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LOUISVILLE, KY — Kelly Bryant had time to read the defense, allowing the Clemson quarterback to make good decisions and crisp throws. Heisman Trophy-winning counterpart Lamar Jackson didn’t get that same luxury for Louisville.
That stark difference paid off with a decisive victory for the third-ranked Tigers.
While Clemson held Jackson in check for most of the game, Bryant accounted for three touchdowns as the Tigers routed No. 14 Louisville 47-21 on Saturday night in an Atlantic Coast Conference showdown.
Clemson’s first-year starting QB completed 22 of 32 passes for 316 yards, all career highs. Bryant also rushed for 26 yards including an 8-yard TD to get the defending national champions started; they never let up against the 2016 Heisman winner.
“All I was trying to do was do my job. Nothing more, nothing less,” said Bryant, who also rushed for a 1-yard TD. “We could have done better, but I did everything the coach wanted me to do.”
Jackson passed for 317 yards and three TDs, but most of that came with things already in hand for Clemson (3-0, 1-0 ACC). The Tigers’ Dorian O’Danielreturned an interception 44 yards for a TD and a 26-7 third-quarter lead, and they sacked Jackson four times.
Jackson had TD passes of 11 yards to Charles Standberry, 36 yards to Jaylen Smith and 8 to Dez Fitzpatrick. But the junior struggled to throw and run all night for Louisville (2-1, 1-1 ACC). The Cardinals were outgained 613-433, saving face somewhat with a 14-point fourth quarter.
Jackson carried 17 times for 64 yards and broke the ACC career record for rushing yards by a QB, which turned out to be a footnote on a night that belonged to Kelly and Clemson.
“We just didn’t play our game today,” said Jackson, who was 21-of-42 passing with a 78-yard completion. “We came out, we weren’t scoring points. The offense did a horrible job tonight.”
Credit Clemson’s defense making things difficult. Jackson was off in missing his first four attempts, but having just 118 yards passing through three quarters was the biggest example of how effectively Clemson disrupted him and Louisville’s offense.
“We had lot of guys make plays,” said Tigers coach Dabo Swinney, whose team won its 11th straight road game. “We got a lot of contributions from a lot of guys. That’s a happy locker room in there. We settled in and really played good football.”
Travis Etienne‘s 81-yard run capped Clemson’s scoring.
Clemson: After three wins over the Cardinals by 15 combined points, the Tigers left no doubt this time. Questions about the offense after a 14-6 win over Auburn were effectively answered with their second 40-point effort in three games, this time against a ranked opponent. Bryant had time to find receivers that were frequently open, particularly on the long TD against busted coverage that sapped all the energy in the hostile environment dressed in black.
“(With) Kelly, we told him just do your thing,” said receiver Ray-Ray McCloud, who had seven catches 115 yards, including a 79-yard TD pass from Bryant while wide open. “He went out there and put on one of his best performances.”
Clemson’s defense yielded 433 yards, but it didn’t matter after doing its best work in the first three quarters.
Louisville: A game-tying drive in the first quarter was the Cardinals’ only bright spot on a night nothing worked. As bad as things were for Jackson, it’s much worse for their defense. They yielded at least 500 yards for the second time in five games dating back to last season and failed badly in their quest to not only avenge last year’s 42-36 loss to the Tigers, but prove they could be an ACC contender.
“We got beat in all phases,” coach Bobby Petrino said. “It’s disappointing to me because I really felt like we would be in the game and compete.”
Clemson safety Tanner Muse was ejected in the first quarter for targeting with a helmet-to-helmet hit on Jackson, a play that led to Louisville’s game-tying touchdown.
Jackson ran for 10 yards and was being tackled by Tigers defensive end Austin Kelly before Muse’s hit from the left side. The sophomore was immediately flagged and the play was upheld upon review, adding a 15-yard penalty along with Muse’s ejection. Jackson followed with an 11-yard TD pass to Standberry on the next play to help Louisville tie the game at 7.
Clemson: The Tigers’ impressive start continues, and could move them closer to the top.
Louisville: This blowout loss could possibly drop the Cardinals out of the Top 25.
Clemson: The Tigers host Boston College on Sept. 23.
Louisville: The Cardinals host Kent State on Sept. 23, looking to bounce back against a Golden Flashes team that Clemson routed 56-3 on Sept. 2.