Kearse saves the day

When the Clemson defense held on fourth down Saturday to hold off Louisville for a 23-17 win, head coach Dabo Swinney ran directly to Jayron Kearse and celebrated with his safety.

The entire Tigers team should thank Kearse for the win.

When a couple of his secondary mates busted a coverage on a late completion between quarterback Will Gardner and James Quick for Louisville, Quick had an open field in front of him for a possible go-ahead score. It would have been a heartbreaking loss with everything the Tigers had gone through Saturday to get the lead.

But Kearse made sure that wouldn’t happen with his hustle play from across the field to chase down Quick at the 8-yard line.

The Tigers then held the Cardinals out of the end zone even after they got down to the 1-yard line on a first-down completion. Vic Beasley’s terrific run stop on second down and a Cardinals time-killing spike on third down set up one play for the game.

And the Tigers’ defense made that play.

But Kearse made the play, and it could be a play that Clemson fans look back on at the end of the season as one that allowed the team to have a special year.

Old-school defense
Talking about special, the Clemson defense is building something special, and that had to be nice to see from the sideline for former Clemson greats Michael Dean Perry and Brian Dawkins.

The Tigers held the Cardinals to 264 yards, including only 52 rushing on 38 attempts (that’s 1.4 yards per carry). Louisville averaged just 3.9 yards per play, had two fumbles and really struggled in key conversion situations.

The Cardinals were just 1-of-17 on third-down tries and 0-for-2 on fourth down, including the game-winning play.

The Clemson defense did surrender 17 points, but all three of those scores came on short fields. The Cardinals’ three scoring drives started at the Clemson 25-yard line, the 50 and the Clemson 45.

Clemson also had four sacks, including one by Garry Peters that set up a touchdown for Grady Jarrett to give the Tigers the lead at halftime. One of those sacks came from Beasley as he set the Clemson program record for career sacks, and remember, he has had limited time at the defensive end position. He has eight sacks already this season and will continue to pad his record during the rest of his senior campaign.

Special special teams
The special teams have been really good since struggling in the loss to Florida State, and that continued Saturday.

It started with a bang with Adam Humphries’ 72-yard punt return for a touchdown to get the Tigers on the board. That was an electric play and turned out to be huge with the team’s offensive struggles (more on that later). He finished with eight punt returns for 107 yards and was solid throughout the day.

But Humphries wasn’t the only special teams star in the win.

Ammon Lakip continues to grow from his struggles at Florida State and made all three of his field goal tries, including a career-high 45-yarder, and both of his extra-point tries. And Bradley Pinion was solid both in punting (averaging 41.9 yards on 10 punts) and on his kickoffs.

Offensive struggles
When Deshaun Watson went out with his broken finger in the first half, it seemed to take the energy out of the stadium. And it took any rhythm away from the offense.

But the Tigers did just enough to get the win against a tough Louisville defense, which was allowing just 58 yards rushing per game. Even without scoring any offensive touchdowns and finishing with just 229 total yards (157 passing and 72 rushing), the Tigers were able to win the game.

It was ugly throughout for the offense, and fans are going to want to blame Cole Stoudt. But Watson was struggling even before he got hurt, so the struggles can’t all be placed on Stoudt. The senior was solid, completing 20-of-33 for 162 yards, and after the game head coach revealed that Stoudt hadn’t practiced all week after hurting his shoulder against N.C. State. So while he wasn’t great, it was a gritty performance by Stoudt, and he should be praised for that even with some of the mistakes and bad decisions he made.

Adam Choice ran hard for 61 yards on 16 carries, and Artavis Scott had a big game with 10 catches for 66 yards.

The offense will have to adjust to the loss of Watson and will have to run a different attack without him, but it’s going to have to play better than it did Saturday. Chad Morris and the offensive staff have to coach better and prepare a better plan (especially on short-yardage situations), and the offensive line certainly has to perform better. Every player on the offense has to step up and improve his play without Watson.

What’s next?
Clemson heads back out on the road to Boston College after a successful three-game homestand, and it will do so with an offense that is in flux. The defense and special teams have been terrific the past two games, and the team will need that to continue with a tough trip to the North. Boston College is 4-2 overall and 1-1 in the ACC after winning at N.C. State on Saturday. The Eagles also defeated USC when it was ranked No. 9 in the country, while they have lost to Pittsburgh and Colorado State.

So the season has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride for them.

After an emotional roller-coaster day of their own against Louisville – Watson’s injury, all the offense struggles and strong play by the defense and the game-winning goal-line stand – the Tigers could really use their first road win of the season.


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