7 at 11: Clemson “dominates” line of scrimmage, switches it up at nickel

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, left, hands the ball off to Wayne Gallman during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Louisville in Louisville, Ky., Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

LOUISVILLE, KY. – Seven wrap-up notes from the visiting locker room after No. 11 Clemson’s 20-17 victory Thursday night at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium:

1) Stat of the game: Clemson outrushed Louisville 202 yards to 19.

“That’s dominating the line of scrimmage. I’m really proud of the guys in the trenches,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “That’s where the game was won. I feel like we took it over on both sides.”

Running back Wayne Gallman had four gains of more than 10 yards, including a 25-yarder on third-and-2 to flip the field. Last year, Gallman had four carries for nine yards vs. Louisville; Thursday, 139 yards on 24 carries.

“I think it was more of a confidence issue last year,” co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Tony Elliott said. “He was a young guy trying to figure it out; now he understands what we’re trying to do, and he’s running with a more physical mentality.”

And then there was quarterback Deshaun Watson, squeezing through traffic for a couple gains of 10-plus, nearly icing the game with a fourth-down scramble that fell barely short of the first-down marker (and apparently, per viewers on TV, a face-mask pull went uncalled) and recording 12 carries for 54 rushing yards, both the second-highest totals of his career. Watson had 15 for 62 vs. N.C. State last year.

“Obviously he’s dangerous with the ball in his hands. They presented some opportunity for us to run him, we didn’t show that in the first two games and got a little bit of mileage on it. He’s a warrior. We challenged him to run the football – I think everybody challenged him. The coaches, the media and community challenged him to run the football.”

2) Greg Huegel was called the Grocery Store Kicker by Swinney, who’d joked he found Huegel in the parking lot of a Bi-Lo during a beer-can-kicking competition.

After going true on two field-goal attempts Thursday, Huegel earned a promotion.

“I told him he’s getting promoted to Publix,” Swinney said.

3) Clemson is now 120 th in the country (or ninth-worst) in opponents’ kickoff return average, a 28.1 yard clip. Appalachian State got some things done in the kickoff returns, and Traveon Samuel nearly saved the game for the Cardinals with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

“We gotta get that fixed. That’s two weeks in a row we’ve been really poor on kickoff coverage,” Swinney said. “That’s how teams get back into games.”

4) Defensive end Shaq Lawson had 1.5 sacks, pushing his lifetime total to nine tackles for a loss in four Thursday night games. But he also had two critical personal foul penalties for roughing up Louisville quarterback Kyle Bolin.

“I feel like the first one he kind of flopped,” Lawson said. “The second one, I put my hands in his face, so I don’t know what they called it for (it was illegal hands to the face.) So I tried to stay away from the quarterback after that.”

5) Poor Ben Boulware. Five quarterback hurries on the year, a hit on Bolin that caused a Louisville Courier-Journal reporter to drop this contextually hilarious line, and still no sacks for the Tigers’ “junkyard dog.”

“I know. It’s so annoying,” Boulware said. “I’m busting my butt to get him down, and I keep missing. I don’t know. Hopefully soon I can turn them into sacks.”

6) Defensive coordinator Brent Venables, eternally the perfectionist.

“I have this bad problem that I always think about the bad plays, the dumb call,” Venables said, taking blame for Jaylen Smith’s 55-yard reception as well as Micky Crum’s pivotal 23-yard catch on the final drive.

“On the sideline when (safety) T.J. Green’s covering a guy – dumb call. And we blew the coverage down the middle of the field there on that last drive. We left the one guy uncovered.

“But golly, I love watching our guys battle. What a fun game to be a part of. You’ve got to have that road dog mentality where you’ve got to have an edge about you that you can win these types of games.”

7) Personnel to watch: cornerback Ryan Carter got plenty of run at nickel back, while Travis Blanks appeared to be healthy and available on the sideline.

-AB