The University of Louisville's first trip to Clemson turned into a defensive thriller, with both teams keeping the opposing offense in check throughout the contest. Clemson, which benefited from scores on special teams and defense held on to win 23-17.
Despite falling behind 7-0 after 62 seconds of play, the Cardinals defense set the tone early. The group entered the contest in 'Death Valley' ranked as the nation's top-rated defensive unit and they backed up that lofty ranking throughout.
Led by a multitude of big plays during the game's first two quarters, the Cardinals defense limited Clemson to just 8 yards of offense with one minute left to play in the opening half.
“Our defense is playing really well,” Petrino said afterward. “They're doing a really good job. They're stopping the run. They're putting pressure on the quarterback and getting interceptions. They're making plays on fourth down.”
James Sample collected his third interception of the season in the first quarter to set up the Cardinals first score of the game. On Clemson's next series, a tackle for loss by Sample, preceeded a Keith Kelsey pass breakup and a Mauldin sack that setup the Cardinals first touchdown of the game.
A fumble by Reggie Bonnafon inside the U of L 10 yard line was picked up and returned 9 yards for another Clemson touchdown midway through the second quarter to give the hosts 14-10 advantage, a lead that held up through halftime.
“We're putting a lot of pressure on them,” Petrino said. “That's the problem. The offense is putting a lot of pressure on the defense. We had a lot of time of possession in the first half and I thought that really helped us, but we weren't able to do that in the second half.”
Clemson, which entered the game averaging 40 points an outing and an offense ranked among the nation's top 30, was limited to season-low 229 yards of offense against Louisville. That is the fewest yards of total offense in a Clemson victory since 2010. The Tigers also managed to convert only 2 of 16 third down attempts, their lowest total since 2011.
The defense has now gone 17 quarters without allowing an offensive touchdown.
Next up for Louisville is a home contest against N.C. State on October 18.