The No. 5 Clemson Tigers survived at home Saturday night, edging the No. 3 Louisville Cardinals 42-36.
Louisville wide receiver James Quick was one yard short of picking up a critical first down with 33 seconds left in the game as Louisville was driving in the red zone for the go-ahead score.
In a game that could have Heisman Trophy implications, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson outperformed his Clemson counterpart Deshaun Watson but came out on the losing end.
Jackson finished 27-of-44 for 295 yards passing, one touchdown and an interception. He also rushed for 162 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries.
Houston Rockets star James Harden appears sold on Jackson as the Heisman front-runner:
Watson was 20-of-31 for 306 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions. He was Clemson's second-leading rusher, going for 91 yards.
In terms of numbers, Watson couldn't match Jackson, but he engineered the game-winning drive with 3:14 remaining. His 31-yard touchdown pass to tight end tight end Jordan Leggett was the decisive score.
It was a sea of orange on the field inside Memorial Stadium after the game, courtesy of USA Today's Dan Wolken:
Entering the game, Jackson was widely considered the most explosive player in the country. Through Louisville's first four games, the sophomore had 1,330 passing yards and 13 touchdowns, in addition to 526 rushing yards and 12 TDs.
With a mix of blitzes and an athletic front seven, Clemson constantly harassed Jackson in the first half. SB Nation's Spencer Hall had a unique way to describe how the Tigers were attacking the Cardinals QB in the pocket:
CBSSports.com's Tom Fornelli highlighted what was a major problem for the Louisville offense:
Clemson's offense—Watson in particular—had a similarly sluggish start but found its footing in the second quarter.
Cardinals running back Jeremy Smith had the first touchdown of the game with 14:18 remaining until halftime. Clemson then outscored Louisville 28-3 over the remainder of the first half. Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde noted how disastrous the second quarter was for Bobby Petrino's team:
Wideout Deon Cain helped tie the game at the 7:48 mark of the quarter with a 33-yard touchdown reception, and running back Wayne Gallman found a hole and scampered 24 yards to put Clemson ahead with a little over six minutes left in the half.
College GameDay provided a look at Gallman's run from the end zone:
Watson and Cain connected on another touchdown to pad the Tigers' advantage with 3:47 left. Blanton Creque added a 26-yard field goal to make it 21-10, but Watson got his third TD of the half after finding wideout Artavis Scott in the end zone.
Louisville had a bright start to the second half. On the first drive of the third quarter, Cardinals safety Chucky Williams intercepted a Watson pass, and the offense capitalized on the turnover with an eight-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Quick to make it a 28-16 game.
The Cardinals were poised to add another touchdown on their next drive. They had a 1st-and-goal at the Tigers' 7-yard line, but the Clemson defense forced Louisville to settle for a field goal.
Leaving four points on the board appeared to be extra costly for the Cardinals, as the Tigers moved the ball downfield with relative ease after Creque's tally. However, Leggett fumbled at the 5-yard line, and Louisville recovered.
Jackson's one-yard touchdown run and the ensuing extra point cut Clemson's lead to two points, 28-26, with 45 seconds left in the third quarter. Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman wondered if fatigue was becoming a factor with the Tigers defense:
Louisville continued to move the ball against Clemson into the fourth quarter and scored on the team's fourth straight drive. Creque hit his third field goal of the night to put the Cardinals ahead 29-28.
Jackson again came through with an 11-yard touchdown run with 7:52 remaining in the game, and the extra point made it 36-28. The Tigers responded with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Watson to wide receiver Mike Williams less than a minute later. Their two-point conversion failed, leaving them down two points.
Then, the Tigers earned a critical three-and-out, which set the stage for Leggett's TD catch.
The good news for Louisville is a loss may not necessarily eliminate the team from College Football Playoff contention. Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel isn't shutting the door:
The Cardinals have another big test when they face the No. 6 Houston Cougars on the road on Nov. 17. Winning out may be enough for Louisville to convince the CFP selection committee.
Losing to Clemson in Death Valley by six points isn't a result that drops the Cardinals' stock all that far.
Meanwhile, the Tigers answered any lingering doubts following their somewhat underwhelming performances to the season.
Despite losing Shaq Lawson, D.J. Reader and Mackensie Alexander to the NFL, Clemson's defense remains suffocating. The Florida State Seminoles will be even more desperate when they meet the Tigers on Oct. 29, but, based on Saturday night, Clemson will be able to limit running back Dalvin Cook enough to prevent the upset.
As long as the Tigers can get past Florida State, it should be smooth sailing until the ACC championship in Atlanta.
"We had a tough schedule playing the best teams in the conference back-to-back," Petrino said, according to Dan Koob of WLKY. "It was a very good football game. Someone has to win, someone has to lose. I wish we came out with the win."
"It was a great win," Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney said, according to WYFF's Marc Dopher. "Louisville played their hearts out. We stuck it out in the third quarter. We had the right plays."
Tigers linebacker Ben Boulware had high praise for Jackson, per Dan Hope of the Anderson Independent-Mail.
"He's the best player I've ever played against," Boulware said of the Cardinals signal-caller.
Clemson offensive coordinator Jeff Scott concurred with the assessment, per ESPN.com's David Hale.
"I've coached here 8 years and that's one of the best players I've ever seen play in Death Valley," he said.