CLEMSON, S.C. – Deshaun Watson threw for five touchdowns, including two in the final seven minutes, as No. 5 Clemson rallied for a 42-36 victory over No. 3 Louisville after the Tigers lost an 18-point lead to Lamar Jackson and the high-flying Cardinals on Saturday night.
The Tigers (5-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) looked like they had this one wrapped up before halftime, scoring four TDs in the second quarter to lead 28-10 at the break. Then “Action” Jackson got moving and the Cardinals (4-1, 2-1) scored on five consecutive possessions to take a 36-28 lead with 7:50 left.
Artavis Scott began Clemson’s comeback with a 77-yard kickoff return and Watson found Mike Williams for a 20-yard scoring pass two plays later. Clemson forced Louisville to punt for the only time in the second half and Watson guided the game-winning drive, ending on a 31-yard TD catch by Jordan Leggett.
Jackson had one last surge, leading Louisville to Clemson’s 9. But James Quick was knocked out of bounds by safety Van Smith on fourth down with 33 seconds left to seal the win.
“We came up a yard short,” Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said.
Watson had his errors – a career-high three interceptions and a fumble – but in the end found a way to succeed with 306 yards on 20-of-31 passing.
“It just shows even with the hiccups how good we are and how good we can be,” Watson said. “We found a way how to handle adversity.”
The Tigers have won 19 straight games at home, a streak that began after they lost their last top-five showdown – when No. 5 Florida State defeated No. 3 Clemson 51-14 in 2013. In that one, Jameis Winston led a Seminoles rout.
Clemson made sure Jackson would not pull off another one.
“A lot of guys picked Louisville,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Rough night for you.”