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The Front Paige: Grading Clemson

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1…2…3…4…  1…2…3…4.

It was dubbed the best game of the college football season and it certainly did not disappoint. The (then) Number 3 Louisville Cardinals entered a Death Valley that takes no prisoners. While the game may not have ended in the Cardinals favor, the experience was one fans will never forget.

The Tailgate

From tailgates to a perfect southern college town feel, the second you roll into Clemson, South Carolina, it is clear these folks don’t play when it comes to Tiger football. Orange and purple tents line the campus and the surrounding streets for miles. Almost every tailgate has a sign attached to the tent, “The so-and-so Family Tailgate.” At first I thought the family tailgate signs were only for decoration. But after spending a good 45 minutes trying to find friends in lot six, I realized the signs are not only adorable, but completely necessary.

Clemson fans spare no expense when it comes to tailgating. Every tailgate had a spread of food that would rival a Golden Corral buffet. Each table was lined with a Clemson tablecloth and had fancy football themed centerpieces with gorgeous fall flowers. Many tailgaters not only have amazing spreads, but they have extravagant party busses decorated in Clemson colors from floor to ceiling. I’m talking purple leather seats and Tiger paws painted on the ceiling. And Clemson fans don’t just bring one television to tailgate. Oh no, they bring multiple TVs to watch multiple games at one time. Louisville tailgates are awesome, but this was unlike anything I have ever seen.

Clemson gets an A+ in tailgating.

The Fans

Anyone who went to Clemson two years ago for the first matchup between Louisville and Clemson at Death Valley came home raving about the southern hospitality provided by Clemson fans. Last year, Louisville fans were all but threatened to provide the same southern hospitality to Clemson fans as they experienced game day in Louisville.

Arriving in Clemson, I was a little skeptical. I couldn’t tell if the hospitality was genuine or fake. The past two years, Clemson fans did not see Louisville as a threat. But this year, the Louisville Cardinals stormed into Death Valley as the number three team in the nation, riding a huge wave of hype from national pundits and touting the Heisman frontrunner in quarterback Lamar Jackson. This year, Clemson fans were admittedly scared.

For the most part, Clemson fans were extremely courteous. The southern hospitality is real from the older fans. But as always, you have a few younger fans that are flat out rude. Special shout out to the college-aged guys who rolled through Red Rage Tailgate like they were celebrities and about knocked over the bar while talking major smack. Twice.

For the most part, the fans I experienced while tailgating were extremely hospitable. I was welcomed to Clemson at least 100 times. However, once inside the stadium, the bad fans came out. The nice southern gentleman sitting next to me was disgusted with the bad mouthing Clemson fans. He said he was a Clemson season ticket holder and the fans running their mouth were NEVER at the games. But they showed up in full force for Louisville. He apologized several times. From Bobby Petrino motorcycle jokes to booing Louisville’s hurt players, the group of fans sitting a few rows back from me was obnoxious. Special shout out to the college-aged guy in a purple sports coat that was ten sizes too big and an orange tie. Yes, Louisville fans know what’s about to, “hit us.” Louisville plays Clemson every year. Oh, and your motorcycle/neck brace jokes were not original or creative. We’ve heard them all before. We deal with UK fans on a daily basis.

While the majority of the Clemson fans were extremely respectful and nice, it was the few bad fans that put a bad taste in my mouth.

Unfortunately, I have to give the Clemson fans a C.

The Stadium

Do I really need to explain this one?? There is a reason Clemson has a 19-game win streak at home in Death Valley. Death Valley takes no prisoners. It’s extremely loud. Fans do not sit down. The fans know all of the cheers and all the songs. The student section is huge. The entire student body has to be in attendance at games. The tradition is unreal.

Clemson fans cheer out the band. Louisville fans cheer out our band, too. But Clemson fans cheer for the bands entrance like they cheer for the team entrance. The guy next to me said they only cheer out the band because it means the team is about to come out.

A few years ago I watched a documentary on college football traditions. Clemson was featured. I remember sitting on my couch hearing the story of Howard’s Rock. I was in awe of the descent into Death Valley. Seeing the descent into Death Valley in person… I had chills. Clemson’s traditions are strong.

I have been to a Dallas Cowboys game at AT&T Stadium. The crowd was nothing compared to Clemson. I have never experienced a crowd like the Clemson crowd. I couldn’t hear my mom who was literally two inches from me. As loud as it was on the top deck, it was amplified on the field. It’s not shocking that the Cardinals started the game with back to back false starts.

Death Valley is pretty cool. But it was rough not being able to sit down because Memorial Stadium has bleacher seats. At one point, I was standing in front of my mom. I missed the chair-back seats at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Oh, and no beer. However, being around the fans at the game, I completely understand why Memorial Stadium does not sell beer.

The overall experience and tradition trumps the lack of chair-back seats and beer. It’s hard to explain the game day atmosphere at Clemson. It’s something that you have to experience to understand. Attending a game at Death Valley has been a dream of mine for a while. I was not let down.

But I’m still docking points for no beer.

Death Valley gets an A-.

The Game

Louisville versus Clemson was tabbed as the game of the season. The hype surrounding the game was unlike anything Louisville fans have experienced. The game did not disappoint.

Despite a Louisville loss, the Cardinals are still the talk of college football. Everyone from Rece Davis to Paul Finebaum is ringing Louisville’s praises. Many national pundits believe this could be the first year for a Power Five conference to send two teams to the College Football Playoffs; and it’s the ACC with Clemson and Louisville.

Prior to the game, the storyline was the battle of the Heisman hopeful QBs; Lamar Jackson versus Deshaun Watson. Both quarterbacks put on a show. Lamar tallied three more touchdowns bringing his season total to 28 touchdowns in five games. Meanwhile, Watson upped his stock in the Heisman race despite throwing three interceptions. However, Lamar Jackson remains the Heisman favorite.

The Cardinals struggled offensively in the first quarter picking up two quick false starts to kick off the game. Louisville’s defense locked in and bailed the Cardinals out, holding Clemson scoreless through the first quarter. However, the second quarter was all orange as the Tigers scored 28 points to Louisville’s 10.

The Cardinals came out strong in the third quarter grabbing 16 unanswered points and keeping Clemson off the board. The Cardinals trailed by two points heading into the fourth and final quarter.

Louisville struck first as Blanton Creque nailed a 28-yard field goal followed by an 11-yard touchdown run from Lamar Jackson to bump the Cardinals up by eight points. But Clemson answered, scoring two touchdowns in the final seven minutes. The game came down to an 11-play, 72-yard series. Ultimately, the Cardinals failed to convert on 4th and 12 with 0:33 seconds on the clock, putting the ball in Watson’s hands to take the victory formation.

Yes, it was a heartbreaking end to a great game. Hands down, the best college game of the season.

The game gets an A +.

Overall, the experience at Clemson was unreal. I’m so thankful to the great Clemson fans that greeted us and welcomed Louisville fans with open arms (and food). I can’t wait to welcome you all to Louisville next season.

But you better believe, Louisville’s taking the W.

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Posted on October 3, 2016, in Cardinal Athletics, Football, Louisville Athletics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Thanks for an excellent article. At my son’s freshman orientation a courteous, friendly welcome to visiting fans was emphasized. I apologize for the jerks that didn’t get the memo. Their conduct certainly detracts from enjoyment of the game.

    • Thank you. There were only a few bad fans… But the fans around me were the best. That’s really cool that Clemson teaches good sportsmanship at orientation. I was so in awe with the Clemson campus & Death Valley. I look forward to another trip in a few years.

  1. Pingback: CSZ’s Clemson Experience | Cardinal Sports Zone

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