You Cant Bottle Up What These Guys Got

At times on Saturday night, the Clemson defense looked ill-equipped to handle Malik Cunningham. 

For much of the night in the Tigers 30-24 win over Louisville, it was a fairly uncharacteristic performance from a defensive unit that has experienced a tremendous amount of success slowing down some of college football's most fleet-footed quarterbacks. 

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Cunningham gashed the Clemson defense early and often, rushing for 138 yards before going down with an ankle injury with less than five minutes left in the third quarter. The quarterback would return with about ten minutes left in the game but was never able to get back on track. Cunningham managed -4 yards on the ground in the decisve fourth quarter.

With the Tigers clinging to a six-point lead, the Cardinals took possession of the ball at their own 25, with just over two minutes left. It took just five plays for Cunningham to move the Louisville offense down to the Clemson five, with just over a minute to play. 

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After a 1st down carry by running back Jalen Mitchell was stopped for no gain, Cunningham would carry the ball on the next three plays, never getting closer than the two. The Clemson defense bowed up and got the stop when it mattered most, and afterward, that is all defensive coordinator Brent Venables was concerned with.

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"Really proud of our guys," Venables said. "We gotta lot of things to fix, sloppy at times, and left a lot to be desired, but you can't bottle up what these guys got. Part of you thinks it is not in the cards and then our guys; just an amazing will to win and not to be denied. And that was pretty cool to watch."

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Bolstered by Cunningham's big night, Louisville rushed for 223 yards in the game, the most the Tigers have given up all season, and averaged close to five yards per carry. The Cardinals had touchdown runs of 26, 23 and 51 yards and Venables said for much of the night the Tigers just flat out got beat.

"Triple option football is a numbers game," Venables said. "If you don't have the numbers right they got leverage on you and with a quarterback like him, we seen it against Georgia Tech all those years. So we lost our alley player on two of those runs, actually three of the runs. Same guy, just kind of get in there different ways and we just got out leveraged. They got a load blocker on us and there's nobody outside and everybody's inside. It's a bad combination when you're talking about the triple option."

However, at a certain point, Venables decided to make some tweaks to how his defense was defending the Cardinals.

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"We did adjust there late, but not before they had us on our heels," he said. "On the flip side of that, it's trusting the scheme. The scheme works, but it has to be executed too."

The defensive coordinator said his unit spent much of the week working on red-zone defense, due to how effective Louisville has been inside the 20 this season. That work paid off, as the Cardinals' only trip into the red zone was on that final drive, with Venables group stiffening up inside the five, and the result being Louisville dropping to 0-7 all-time against Clemson.

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"Spent a lot of time in the red zone this week because they've been very efficient when they've gotten down there running the ball," Venables said. "Just amazing, toughness and resilience from our guys. What are you going to say? They made two amazing plays to get down there. Just incredible toughness. And that's the kind of attitude you got to have to be a good defense, let alone a great one."

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