LOUISVILLE, KY. — The lights weren’t too bright for No. 11 Clemson’s contributors who began their college tenures as a regular student.
A trio of walk-ons in wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, punter Andy Teasdall and kicker Greg Huegel, each playing on their first big-time setting, were each integral in their own way to the Tigers’ 20-17 win at Louisville Thursday night.
Renfrow and Teasdall were placed on scholarship Aug. 14. Huegel, still a walk-on, was serving his third game as the placekicker while 2014 starter Ammon Lakip completes his suspension.
“Coming in, my goal was not to earn a scholarship. I was to help the team win and be the best teammate I could,” Renfrow said. “I feel like all three of us are on the way to doing that.”
Renfrow caught a 32-yard scoring pass from sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson to put the Tigers up 7-0, his first career touchdown. Of the 5-10, 170-pounder, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said in August, “He kind of looks like a trainer, but don’t judge a book by its cover. This kid can flat-out play, here or anywhere.”
Teasdall punted six times with a 35.5-yard average, pinning three punts inside the 20-yard-line and only allowing one return, for 17 yards. He’s replacing Bradley Pinion, who left school early to become a fifth-round NFL Draft pick for the 49ers, leading Teasdall to be put on scholarship.
Meanwhile, the game came down to kicks, and the one who’s been on scholarship didn’t deliver. Louisville senior John Wallace pushed a 38-yard try wide left with 2:28 remaining, which ended up being the difference.
However, Huegel was good from 36 yards in the third quarter and 27 yards with 9:57 remaining, the eventual game-winner. The first kick provided a big decision for Swinney, who initially wanted to for it.
With a 4th-and-3, after surveying the defense, Watson called timeout. The Tigers then trusted Huegel, whose 36-yard field goal tied the game with 6:57 left in the third quarter, and had Swinney and Watson pumping fists on the sideline.
“Our kicker. Ol’ Greg Huegel. Made two big kicks. That ain’t easy,” Swinney said. “I don’t think anybody wants to come out of them stands in front of all those people and walk out there and kick in pressure situations.”
Even Jim Brown, the walk-on long snapper from Pinewood Prep, was solid Thursday, putting his snaps on point and routinely getting down the field quickly in punt return coverage.
Just like last year, Louisville struggled all game long on offense, only to have the ball with a chance to win at the end.
Just like last year, a big play had the Tigers on their heels. And just like last year, the Tigers came up with the goods in the nick of time.
“We said right before we left the hotel, we’re going to have to come up with a stop on defense to win this game,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “Lo and behold, our guys were ready for it, and embraced the moment.”
While it was blown coverage that yielded James Quick a long reception in the 2014 victory in Clemson, Thursday’s big play for Louisville was a 23-yard throw to freshman tight end Mickey Crum, getting the Cardinals down to Clemson’s 37-yard-line in the final minute.
“Right before we went out there, I told them we’re going to have the same exact situation, let’s don’t be stupid,” Swinney said. “Let’s don’t make some boneheaded play like we did last year.”
Louisville QB Kyle Bolin had two incompletions and sustained a sack to end the game.
“Pretty similar, and we stepped up once again,” junior linebacker Ben Boulware said. “No matter what the circumstances, we’re ready for any obstacle we face.”
Both of Clemson’s right tackles, senior starter Joe Gore and true freshman Jake Fruhmorgen, were sidelined in the first quarter due to leg injuries.
While Fruhmorgen was knocked out with what appeared to be a left knee contusion, Gore did return to start the second quarter after being carted to the locker room with a right leg issue.
Sophomore Maverick Morris saw time at right guard and right tackle.
Louisville was 1-for-17 on third downs last year, and 0-for-8 in the first half Thursday, meaning the Cardinals went to the locker room with an all-time 4 percent clip on third-down conversions vs. Clemson.
However, their first touchdown was scored on third-and-goal from the 1-yard-line. Louisville finished 2-of-14 on third down.