Clemson at Louisville score: Tigers maintain dominance in win over Lamar Jackson
Clemson picked up a key win in the chase for a third straight ACC title
Lamar Jackson still found ways to dazzle, frustrate defenders and light up the night in what Louisville had deemed one of the biggest home games in program history, but Clemson's defense got top billing on the marquee for the second week in a row in the Tigers' 47-21 win.
One week after keeping Auburn out of the end zone, Clemson was relentless against the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner. It won third down time and again, putting the ball back in the hands of quarterback Kelly Bryant. The Tigers' offense was methodical, balanced and efficient throughout the night, taking care of the ball and hitting on big plays down the field when given the opportunity.
The champs are playing the part.— ESPN (@espn) September 17, 2017
Can Clemson hold off Louisville in the second half? Catch it on ABC or streaming on the ESPN App. pic.twitter.com/8LtOXM2R5t
The big plays were more frequent as the game wore on and the Louisville defense wore down, as Clemson's massive collection of playmakers was on display as they rolled up 613 yards of total offense. Bryant finished with 316 passing yards and three touchdowns (one passing, two rushing) in a performance that even earned the praise of Deshaun Watson.
Here's four things to know about Clemson's win:
1. As the running game continues to improve, Clemson is becoming one of the most complete teams int he country: For all the talk about Deshaun Watson, the absence of Wayne Gallman and the next running back up presented an equally intriguing situation for Clemson's offense in 2017. Bryant figures to be a huge part of the ground attack and has already shown how dangerous he can be, but Saturday night was also a big spot for sophomore Tavien Feaster (10 carries, 92 yards). As a team, Clemson finished with 291 rushing yards (6.3 yards per carry). Gallman's running helped close a lot of games out during the 28-2 run of 2015 and 2016, and as Clemson continues to get more experience it will only get better at those final pieces needed to be back in the national title hunt in November and December.
2. Talent acquisition and talent development have made Clemson a championship-caliber program: It's not just the five-star prospects like Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Deon Cain at Clemson, it's the three-star and four-star prospects -- many of them from South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and the surrounding areas -- that are ready to perform at a five-star level when they are called on to be starters after spending a year or two in the program. Dabo Swinney and his staff have built out a roster with absurd athleticism and plenty of natural talent, but also done a good job identifying players with potential that are a good enough fit to fulfill their potential as a part of a championship program. We joke that Alabama reloads with the next batch of five-stars, but Clemson does it with handfuls of players that have improved well beyond their high school recruiting rating and developed into all-conference caliber talents ready to help Clemson chase another ACC title.
3. Dorian O'Daniel is a breakout star: Last week, O'Daniel had 14 tackles and 1.5 sacks against Auburn. This week, he flashed again, finishing with six stops, a tackle for loss and a pick-six of Lamar Jackson in the third quarter that extended Clemson's lead to three scores.
4. Louisville's shot at the ACC is likely done, but Jackson still has opportunities ahead: The trophy that Louisville will point to most often from 2016 is Jackson's Heisman, but it also took home some hardware as the co-champions of the ACC Atlantic last season when its close loss at Clemson was the head-to-head tiebreaker that sent the Tigers to the ACC Championship Game and on to the College Football Playoff. So while it is certainly possible the Cardinals could run through the rest of their ACC schedule, losing this head-to-head edge makes it awfully tough to see Louisville as the division's representative in Charlotte.
Jackson will, however, continue to be in the spotlight as one of the best players in the country and will have another opportunity to showcase his abilities against an elite defense with a trip to Tallahassee to play Florida State in a month. Odds and precedent are stacked against former Heisman winners to repeat, but Jackson has all the ability necessary to make that decision tough on voters (and change the mind of some NFL Draft decision-makers) before the end of the season.
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