O'Daniel's pick-six a punch in the gut for Louisville
|Sunday, September 17, 2017, 11:01 AM- -|
LOUISVILLE, KY – It was a punch in the gut, the play that broke Louisville’s will.
No. 2 Clemson led No. 14 Louisville 26-7 with 8:57 to play in the third quarter Saturday night when linebacker Dorian O’Daniel intercepted Cardinal quarterback Lamar Jackson’s pass and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown. It was the first touchdown of O’Daniel’s career and Clemson’s first turnover forced this year.
The play was set up, however, by a critical penalty against Louisville. Jackson broke off a 55-yard run that ended up inside the Clemson 20. A Cardinal touchdown would have made it a two-score game with almost 24 minutes to play, but a yellow flag lay at the Louisville 20. The Cardinals’ Charles Standberry was called for a chop block, nullifying Jackson’s run.
Two plays later, O’Daniel went high in the night air to reel in the interception and break the will of a Louisville team that needed momentum. What it got was a punch in the gut.
“I think it definitely punched them in the gut and they struggled to come back from that,” linebacker Kendall Joseph said. “I will say that. They kept fighting, and Lamar Jackson can make a play anytime. But after a while you could kind of see the effort level and their attention was diminishing` and we started to get the momentum.”
A week ago, O’Daniel had 14 tackles against Auburn. On Saturday night, his interception changed the entire complexion of the game. He had to wait five years for his first touchdown, but he was all smiles in the cramped interview room after the game when he said it was worth the wait.
“Absolutely. Touchdown, pick-six on the Heisman Trophy winner? It was absolutely worth it,” O’Daniel said.
O’Daniel gathered the ball in, shrugged off a Louisville receiver, and then fought his way down the sideline and into the end zone for the score. According to O’Daniel, the entire play seemed liked it took an eternity to develop.
“Everything was in slow-motion. I didn't want to get tackled,” he said, laughing. “I knew I had to score this. I am thankful for my defense rallying to the ball and taking care of those cutbacks and blocked on the way into the end zone. Without them, I wouldn't have scored.”
Louisville continued to fight, but their last two scores came long after the outcome was decided, and O’Daniel said that while he didn’t think the play was the one that sealed the Cardinals’ fate, it did make a difference.
“A team like that, they are always going to fight and they have a quarterback that can lead them back and you know they are going to fight,” O’Daniel said. “But I felt like that play was the one that set the tone for the rest of the night, letting them know we were there.”
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables gave a wry smile when he was asked about the play of his fifth-year senior.
“I was really happy. That was a great play,” Venables said. “What a good play. He's probably happier.”