Clemson took a lot longer than usual to get their offense rolling, but they eventually cruised to a 45-10 win over Louisville. The Tigers have now won 22 straight games, the longest active streak in the FBS.
As always, we’re going to take our top storylines to watch from Wednesday’s preview and evaluate Louisville’s performance. Stick around though, we’ll have some more notes from the game.
Will Louisville’s big-play ability be enough to keep up with Clemson?: D-
The story of the game was Louisville’s offense getting nearly shutdown by Clemson’s defense, who was wreaking havoc in the backfield all day long. The Tigers tallied six sacks and 11 tackles for loss, as well as two interceptions. One of those interceptions came on a deep ball thrown by Micale Cunningham that sailed through Tutu Atwell’s hands, and landed in the waiting arms of Clemson’s K’Von Wallace.
Louisville’s quarterbacks combined to finish 8-of-22 for 107 yards and two interceptions, with their longest play going for 38 yards. The Cards tried to take their shots downfield but couldn’t connect on the passes, and their one chance they had with Tutu Atwell early was dropped.
Can Louisville get Clemson into third-and-long situations?: C-
Despite Clemson doing a ton of damage on first and second down, Louisville was surprisingly efficient on third down. At one point, the Tigers were being held to 2-of-8 on third down conversions, with one of those being an interception hauled in by Jack Fagot in the red zone.
If there’s one thing that Louisville’s defense did well throughout the game, it was making sure that they got off the field on third down. The Tigers ended up 5-of-11, but the final three third downs that they converted were essentially in garbage time. But a failure to capitalize on first and second down ultimately led to the Tigers putting up 45 points, a large contribution to the grade here.
Will Louisville win the turnover battle?: C-
Clemson ended up winning this one 3-2, which was to be expected if you looked at the turnover margins for each team. The Tigers entered the game with a +1 margin, and the Cards at -1.
Both teams traded early turnovers throughout the first and second quarter, but only the Tigers were able to score points off of them. Even then, Clemson only got a field goal on their drive following the interception.
But an interception thrown by Evan Conley in the second half led to a Clemson touchdown on the Tigers’ next drive, definitively putting the game away. Clemson got ten points off turnovers, capitalizing on their chances more than Louisville did.
If nothing else, this game was a firm reminder of Clemson’s sheer dominance not just in the ACC, but in the national landscape. As mentioned, this was their 22nd straight win, still the longest active streak in the FBS. It was also the 39th win in the last 41 games against ACC teams.
They’ve just simply been recruiting and developing talent at a level that can only be matched by the true elites of college football (Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, etc.). Louisville has quickly made progress under Scott Satterfield, but there is still some to be made if they want to get there.
Despite the blowout loss, there are a few positives you can take away from the game. As mentioned earlier, Louisville’s defense was extremely effective on third down for most of the game. They had held Clemson to 2-of-8 on their conversions until late in the game, and was giving their offense chances to keep up with the Tigers.
But the early downs gave Clemson’s offense what they needed to come out with the win. Travis Etienne showcased why he is a potential All-American candidate at running back, going for almost 200 yards and averaging 13.7 yards per carry. If he decides to declare early for the NFL Draft, he’ll leave with a successful showing against the Cardinals. In 2017, he had the long touchdown run to cap off a massive blowout of Louisville in primetime. Both 2018 and 2019 saw him go for over 150 yards and a touchdown in all three games against the Cardinals. Through three games against U of L, Etienne has 28 carries for 443 yards (over 15 yards per carry) and three touchdowns.
Trevor Lawrence also had two early interceptions, which will surely permeate his ongoing storyline with struggling at times throughout the 2019 season. But other than that, he rebounded to have an okay performance afterwards. I still think he has the potential to be an elite quarterback at the next level. As mentioned in the preview, I think some of the perceived notions of Lawrence struggling are because he set the bar ridiculously high as a true freshman last year. Like everybody else though, he isn’t perfect; he still has a year of eligibility, and still has time to refine his game a little more.
Focusing on Louisville now, here are some more notes from their side. It’s very encouraging to see the defense coming away with interceptions now. That’s now three straight games the Cardinals have picked off a pass, and other than the Clemson game, it has led to wins. If Louisville’s defense continues to force takeaways, it will take pressure off the offense to have to score a bunch of points in order to win.
Javian Hawkins had his fourth 100-yard game of the season, and against arguably the best team Louisville will face all season. At this point, a 1,000-yard season for the redshirt freshman is likely going to happen. All Hawkins has to do is average about 50 yards per game over the next five games to get to 1K by the end of the regular season.
Also of note, Dez Fitzpatrick led the team with three catches for 63 yards, and he’s now surpassed his yards and touchdowns from last year on fewer catches. The biggest area of growth for the team has been the passing game, and it has been in large part due to Fitzpatrick and Tutu Atwell being reliable targets for the quarterbacks. He could still be in play to surpass his 2017 totals (699 yards, nine touchdowns) as well, if he averages 45.6 yards per game over the next five games of the regular season.
Finally, the quarterback situation. Both Micale Cunningham and Evan Conley played again, and both had nearly identical stats against the #3 Tigers (4-of-11 passing with an interception). While it was expected that both would struggle against a defense that was top ten in the country, it is surprising to see both play once again. Both have the potential to lead Louisville’s offense, but we’ll still have to see if one can solidify themselves as the full-time starter.
Even with the blowout loss, Louisville still has a good chance to reach a bowl game. A very manageable back half of the schedule with Virginia, Miami, N.C. State, Syracuse and Kentucky are all winnable games for the Cardinals, or at bare minimum should be competitive affairs. The blowout loss to Clemson will sting, but Clemson is the defending national champions and clearly miles ahead of everybody in the conference (well, except for their one-point win at North Carolina). If Louisville shakes off their loss against Clemson quickly, the opportunity is there for them.