October 14, 2011…..
Before Lousville joined the ACC, the Tigers and Cardinals had never squared off on the gridiron. Their debut season in 2014 was also the first ever matchup between the two teams. Deshaun Watson was just a freshman, making his just his third career start.
The game started out with a bang, as the Clemson defense forced a three and out. Adam Humphries then fielded a 45 yard punt, and took it back 72 yards for a touchdown just over a minute into the game. The spectacular special teams play would prove huge, as this one turned into a defensive battle, not to mention the Tigers losing Watson to a hand injury with less than five minutes remaining in the first quarter,
Before he exited, he threw a pick deep in Clemson territory that led to a Cardinals FG, cutting the Tigers lead to 7-3. With the offense struggling mightily, the Cards would take a 10-7 lead early in the 2nd quarter, but it was short lived, as the smothering Clemson D would take matters into their own hands. Can you say Big Grady?
The fumble recovery in the end zone put Clemson on top 14-10. the Tiger offense had the ball at the Louisville 2 with seconds remaining in the 1st half, but Cole Stoudt was unaware of the running clock and could not get lined up in time to spike the ball to set up a FG try. Instead, the Tigers were hit with a procedure penalty, and time expired, and not getting points there would loom large.
The Tigers added a FG early in the 3rd to extend that lead to 17-10, but Louisville tied it up on a 22 yard TD pass from Will Gardner to Eli Rogers. Clemson got an Ammon Lakip from 40 yards out on the final play of the 3rd, and then another 21 yard chip shot with 1:24 left in the game, giving Clemson a 23-17 lead.
The Cards weren’t done, however. Will Gardner hit James Quick for 73 yards on the first play of the ensuing possession, giving the Cardinals the ball 1st and Goal from the Tiger 8 yard line. Gardner then hit Kai De La Cruz for a 7 yard completion, putting Louisville just one yard away from a victory. On 2nd and Goal from the 1, Dominique Brown carried the ball and was stopped for a loss of 1. On 3rd and Goal from the 2, Cardinal QB Will Gardner inexplicably spiked the ball, setting up 4th and Goal from the 2.
The defense would hold giving the Tigers the win, in spite of a dismal performance offensively. This one was all about the defense. From the fumble return for a TD, to Jayron Kearse’s game saving tackle at the 8, on that 73 yard pass play on the Cards final drive. They held the Louisville offense to just 264 yards and just ten 1st downs. They had just 52 yards rushing on 38 attempts. That’s just 1.4 yards per carry, and that is strong. They also held them to just 1-17 on third down conversions.
Since that win in the inaugural game between the two schools, the Tigers have reeled off four more victories against Louisville. They will be looking for their sixth straight in the series and to remain unbeaten against the Cardinals on Saturday, when the two teams meet at noon in Cardinal Stadium.