Cut the Cards: Tigers dice up Louisville in dominant 77-16 victory
Simmons celebrates his interception return for a touchdown

Cut the Cards: Tigers dice up Louisville in dominant 77-16 victory

by - Senior Writer -

CLEMSON – Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said earlier this week that Louisville was the best 2-6 team in the nation. We’d hate to see the worst.

Clemson ran over and through outmatched Louisville in a 77-16 victory at Memorial Stadium Saturday. Clemson improves to 9-0 overall and 6-0 in the ACC while Louisville falls to 2-7 overall and 0-6 in the ACC.

Clemson has defeated Louisville in all five meetings since the Cardinals joined the conference in 2013.

It was the second-highest points scored in Death Valley, falling just short of the Tigers’ 82-24 victory over Wake Forest in 1981. The Tigers scored 70 against Central Michigan in 2007. It’s also the second-highest point total in an ACC game.

Three Clemson players notched 100-yard rushing days – Travis Etienne had eight carries for 153 yards, Lyn-J Dixon had four for 116 and Tavien Feaster had six for 101 yards. The Tigers had 492 yards on the ground and 661 total yards. That stands as the 8th-most yards gained in school history.

The Tigers have as many 60-point wins this season as there had been in the first 65 seasons since the ACC was founded. Clemson averaged 11.6 yards per play Saturday, the best in Clemson history. The previous record was 11.2 vs Georgia Tech in 1903 when John Heisman was Clemson coach.

Clemson opens a season 9-0 for the fifth time in program history and the third time in the last four years (1948, 1981, 2015 and 2016). Clemson earned conference titles in all of the previous four seasons in which it opened 9-0.

Clemson has won the first nine games of a season for the third time under Head Coach Dabo Swinney (2015 and 2016). All other coaches in Clemson history have combined for two 9-0 starts, including one each by Frank Howard and Danny Ford.

Clemson has won four consecutive games by at least 30 points for the first time in school history. The Tigers have earned wins of 60, 34, 49, and 77 points in their last four contests.

"We got the ball first with an opportunity to set the tempo for day. We then scored three touchdowns in a row on offense, which created the spark that we needed," head coach Dabo Swinney said. “I love the focus of our team. I challenged our defense at halftime, and Louisville converted only two third downs in the second half. Our defense played cleaner in the second half. Offensively, we scored nearly every time we had ball in the second half.

“Ten different guys scored touchdowns for us, and we had over 600 yards of offense. We also had three running backs go for over 100 yards. We had a season-high six sacks, and that was our 17th game in a row with a pick. That was a great interception by Isaiah Simmons. It was fun to see so many guys getting an opportunity to play. Over 90 guys played for us. Dexter Lawrence even got himself a touchdown.”

Swinney said it was a good day for the program, but work still has to be done.

“That was a good experience for our team, and it was a lot of fun," Swinney said. "We’re 9-0, but we’re not satisfied. We want to win our division, and we’ll have that opportunity next week. We’ve worked all year to get to this point, so we’ll enjoy this win and get back to work on Monday.”

Louisville won the toss, elected to defer and paid for it immediately. Etienne had a 35-yard run and two plays later a 10-yard touchdown run, and the Tigers led 7-0 just a minute and 15 seconds into the game.

The Tigers forced a quick 3-and-out by the Cardinals and scored one play after the punt. Clemson took over at its own 30 and Tavien Feaster did the rest, racing untouched and free to the end zone for a 70-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead barely three minutes into the game. The run was the longest of the season for the Tigers.

The Cardinals showed signs of life and put together a 16-play, 73-yard drive that ended in a 25-yard field goal by Blanton Creque, and Clemson led 14-3 with 3:16 to go in the first quarter.

It didn’t take the Tigers long to respond. Clemson put together an eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive, highlighted by a 25-yard run by Etienne. The drive was capped off by an 11-yard pass from Lawrence to Tee Higgins, and Clemson led 21-3 after the first play of the second quarter.

Louisville found further trouble on the ensuing drive. A sack and back-to-back procedure penalties made it 2nd-and-24, and an overthrown pass was intercepted by Isaiah Simmons and returned 27 yards for a touchdown and a 28-3 lead. The interception was the first of Simmons’ career.

The Clemson offense muddled through much of the second quarter but put more points on the board late. Etienne had another big run on the drive – this one covered 32 yards – and Lawrence hit Amari Rodgers on a three-yard scoring toss and Clemson led 35-3 at intermission.

The Tigers forced another Louisville punt to open the second half, and once again a big run by Etienne set up a score. Etienne found room over the left side and rumbled 45 yards to the Louisville two-yard line. One play later, the Tigers brought in the jumbo package with Christian Wilkins lined up at tailback and Dexter Lawrence lined up in the fullback slot.

Instead of a handoff to Wilkins – like last week at Florida St. – Lawrence handed the ball to Lawrence, who ran over Card safety Dee Smith and into the end zone for a two-yard score and a 42-3 lead with 10:15 to play in the third quarter.

One play later, Pass once again missed a receiver and this time it was Tanner Muse with the interception. Muse returned it to the Card nine, and three plays later Feaster rumbled over from three yards out and the Tigers led 49-3 with 8:58 to play in the third quarter.

The defense forced another punt, and a 15-yard targeting penalty against Louisville on the kick gave the Tigers the ball at the Cardinal 47. A 30-yard run by Choice set up a six-yard scoring pass from Chase Brice to Trevion Thompson and the Tigers led 56-3 with 3:50 to go in the third quarter.

Things then turned bizarre – another Card punt turned into another Louisville personal foul penalty. On the first play, Brice and Lyn-J Dixon fumbled the handoff and the loose ball was recovered by Louisville. During the return, Brice held up the defender long enough for the ball to be knocked loose and the ball was back in Clemson’s hands at their own 30. Two plays later, Brice threw over the top of the Cardinal defense and hit Justyn Ross on a 59-yard touchdown and Clemson led 63-3 late in the third.

The Cardinals returned the ensuing kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown, but the extra point was blocked and the Tigers led 63-9 with just under a minute remaining in the third quarter.

Clemson’s next scoring drive took just three plays and it covered 66 yards. The score? Another long run, this one by Dixon as he scampered 55 yards for the touchdown on the opening play of the fourth quarter. With 14:52 still to play, the Tigers led 70-9.

The Cardinals continued to fight, however, and used a 41-yard pass play to set up a 10-yard scoring run that made it 70-16 with 11:42 to play.

How did the Tigers respond? With another long run – this one 38 yards by Dixon – that set up an eight-yard scoring pass from Brice to Will Swinney, the first scoring reception of Swinney’s career. With 8:52 left to play the Tigers led 77-16.

Clemson plays at Boston College next weekend.

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