It rare that you get a quarterback duel in football that is surrounded by so much hype. I mean Manning and Brady did it for years on the pro level. It’s rare to get one in college, especially one that lives up to its billing.
On Saturday night in Death Valley at Clemson Memorial Stadium, you got to witness one of those rare duels. Lamar Jackson, Louisville’s versatile quarterback (the difference maker), who was responsible for 25 touchdowns for Louisville after taking the college football landscape by storm in September; would be on the same field as Deshaun Watson. The dynamic playmaker that put a scare in the Crimson Tide in last season’s national championship game.
It was clear early that the defenses were going to get both quarterbacks frustrated and not allow them to do what they do best. Clemson Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables known for being aggressive didn’t change his approach attacking Jackson with different blitzes from every way possible to throw Jackson off. Clemson was able to sack Jackson 5 times on the night, and keep him contain in the first half. Early on Watson looked more off his game than the defense of Louisville causing him trouble. Louisville defense may not have been able to get to for sacks but they did rush him into some back throws that forced 3 interceptions, 2 by Louisville corner Jaire Alexander.
When you play in a high stakes game like this it’s understandable to have some nerves. Also, when the weather is bad you can understand some of the miscues and/or mishandling of the ball, but on a nice clear dry evening it’s hard to fathom why there were so many turnovers in back to back possessions.
An interception thrown by Watson turns into a fumble by Louisville, a few plays later in their own territory resulted in a 33 yard touchdown pass to Deon Cain from Watson. An interception thrown by Lamar Jackson on ensuing play for Clemson, Watson fumbles which was recovered by Louisville and on the next play Louisville running back Brandon Radcliff fumbles and it’s recovered by Clemson. Which became the turning point in the first half.
The Tigers were able to score touchdowns on their final three possessions of the half, which included a heartbreaker for Louisville as the time wound down. Clemson could have just run out the clock with 37 seconds left. Deshaun Watson drove the Tigers down the field in four plays to find Artavis Scott for a 5-yard touchdown pass for a 28-10 halftime lead.
At home with the crowd behind them. All the momentum coming back out after scoring just before the end of the half and getting the ball to start the third quarter you would think this is the time to put the foot on the throat of the visitors. Right? Well someone forgot to tell Watson and the Louisville defense.
On the second play of the third quarter Watson threw his second interception to give the ball to Louisville in plus territory. Lamar Jackson was able to take advantage of the gift given by his defense when he found his favorite target receiver James Quick for an 8-yard touchdown pass. This seemed to strike a spark in the Louisville team , the would score 26 unanswered points while forcing three Clemson turnovers in a span of about a quarter and a half to take the lead 36-28.
Championship quality teams respond and the Tigers did just that. Clemson receiver Artavis Scott took a kick return 77 yards to the Louisville 23 yard line. Watson was able to find Mike Williams for a 20-yard touchdown pass (2-point conversion failed) shortly thereafter. When Clemson forced a three and out on Louisville’s next possession, the Watson magic appeared again. He drove the Tigers down the field in an 8-play, three minute drive resulting in a 31-yard touchdown catch and run by Jordan Legget. Clemson took a six point lead after successfully completing the two point conversion.
Lamar Jackson did everything he possibly could to put his team in position to win this game. He finished with 295 yards in the air and 162 on the ground and accounted for 3 touchdowns. However, this is a team game. I’m sure in the many Manning/Brady matchups Manning had better stats than Brady but the Patriots won most of the games. Jackson had an all-around better performance than Watson, but the Tigers were able to outdo the Cardinals.
Jackson was able to lead the Cardinals into scoring position, but on fourth-and-7 a false start penalty was called on the right tackle. That made it fourth-and-12, Jackson was able to find James Quick in the flat, but he was forced out a yard short of the first down. That would ensure the victory for Clemson.