LOUISVILLE, Ky. — After playing perhaps the worst first quarter of his career, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence bounced back by throwing three touchdowns in the last three quarters as No. 2 Clemson beat Louisville, xxx, Saturday at Cardinal Stadium.
Lawrence was intercepted twice in the first quarter, both in the end zone, and completed just 3-of-7 passes for 9 yards. He had a quarterback rating of minus-3.5 after the first quarter.
But the second quarter was a different story. The sophomore completed all nine of his passes for 156 yards, including touchdown passes to Joseph Ngata and Justyn Ross. He also threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Cornell Powell in the fourth quarter.
Lawrence finished the game with 233 passing yards on 20 of 29 passing.
Running back Travis Etienne rushed for 192 yards on just 14 carries, including a 49-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Etienne left the game early in the fourth quarter with a leg injury.
Clemson survived what was a sloppy first half by both teams and then dominated the Cardinals with 28 unanswered points.
The Tigers (7-0, 5-0 ACC) ended the opening half with a spectacular play when Justyn Ross went up and snagged a 25-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone on a pass that Lawrence looked like he was trying to throw away. The touchdown came with five seconds to play in the half and gave the Tigers a 17-3 lead.
It was Lawrence’s second touchdown pass of the game. He finished the opening half 12-of-16 for 165 yards, but two of those incomplete passes were intercepted.
The Tigers and Cardinals combined for four first-quarter turnovers while Clemson was penalized twice on pre-snap penalties. The Tigers also were called for defensive holding on a drive that set up a second-quarter field goal for Louisville.
Clemson also muffed a punt that was nearly recovered in the end zone by the Cardinals.
Things started off well for the Tigers after K’Von Wallace intercepted Micale Cunningham in the end zone on the Cardinals’ opening possession. On the next play, Etienne broke off a 48-yard run to move the ball to the Louisville 32.
However, the drive bogged down and B.T. Potter, who lost his regular field goal kicking duties to Steven Sawicki last week, nailed a 52-yard field goal to give the Tigers’ a 3-0 lead with 9:27 to play in the first quarter.
After the muffed punt, Clemson drove the ball to the Cardinals 21, but on third-and-nine, Lawrence’s pass to the end zone was intercepted by linebacker Jack Fagot.
The Tigers’ defense then recovered a Cunningham fumble on a strip sack by Justin Foster, which Nyles Pinckney returned to the Louisville 40. However, two plays later, Lawrence tried to force a throw into the teeth of the Cardinals’ defense, which Russ Yeast intercepted in the end zone.
Lawrence was just 3-for-7 for 9 yards in the first quarter.
Clemson finally got out of its own way in the second quarter when Ngata caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Lawrence with 10:41 to play in the second. That gave the Tigers a 10-0 lead at the time.
Clemson took over at its own 23 with 1:05 to play on its last drive of the half as Lawrence moved the ball down the field with a 14-yard pass to Amari Rodgers and then a 16-yard pass to Etienne. He then hit Justyn Ross on a slant pass for 22 yards to the Louisville 25.
After he grounded the ball to stop the clock, Lawrence hit Ross in the back of the end zone for the 25-yard touchdown and a 17-3 halftime lead.
Etienne ran 92 yards in the opening half, while Lawrence was 9-for-9 in the second quarter for 156 yards and two touchdowns.
Louisville (4-3, 2-2 ACC) did not score a touchdown until the 5:10 mark of the fourth quarter.
Darien Rencher had an 8-yard touchdown run with 10:14 to play in the fourth quarter. Freshman Chez Mellusi scored on a 16-yard touchdown for a 45-10 lead with 1:00 to play in the game. Clemson finished the game with 298 rushing yards.
Clemson’s defense had six sacks, forced three turnovers and held the Cardinals to 5-of-14 on third down.
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