Clemson Holds Off Louisville To Win ACC Opener 20-17
Deshaun Watson (4) was intercepted twice but also threw 2 TDs on Thursday night - USA Today

There was excitement in the air Thursday night at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville, Ky. For one team, a conference championship and possible College Football Playoff berth are the goals for the season, while for the other just picking up a win was already becoming something of a dire situation. It was not a clean game for either Clemson or Louisville, but in the end the Tigers were able to outlast the Cardinals on the road 20-17.

After a first quarter devoid of scoring or much action at all (Louisville had 15 total yards on their first 15 offensive plays), Clemson struck first blood early in the second. One of the nation's most electric players, Deshaun Wastson, connected with Hunter Renfrow  for a 32-yard touchdown pass to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead. The rest of the half played out much like the first quarter until John Wallace nailed a 26-yard field goal to cut the lead to 7-3 before the half.

Louisville came out guns blazing (relatively speaking) to open the second half, putting together a 9 play, 58-yard touchdown drive capped off by a short run Jeremy Smith, giving the Cardinals their first lead of the game at 10-7. Clemson would come back to tie it up soon after with the first of two Greg Huegel field goals on the day, this one from 36 yards out. After a Louisville punt, Clemson took over and scored on a well-designed play which wholly confused the Cardinals defense. Masking tight end Jordan Leggett on the end of the line as an offensive tackle, Clemson through off the Louisville secondary and Leggett was allowed to run freely up the seam, catching the ball and crossing the plane with ease, giving the Tigers a 17-10 lead. Quarterback Kyle Bolin threw one of his two interceptions on the night on Louisville's subsequent drive, harming the Cardinals' momentum, however the defense bailed him out and kept the score the same entering the fourth quarter as Clemson could not turn the pick into points.

After Huegel's second field goal, this one from 27 yards out, made the score 20-10 in favor of Clemson, Louisville's Traveon Samuel took the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, cutting the lead back down to three. Neither team was successful in scoring for the rest of the fourth quater, but that is not to say the Cardinals didn't have a chance. Late in the game Louisville assembled a solid drive, eventually getting near field goal range after a big pass play from Bolin to Micky Crum. However, Clemson would go on to sack Bolin and poor clock management led to a forced hail mary throw which ended up being intercepted, ending the game. It was a sloppy game by both teams but in the end Clemson held on 20-17.

One of this season's early favorites for the Heisman Trophy, Deshaun Watson played well for the most part but did not have the flashiest of games. He completed 21/30 passes for 199 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, giving him a passer efficiency rating of 134.4 for the game. He also ran for 54 yards on 12 official carries. The Tigers' leading rusher was Wayne Gallman, who ran for 139 yards on 24 carries Thursday night. Artavis Scott led the team in receptions with 8, while Jordan Leggett led Clemson in receiving yards with 42.

It was not the most impressive day for Louisville's first year starting quarterback Kyle Bolin. He was 19.34 passing for 238 yards with 2 interceptions and no touchdowns on the game, leaving him with a passer rating of 102.9. The Cardinals were not able to establish a consistent running game against the formidable Clemson front seven, netting just 19 total yards on the ground (including -37 from Bolin). The team's leading rusher was Brandon Radcliff, who had 45 yards on 19 carries. The Cardinals' leading receiver was Jaylen Smith, who caught 3 passes for 77 yards.

It is hard to glean to much information on these teams following their duel Thursday night. On one hand, ACC-favorite Clemson comes out on top to remain undefeated, keeping their early-season College Football Playoff hopes alive, while Louisville falls to 0-3 and scrambling for answers. On the other hand, this was a close, competitive game which featured questionable officiating for both sides (including a blatant facemask call which would have benefited the Tigers late in the game but went uncalled) and Clemson certainly did not look dominant in victory. Nonetheless, wins and losses are what matter most in the end, and Dabo Swinney's group gets to add one in the win column. Next week Clemson will have a bye before hosting the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on October 3. Louisville loos to pick up their first win of the season next weekend at home against the Samford Bulldogs.