by: Zachary Wagner
The “new age” NFL quarterback has started to turn tables in the last few years. The past two MVP’s of the league have both been young, agile and versatile quarterbacks who can scramble and extend plays with their legs. When fans think of “new age” quarterbacks they think of names like: Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes and of course, Lamar Jackson. Jackson won the 2019 NFL MVP honor after a record setting season, and Watson led the Houston Texans to their first playoff win since 2016. Most fans can agree that both Watson and Jackson are two of the most fun quarterbacks to watch in the league and it was must watch TV when the two met up during the regular season last year, a 41-7 win for the Ravens.
Clemson and Louisville fans knew these two were going to be special long before they took the field as rookies in the NFL though. In today’s throwback thursday feature we will take a look back to the 2016 game inside of Death Valley between No. 5 ranked Clemson and No. 3 ranked Louisville.
Tiger fans know the story of the 2016 championship run. Coming off defeat in the National Championship game in 2015 to Alabama, Clemson was out for revenge in 2016. Fast forward to week five of the season and the biggest game of the 2016 College Football season to that point.
Louisville entered the contest with an impressive 4-0 record, as Lamar Jackson was putting together a very astounding resume on his way to win the 2016 Heisman Trophy. The Cardinals entered the game averaging 64 points a game and had one of the best wins in the country, taking down the second ranked Florida State Seminoles in blowout fashion 63-20. Jackson and the Cardinals knew the road to Charlotte went through Death Valley.
On the flip side of the coin, Dabo Swinney and the Clemson Tigers came into the contest ranked fifth in the nation and sporting a 4-0 record as well. Clemson began the season by taking down SEC foe Auburn and the next week survived a scare from Troy University 30-24. Louisville would be Clemson’s first ranked test of the season, and with the bright lights and added attention of having ESPN’s College Gameday in town, everyone knew this would be a game for the ages.
Deshaun Watson threw for five touchdowns and 300 yards on the day as Clemson held fast on a fourth down play with 35 seconds remaining to top the Cardinals inside of Memorial Stadium, 42-36. Watson added 92 yards on the ground and Wayne Gallman reached the century mark while also finding paydirt one time. Mike Williams (1), Deon Cain (2), Jordan Legget (1) and Artavis Scott (1) all hauled in touchdown passes from Watson. The Cardinal secondary picked off Watson three times on the night, which they converted into 20 points, a main reason the game was so close.
Jackson also had himself a night throwing for 295 and one touchdown and added 201 yards on the ground on 30 attempts rushing and two touchdowns.
“It was a great win,” said head coach Dabo Swinney. “Louisville played their hearts out. We stuck it out in the third quarter. We had the right plays.”
The game was one of runs. After a battle of defenses in the first quarter, Louisville struck first taking a 7-0 lead just the first play from scrimmage in the second quarter. The Tigers would go on to dominate the rest of the quarter, out scoring the Cardinals 28-3. Cain hauled in both his touchdowns during the second quarter and helped Clemson claim a 28-10 lead at half.
Louisville scored the next 26 points, as the Tigers would be held scoreless in the third quarter. Down 36-28, Watson found Williams for a 20-yard touchdown catch to pull Clemson within a point, 36-35.
After Louisville was unable to put points on the board on it’s next drive, Watson capitalized and reclaimed the lead for the Tigers, driving 85 yards down the field and finding Legget for a 31-yard touchdown pass with 3:14 left in the ballgame.
The Cardinals would not be put away easy though, as Jackson and the offense marched right down the field and entered the redzone. With 33 seconds left on the clock the Cardinals faced a fourth-and-12, Jackson took the snap and rolled out and found James Quick right on the sideline. Quick bolted for the first down marker, but was met a yard short when Marcus Edmond pushed him out for the game saving tackle. Clemson moved to 5-0 and the rest is history.
As a Tiger fan, we get used to nail biting victories. This has to be very close to the top for one of those nail biting, pit of your stomach games where you can’t bear to watch. The victory over Louisville helped cement Clemson in the National Championship talk once again, after analysts and journalists were writing the Tigers off as a fluke after the 2015 National Championship loss.
For the next few years, whenever Watson and Jackson meet up on Sundays, the whole nation will be watching, just like in 2016 when the two future first round picks met on the gridiron for the first time.