Your first thought: Clemson beat a top-five opponent Saturday while committing five turnovers.
Your next thought: How did the fifth-ranked Tigers win this game with five turnovers?
This is a game you review, hopefully learn from and then throw into the back of a sock drawer. The Tigers are 5-0 after Saturday’s 42-36 victory over third-ranked Louisville. The result keeps Clemson in the hunt for one of four playoff spots.
But this one wasn’t exactly an endorsement of the Tigers’ national championship credentials.
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Their Heisman Trophy candidate, Deshaun Watson, did throw for 306 yards and five touchdowns. But he also threw three interceptions (two of those to Jaire Alexander, who grew up in Charlotte and originally planned to sign with the 49ers).
Watson hasn’t looked like the carefree, daring playmaker he was last season. Maybe that’s about all the expectations, both locally and nationally. Saturday he was matched against Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, who has been even more dynamic this season.
How dynamic? Jackson finished with 162 rushing yards and 295 passing yards. He might have pulled off a win had wide receiver James Quick wriggled past Clemson safety Van Smith. Instead, Smith pushed Quick out of bounds 1 yard short of the first-down marker, and Clemson took possession just outside the end zone to run out the clock.
Linebacker Ben Boulware, Clemson’s best defensive player Saturday, was thoroughly impressed with Jackson.
"I told him he’s the best player I ever played against," Boulware said. "All the stuff he brings to the table with his arm, his leg, his mental knowledge of the game. He’s a freak."
The Tigers managed to beat that freak in part on the collective experience of the past 14 months. The Tigers haven’t lost a regular-season game in that span, their only loss a close one to Alabama in last season’s national championship game.
Almost exactly a year ago, the Tigers beat Notre Dame with another late goal-line stand. That was the first thing Boulware and several of his teammates mentioned, as far as what got them through Saturday.
"I think the maturity and experience made a difference. A lot of our guys have been through this.," Boulware said of that victory over the Irish. "The Oklahoma game and Alabama game, too. You kind of know how to react and respond."
They sure needed that to lean on because the defense was out of juice at the end, after the Cardinals took a 36-28 lead with a little more than 10 minutes left. It took a 77-yard kickoff return by Artavis Scott and two clutch receptions by tight end Jordan Leggett to regain the lead.
Then the defense needed to make one more stop.
"Everybody was just spent," said Boulware. "We were so tired, I honestly can’t remember what play-call we were in or what they ran.
"We remembered how we found a way to win that Notre Dame game. I just knew somehow, someway, we’d find a way."
Leggett also thought back to that Notre Dame game. He needed something to go right again. His fumble earlier in this game had squandered a prime scoring opportunity, and that was when Louisville came roaring back to take the lead.
So it meant a lot that the coaches and Watson believed in him enough that he was thrown the pass that became a 31-yard touchdown. Leggett followed that up by catching a jump-pass from Watson for the two-point conversion.
"That fumble, it just kind of hurt me, but I was able to make up for it.," Leggett said. "Just glad the coaches had the faith to come back to me."
Hey, it was a mistake and a costly one. But it’s not as if Leggett was the only Tiger who got away with one Saturday.