’t fazed as the Tigers held the Cardinals to just one touchdown for three quarters in a 47-21 victory at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium on Saturday in Louisville, Ky.
Clemson’s defense had four sacks along with seven tackles for loss and defensive tackle Christian Wilkins played a big role in doing both. Wilkins, who also played some at defensive end, was responsible for one of those sacks and two tackles for loss while the Tigers held the Cardinals to just 116 rushing yards and have yet to give up a rushing touchdown this season.
“I played (defensive end) for a whole season,” Wilkins said after the game, “and just the way rotations work out and also last year just playing against them, knowing what they like to do a lot, just the way it worked…good rotation. I felt good playing out there so wherever I can fit in to help the team.”
As well as the defense played, Wilkins wasn’t completely satisfied with how they finished, giving up two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and 201 yards.
“Louisville is such a good team and we wanted to do our best to really put a complete game together,” Wilkins said. “I’m a little upset with how the defense finished, honestly so there’s a lot to learn from our mistakes. They scored two touchdowns late, but that’s what’s going to happen too when you have number eight as your quarterback but it was good because a lot of guys got opportunities… and it was good to see too that we won on the road.”
Wilkins and the rest of the Tigers were well-prepared and confident going into the game and although improvements still need to be made, their dominance truly showed not only the physical, but also the mental toughness of this team.
“If you asked me that before the game if we were going to dominate, obviously, I’m going to have confidence,” Wilkins said. “But you would just know they are going to make plays. They are going to do some things. It’s just who they are. It’s what they do.
“They have a lot of explosive players over there so to only hold them to seven points for three quarters just shows the commitment of the guys on defense. How the team complimented each other today and how we play on the road even though it’s a tough environment to play in. It’s good for our confidence going forward but there’s a lot we can learn from and never settle.”
After three wins to start the season, including two against top-15 teams, there are still people who bring up last year’s team and last year’s accomplishments. Wilkins has a message for those people.
“I just think it’s time for all of the college football world and Clemson Nation to really just appreciate the guys who are here now,” he said. “It’s three games in, we were able to get a tough win here on the road against Louisville.
“There shouldn’t be much more talk about last year, winning the National Championship and the guys who were here last year. We should really just focus on the guys who are here because we have guys who are more than willing and able to get the job done.”
And nobody has proved more doubters wrong so far than Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant. When Wilkins was asked how much better Bryant is than they thought he would be, he immediately responded, “there was no surprise at all.”
“He’s what we expected him to be,” Wilkins said. “There’s a reason the coaches made the decision to have him as the starting quarterback. He’s taken it in stride and nobody has had more pressure on him all year, all season than Kelly Bryant realistically.”
–Photo Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports