LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Clemson freshman Andrew Booth Jr. had already yanked Louisville sophomore Trenell Troutman to the ground, but the cornerback wanted more. Booth, with Troutman pinned underneath him, reared back and socked the Cardinals cornerback in the face.
Never mind that Troutman's facemask protected him from the blow. The Cardinal Stadium crowd let out a collective "Oh!" Saturday afternoon as players from both teams scrambled to break up the scene early in the third quarter on a punt return. Yellow flags flew from all directions harmlessly, ineffectively, to the ground, surrounding the chaos.
The scene marked the nadir of an ugly game played between ACC Atlantic Division foes. No. 3 Clemson won 45-10, but not before grinding through a contest that featured sloppy early play from quarterback Trevor Lawrence and injuries to offensive lineman John Simpson, running back Travis Etienne and defensive tackle Xaxier Kelly, all of whom coach Dabo Swinney said afterwards were fine.
The Tigers won their 22nd straight contest and moved to 7-0 on the season. But Clemson looked fallible for much of the game and led just 3-0 after the first quarter, perhaps lending credence to the point of cynics who claim the Tigers have underperformed against a soft schedule this season.
Swinney said there will be "consequences" for Booth.
"He's one of the best young people from an unbelievable family," Swinney said. "If I would've had to list 1-100 the most likely to do something like that, he'd have been at the bottom of the list. Very disappointing there."
What went right
Etienne was dominant before leaving the game in the fourth quarter, having rushed for 192 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries. The junior ran for a 48-yard gain on the Tigers' first play of the game, but Lawrence was sacked three plays later on third down.
B.T. Potter, who was stripped of short-yardage field goal and extra point duties last week after he missed a 24-yard attempt against Florida State, nailed a 51-yard field goal. Potter did appear for extra-point attempts in the third and fourth quarters, after Sawicki missed a 44-yard field goal.
Swinney afterward demurred when asked if Potter had regained all of his duties but said he was proud of the sophomore.
"I don't know. We'll just have to wait and see. We'll see who runs out their (next) game," Swinney said. "He's definitely going to be the long guy. We'll see what happens."
What went wrong
Lawrence finished 20-for-29 passing for 233 yards and three touchdowns, but not after a forgettable first quarter. On consecutive throws, the sophomore tossed interceptions in the end zone. Louisville failed to take advantage, but Lawrence's miscues didn't help the narrative surrounding his performance this season. He now has eight picks in seven games after throwing just four all of last season.
"He just made two terrible decisions," Swinney said. "Sometimes he's a little too confident, not only in his arm, but his receivers. But, you know, it's all about how you respond."
The Tigers were also whistled for six penalties for 47 yards, continuing a concerning trend.
Lawrence for was 3 for 7 for 9 yards and the two interceptions in the first quarter, but in the second quarter he found wide receivers Joseph Ngata (6 yards) and Justyn Ross (25 yards) for touchdowns. Clemson entered the locker room leading 17-3, despite playing far from its best football, and the Cardinals couldn't catch up in the second half as the Tigers' offense moved more smoothly.
"I just wanted to keep firing," Lawrence said. "Just because I had two bad plays, I didn't let that affect the rest of the game."
Clemson returns to the friendly confines of Death Valley next Saturday against Boston College. The Eagles (4-2, 2-2 ACC) enter the contest coming off a 45-24 win over N.C. State.