Wayne Gallman wanted a chair.
Pride wouldn’t permit him to admit he might be a bit fatigued after Clemson’s 20-17 win Thursday night.
Gallman’s 139 rushing yards against the Cardinals came largely between the tackles on 24 often violent carries. Gallman relied on his instincts when he didn’t see a crease.
“Just really trusting my line and going through the smoke,” he said. “It’s probably one of the first games I was really confident in myself. I didn’t feel any jitters. I’m really starting to feel everything.
“I had fun tonight.”
Dabo Swinney preaches that the “fun” is in winning, so perhaps Gallman was trapped in the moment and didn’t know to be relieved that winless Louisville couldn’t find one more play to pull off the upset over nationally ranked Clemson.
Even after choking the life from the Louisville run game, Clemson kept letting the Cardinals claw back. Leading by 10 in the fourth quarter, Clemson’s coverage parted like the Red Sea and Taveon Samuel returned the kickoff 100 yards to make it a three-point game.
“We did a decent job right up there till the end,” Swinney said. “To give up two turnovers, give up a touchdown on kickoff coverage, a couple of missed scoring opportunities … we just weren’t quite able to put them away.”
Louisville was starting a third quarterback, Kyle Bolin, who engineered a couple of scoring drives to take the lead in the third quarter then put his team on the doorstep again in the final two minutes of the game.
When Bolin hit a pass to the Clemson 37, the worst-case scenario seemed to be a field goal attempt for a tie. Yet on third down, Clemson end Kevin Dodd got through and sacked Bolin at the 41 with 26 seconds to play.
Still with time for a shot at the end zone before summoning the kicker, Bolin threw deep. Mackensie Alexander went up and slapped the ball forward. Safety Jadar Johnson caught it at the three, ran forward to the 10 and the game was over.
“When you go on the road you find out what mental toughness you have,” Swinney said. “We had enough adversity in this game for the whole year, the whole season. We had about everything you could think of thrown at us (and) made it a lot harder than it needed to be.”
For the second straight week, Deshaun Watson was intercepted on Clemson’s first possession. He threw a second interception later, missed tight end Jordan Leggett for a potentially big gain, and several passes were dropped. Still, Watson had a decent game throwing (21 of 30 for 199 yards, two touchdowns) and complemented Gallman with 54 rushing yards on 12 carries.
Greg Huegel hit two field goals, essentially providing the margin of victory, but special teams were otherwise pedestrian to miserable. Clemson had 22 return yards on punts and kickoffs and gave up the long kickoff return after Huegel’s second field goal.
Teams that can’t run throw – frequently – and Bolin reached back 34 times, completing 19 for 238 yards. Under siege from the outset, Clemson sacked him five times.
“Really secured the edges, really played well inside, stayed on our feet, fit things up pretty good,” said defensive coordinator Brent Venables. “We can still be better. That’s the beauty of that. That was a huge part of the game, no doubt.”
Midway through the first half Clemson lost two offensive tackles. Guard Maverick Morris lined up at right tackle for a couple of series until Joe Gore returned from a sore ankle. Jake Fruhmorgen injured a knee, but the extent of the injury will be evaluated over the weekend.
Gallman didn’t seem to notice the change, forcing the other three backs to watch. He’s carried the ball more than them all – combined.
“We said if Wayne got hot we would roll with him,” said co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott. “Wayne was running hard, he was finding it and was consistent. We didn’t want to take it out of his hands.”
Elliott said the confidence became self evident during camp. “Now he knows what he’s supposed to do. He understands the run schemes better,” he said. “Now he’s beginning to run with a more physical mentality.”
Gallman’s confidence, Watson’s leadership and a defense effectively emulating last year’s group should serve Clemson when Notre Dame comes to Death Valley on Oct. 3.
“I’m really proud of the guys in the trenches,” Swinney said. “That’s where the game is won, and I thought they took it over on both sides.
“I think we’ve got a little (momentum) going into the open date,” he said. “I don’t have any doubt that this game can help your team grow.”