Clem­son’s place as ACC’S elite team is safe and se­cure

The State (Sunday) - - Clemson Football - BY BRAD SENKIW

Two years ago, Louisville en­tered Me­mo­rial Sta­dium ranked third in the coun­try.

The Lamar Jack­son-led Car­di­nals were even a 1-point fa­vorite over thenno. 5 Clem­son, which boasted the likes of De­shaun Wat­son, Mike Wil­liams and Ben Boul­ware.

That Tiger squad went on to win a thrilling game, 42-36, and even­tu­ally the na­tional cham­pi­onship.

Fast for­ward to Sat­ur­day, where No. 2 Clem­son hosted un­ranked Louisville with a point spread near­ing 40 points.

That’s right, just two sea­sons sep­a­rated the Tigers be­ing a home un­der­dog in the same sea­son they won it all to be­ing ex­pected to blow out Bobby Petrino’s hap­less squad.

Clem­son didn’t dis­ap­point, rolling the Car­di­nals 77-16 and send­ing them to 2-7 in 2018 on Sat­ur­day.

In ACC play, Dabo Swin­ney’s squad beat Ge­or­gia Tech by four touch­downs, Wake For­est by 60, N.C. State by 34 and Florida State by 49. That 27-23 win over Syra­cuse dur­ing a tu­mul­tuous week is the clos­est the Tigers (9-0) have come to a con­fer­ence blem­ish.

Sat­ur­day, they flexed their mus­cles over a vastly in­fe­rior ACC At­lantic op­po­nent and had a lit­tle fun at Petrino’s ex­pense. De­fen­sive tackle Dex­ter Lawrence scored a rush­ing touch­down. Left tackle Mitch Hy­att caught a pass. Coach’s son Will Swin­ney scored as well.

“We’re just try­ing to en­joy ev­ery mo­ment we have with each other and not waste any­thing, laugh­ing, danc­ing, ev­ery­thing that comes with foot­ball,” Lawrence said.

Swin­ney did his best to play up the Car­di­nals dur­ing the week, but the steep drop-off in the com­pet­i­tive­ness of this se­ries speaks to Clem­son’s con­tin­ued dom­i­na­tion over the di­vi­sion and Louisville’s in­ep­ti­tude since Jack­son, a Heis­man Tro­phy win­ning quar­ter­back, be­came an NFL firstround draft pick.

“When he stepped on the field he gave them a chance,” Swin­ney said. “That’s the biggest thing, they started over at quar­ter­back.”

At one time, Petrino played the Tigers as close as any­body in the At­lantic, hav­ing his first three games against them come down to the fi­nal pos­ses­sion. Last year, even with Jack­son, Clem­son won by 26 points.

The Tigers can now lock up their fourth con­sec­u­tive trip to the ACC Cham­pi­onship Game with a win over Bos­ton Col­lege.

In great po­si­tion for an­other Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off bid, they’ll be a dou­ble-digit fa­vorite on the road next week.

There doesn’t seem to be a team tal­ented enough in ei­ther the At­lantic or the Coastal to stop them. No. 22 BC will get its chance, but it feels like Louisville widened that gap even more, which is great for Clem­son but not the league as a whole.

Will the Car­di­nals, who lost to the na­tion’s top two teams 128-30, pull a 2015 Miami, which fired head coach Al Golden af­ter Clem­son handed the Hur­ri­canes a pro­gram-worst 58-0 loss?

Louisville might not be to that point in Novem­ber, but Car­di­nal of­fi­cials and fans had to re­al­ize the score rep­re­sents how quickly things can get away from you.

“It’s sur­pris­ing, just the com­pet­i­tive­ness,” Clem­son se­nior line­backer Kendall Joseph said. “The will to win, it seems like they may be lack­ing it. It is shock­ing. It just shows that you have to stress the cul­ture and make sure you’ve got the right guys in the pro­gram or things can slip I guess.”

At the top, Clem­son doesn’t ap­pear to be go­ing any­where. At the bot­tom, nei­ther does Louisville.

RICHARD SHIRO AP

Clem­son's Tavien Feaster rushes for a 70-yard touch­down while pur­sued by Louisville's Cor­nelius Sturghill dur­ing the first half of a 77-16 rout Sat­ur­day.

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