LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Clemson (6-3, 5-2 ACC) held on in another white-knuckler to beat Louisville (4-5, 2-4) on Saturday at Cardinal Stadium. Here are four sequences that went a long way toward determining the outcome, a turning point and a telling stat from the Tigers’ 30-24 win.
- With Louisville tacking on a field goal early in the second quarter to grab a 17-7 lead, D.J. Uiagalelei’s handoff to Will Shipley early on Clemson’s next possession looked harmless enough. But the Tigers’ quarterback came up limping after the play and headed for the medical tent a couple of plays later. Taisun Phommachanh came on and rumbled 26 yards on second-and-10 to move Clemson into Louisville territory. The Tigers later benefited from a defensive holding call on third down to keep the drive alive before B.T. Potter eventually cut into the Cardinals’ lead with a 38-yard field goal with 5 minutes, 44 seconds left in the second quarter.
- Clemson’s offense got the ball back with 1:33 left in the second quarter after the defense forced Louisville’s fourth punt of the first half, and Uiagalelei, sporting a small knee brace, returned once it did. With the Tigers needing 86 yards for a tying touchdown, Uiagalelei showed few ill effects from his injury, finding Beaux Collins for 8 yards on third-and-5 to keep the drive going. He found the freshman receiver again for 13 yards on the Tigers’ next snap before stepping into a 27-yard completion to Justyn Ross down the sideline to move Clemson to the Cardinals’ 23-yard line. Louisville’s Jack Fagot was called for targeting at the end of a hit on Will Shipley on the next snap to get the Tigers closer, and Uiagalelei capped the drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Davis Allen to draw Clemson even just before the break.
- The explosive plays for Louisville’s offense kept coming at the start of the second half when the Cardinals covered 59 yards in three plays to take another lead. Quarterback Malik Cunningham did most of the work with a 51-yard touchdown run to put Louisville on top 24-17, but Shipley quickly helped put Clemson in position to draw even again when he returned the ensuing kickoff 75 yards to set the Tigers’ offense up at Louisville’s 18. Clemson moved to the 1 over its next four plays with Uiagalelei’s 4-yard pass to Allen on third-and-goal leaving the Tigers with a decision. Clemson decided to go on fourth down and called Phil Mafah’s number, but the freshman running back was stuffed for no gain, keeping the Cardinals’ lead intact.
- Clemson missed a prime opportunity to tie the game again early in the fourth quarter when freshman Dacari Collins had his toe out of bounds as he made a juggling catch in the end zone on third down, but Potter got the Tigers a little closer with a 34-yard field goal. Clemson got the ball right back after forcing a three-and-out and found the end zone this time, marching 57 yards on nine plays with the help of a tough 10-yard catch and run by Ross along the sideline on third-and-9 to extend the drive. Uiagalelei capped it with an 8-yard touchdown run to give Clemson a 27-24 lead with 4:12 left, and the defense held Louisville without points on its final two possessions — the final stop came with Louisville driving inside the Tigers’ 10 with less than 30 seconds left — to preserve the win.
Cunningham spent most of the night gashing Clemson’s normally stout run defense, racking up 138 yards on his first 12 carries. But the last of those carries left him in pain during the latter part of the third quarter after Cunningham took a hit from Trenton Simpson at the end of an 8-yard run at Clemson’s 35. Cunningham limped off the field and into the medical tent with an ankle injury, and without its dual-threat signal caller, Louisville netted just 1 yard on its next four plays. The drive ended with James Turner missing a 52-yard field-goal attempt, and Louisville went scoreless the rest of the way.
Telling stat: 71
That’s how many yards Clemson held Louisville to in the fourth quarter. And with Cunningham injured, Louisville wasn’t nearly as effective running the ball, averaging just 0.2 yards per rush in the final 15 minutes. It was in stark contrast to the first two and a half quarters when Louisville had 178 rushing yards at one point, the most Clemson has allowed all season. Louisville finished with 397 total yards with 223 of those coming on the ground, but Cunningham, who played with a noticeable limp once he returned early in the fourth quarter, totaled minus-4 yards on his final 10 carries. Clemson corralled him inside the Tigers’ 5 on his final carry that doubled as the last play of the game.
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