Analysis: Clemson displays championship poise

Despite coming into the week undefeated, many experts have questioned Clemson‘s attitude. At times early in the season, the Tigers seemed to play lackadaisically, as they didn’t possess that killer mentality to dominate inferior opponents. But one thing the Tigers have plenty of is guts, and they showed their courage in a hard-fought 42-36 victory over Louisville.

Clemson rose to the challenge when Louisville stormed back with a tenacious second-half performance. After the Cardinals took a 36-28 lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Tigers answered with two scores of their own in less than four minutes, turning the momentum back around and returning the crowd to a frenzied state.

Clemson’s offense caught fire behind its ability to run the ball – the Tigers averaged 6.5 yards per rush, which is an area they struggled in earlier in the season. Then, as Louisville’s defense became more keen to defending the run, Deshaun Watson picked the Cardinals’ secondary apart.

Watson was far from perfect, but like the team, he showed signs of improvement especially on his deep passes. Earlier in the season, he struggled to make throws of 20 yards or more. On Saturday, though, he was right on the money with some of his deep tosses, as four of his five touchdown passes were for 20 yards or more. Watson does need to limit his careless interceptions moving forward – he threw three against Louisville.

The defense has also made strides. While it was going to be next to impossible for them to stop Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson for the whole contest, the defense did an excellent job applying pressure to force Jackson to misread the defense and force his throws at times. For much of the first half, Louisville didn’t have any offensive momentum and it was a big reason why Clemson was able to take a 28-10 lead into halftime.

When speaking of character, it’s impossible to ignore the Cardinals. Since the beginning of the season, they have played with swagger while they dismantled opponents. The Cardinals knew this was going to be different and they played with fearless hearts when their backs were against the wall.

One thing Louisville didn’t handle particularly well was the raucous crowd, and playing in a loud environment got to the Cards. At the game’s beginning and on the critical failed fourth-down attempt at the end, the crowd noise contributed to them committing false start penalties. It was only when they calmed down after halftime that they were able to get back to playing with confidence.

Jackson showed his lack of experience at times, becoming frustrated right before halftime and allowing the defensive pressure to force his decisions. However, he regained his composure, and like he has done so many times this season, made big plays seem effortless.

But the secret behind the Cardinals’ success hasn’t been just Jackson, it’s been their defense. Louisville’s defense went from being reactive to being on the attack in the second half, and it wasn’t until late that Clemson woke back up and took control of its own destiny.

When the pressure was on, the Tigers relied on their instinct and gutted out their best win of the season, proving why they are the ACC’s top team.

The Tigers move on knowing they have a lot of work to do, but they also know they still have that championship hunger. They beat a playoff contender in Louisville by playing with confidence and heart. When things became difficult, they didn’t flinch. They played with championship poise.

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Source: The Score

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