Charles Standberry

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No. 3 Clemson plays like a No. 1 in dominating Lamar Jackson, No. 14 Louisville

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Clemson may not be ranked No. 1 in the country tomorrow, but they should be. The defending national champions looked very much like a team interested in defending that title, as the No. 3-ranked Tigers smacked reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson and No. 14 Louisville, 47-21 before a blacked out Cardinal Stadium crowd in Louisville.

The Tigers (3-0, 1-0 ACC) asserted their dominance from the start, forcing a three-and-out to open the game and then moving 79 yards in 10 crisply executed plays, culminating in an 8-yard Kelly Bryant keeper. Louisville (2-1, 1-1 ACC) tied the game with a 95-yard drive, the only flash of Jackson’s 2016 brilliance. He accounted for all 95 yards on the drive — with the help of a 15-yard late hit flag — with runs of 15 and 30 yards and an 11-yard touchdown pass to Charles Standberry.

Clemson reclaimed the lead for good on a 31-yard Greg Huegel field goal with 6:57 left before the half, then added some distance when Bryant found a wide open Ray Ray McCloud for a 79-yard catch-and-run score. After adding another field goal before the break, Clemson’s defense slam-dunked an exclamation point score when Dorian O’Daniel baited Jackson into an interception, then returned it 44 yards for a touchdown to hand Clemson a 26-7 lead with 8:57 left in the third quarter.

Bryant would add another rushing touchdown to close the third quarter, and would finish the night as the game’s true Heisman contender. Making his first ever road start, Bryant hit 22-of-32 passes for 316 yards with a touchdown and an interception while rushing for another 26 yards and two scores. Clemson would add two more touchdown runs, a 39-yarder by Adam Choice and an 81-yard bust by Travis Etienne. As a team, Clemson rushed 46 times for 291 yards and four touchdowns.

If Bryant is Clemson’s Heisman candidate, it’s only because the Tigers’ defense isn’t eligible. Fresh off posting 11 sacks against Auburn, Clemson sacked Jackson four times, harassing him into a pedestrian (for him) night of 21-of-41 passing for 317 yards with three touchdowns and a pick-six and 17 carries for 64 yards. The Cardinals as a team rushed 25 times for 117 yards.

Clemson handling Lamar Jackson and Louisville through one half

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One of the few questions about Clemson entering tonight was Kelly Bryant‘s ability to handle his first road start, and specifically his first road start on the stage of a nationally televised primetime audience. He answered that question as early as possible.

After Clemson forced a three-and-out to open the game, Bryant moved the Tigers 79 yards in 10 plays, taking care of the last eight himself to stake Clemson to a 7-0 lead.

A pair of punts pinned Louisville’s third possession at its own 5-yard line, and Lamar Jackson handled all 95 available yards, rushing for 55 — with 15 given by a late hit — and throwing for the final 11, a strike to Charles Standberry to knot the game at 7-7 with 4:22 remaining in the first quarter.

The Tigers moved the ball on their next three possessions — a 36-yard march that ended in a missed Greg Huegel field goal, a 41-yarder that led to a made field goal, and then a 90-yard touchdown drive punctuated by a 79-yard dagger from Bryant to Ray Ray McCloud, handing Clemson a 16-7 lead with 4:06 to play in the half.

Bryant hit Deon Cain for another touchdown on Clemson’s final drive before the half, but the play was called back due to offsetting penalties. The drive ended in a career-long 49-yard Huegel field goal, providing the halftime score of 19-7. Bryant closed the half hitting 17-of-27 passes for 238 yards and a touchdown with 12 carries for 35 yards and another score.

Clemson’s defense, meanwhile, has been as good as advertised. None of Louisville’s four possessions after the touchdown lasted longer than five plays, and Jackson was limited to 7-of-19 passing for 72 yards and a score with six carries for 55 yards.

Louisville will receive to open the second half.