It was a long, rough day for the Cardinals on national television. Clemson tallied 613 total yards and rolled to a 47-21 win over U of L. It was the most points and yards allowed by a Louisville defense since 2008.
Let’s get into the nitty gritty, in this delayed edition.
Not a lot of positives to be had, but Jonathan Greenard and James Hearns had solid outings. Hearns had two sacks in the game and pressured Bryant multiple times. Greenard, meanwhile, had a huge sack that led to Clemson’s first punt. It gave Louisville some momentum that led to Jackson’s early touchdown in the first quarter. Louisville’s front four is an underrated unit with some depth, and Greenard’s excellent play as of late is something to be encouraged about.
Traveon Samuel posted his first career 100-yard game as a receiver, including a 78-yard catch and run that nearly went the distance in the second half. Dez Fitzpatrick and Jaylen Smith continue to show their nose for the end zone, each scoring touchdowns in the game.
The offensive line looked fine, given the level of competition they had to face. The team allowed four sacks on Lamar Jackson, but given that Clemson’s front-four will all be drafted very high in the NFL, they shouldn’t be disappointed.
But I’m afraid that’s where it all stops. It’s hard not to overreact to a loss like this, especially since this was the most points allowed at home in nearly 20 years. But this was a case where Louisville ran into a team clearly better than them, across the board.
Defensively, Louisville got crushed on big plays time and time again. Ray Ray McCloud blew the top off the defense with a 79-yard touchdown catch and run. Hunter Renfrow’s 40-yard catch helped Clemson score its first touchdown of the night, a lead they would never relinquish. Adam Choice and Travis Etienne ran for 39 and 81-yard touchdowns, respectively.
Clemson’s offense wore down Louisville’s maligned defense with 81 total plays, including over 50 in the first half. Kelly Bryant managed to keep drives going, and eventually fatigue settled in for the U of L defense. But it doesn’t excuse issues that have been there since the Purdue game. Pass defense has been a major issue to start the season, and Clemson beat Louisville over and over again through the air.
Lamar Jackson finished with 317 yards and three touchdowns, while Jaylen Smith continued his productivity as Louisville’s top wideout (five catches for 79 yards and a touchdown). But the early missed throws and dropped passes stalled a majority of Louisville’s drives, especially when they needed to score to set the tone early. It was perplexing that the offense continued to pass the ball, even when Jackson wasn’t hitting throws. Malik Williams should have had more carries to alleviate for Jackson’s early struggles.
The backbreaker, though, was the chop block penalty on Jackson’s big run in the third quarter. It eventually resulted in Jackson throwing his first interception of the season, which was returned for a touchdown. To beat a team like Clemson, penalties like that must be avoided at all costs. Louisville needed any momentum it could grab on that drive, and that penalty arguably left the drive dead in the water.
I also understand that Jaylen Smith is the top receiver for Louisville, but even with Jaire Alexander’s injury, it’s risky to put him out there on returns. Fielding a punt inside the five is a huge no-no on special teams, and it lengthened Louisville’s drive when it needed good field position.
Everything accounted for, the highest grade I’m willing to give is a D+. On national television, when Louisville needed a statement not only for Jackson’s second Heisman campaign but also their program, they got dominated.
Some may see it as disappointing, given that Louisville took Clemson to the limit the prior three meetings. And it’s a point well taken. But if anything, it showed how Clemson is truly an elite program, versus a Louisville team that is still working to get there. Recruiting has gotten better for Louisville under Petrino 2.0, but there’s still a difference between a top-five recruiting class and one that is top-25.
With Louisville, the defense needs to reconsider their gameplan. I understand the “bend but don’t break” philosophy, but if teams continue to torch Louisville through the air, will there be changes in play-calling to mask that weakness? It’ll be an ongoing discussion, one that will potentially define Louisville’s 2017 season.
As for the offense, not a whole lot to be said. Jackson struggled, but the next couple of games should serve as tune-ups with Kent State and Murray State around the corner. Malik Williams again showed promise with a couple of nice runs in the limited quantity he had, and had a highlight-reel hurdle on one of his receptions. Look for him to carry the ball more, going forward.
See you next week back at PJCS, when Kent State comes into town.