CHARLOTTE—Louisville has been so close to knocking off the Tigers ever since they entered the ACC.
The first game against the Tigers in 2014 began a series of games that have come down to the final play, when a 73-yard pass from, then quarterback, Will Gardner to James Quick put the Cardinals on the Tigers 8-yard line with 1:08 to go in the game—trailing 23-17.
Gardner was forced to spike the ball on the Cardinals third down, setting up fourth-and-goal from the Tigers’ 2-yard line. The fourth down play would be foiled by Tiger defensive lineman DeShawn Williams, who batted the pass away.
The Tigers first trip to Louisville would be one to remember, as the Tigers would face three quarterbacks, including current Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, in a game that would end in defeat for the Cardinals after a final Hail-Mary attempt was tipped near the goal line and intercepted by Jadar Johnson—sealing the Tigers 20-17 victory.
And finally, last season saw the No. 3 Cardinals enter Death Valley to take on the No. 5 Clemson Tigers in what may have been the most exciting game yet, as the Tigers squandered an 18-point lead before ultimately hanging for a 42-36 victory.
The Tigers’, trailing 36-35 with 3:41 remaining in the game, Deshaun Watson would find Jordan Leggett for a touchdown reception that put the Tigers on top. However, Lamar Jackson would drive the Cardinals to the Clemson 3-yard line, but would be unable to move any closer—turning the ball over on downs after James Quick stepped out of bounds on fourth down.
“That game was exciting and I like exciting game,” Louisville cornerback Jaire Alexander said. “You know, big time players make big plays in big games and we were looking forward to doing it. We just, the start of the game wasn’t as good as it should have been, but we turned it around though. If we would have played every quarter the way we played the last two quarters, the outcome would have been different.”
And for Louisville, after coming so close to beating the Tigers in each of their first three meeting since joining the conference—with the Tigers having won the first three games by an average of five points—the goal is to use their homefield to their advantage, much the same way the Tigers did last season.
“We need our fan’s to be in it, and we need to play just how we played the last two quarters the whole game—and it will be a whole different game,” Alexander said. “Papa John’s will be rocking. Live in effect.”
Even with the Cardinals having already circled Sept.16 at 3:30 p.m., as the date and time for their revenge on a Tigers’ team that has ripped their hearts out each of the last three seasons, it is clear that the disappointment of the first three meetings has turned to motivation.
“We don’t know what happened. We just started losing, and we now we’ve got to transition into this year—turn it into motivation,” quarterback Lamar Jackson said. “Finish the game. You know, they performed very well last year and had a great quarterback, Deshaun. Like I said before, gotta finish.”
The Cardinal fanbase may see this season as the perfect opportunity to finally get over the hump, as the Tigers trying to replace the like of Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams, Wayne Gallman and Jordan Leggett—just to name a few.
But for the players, they felt like their time has already arrived.
“We feel like it was our year last year—we just gotta play. That’s all,” Jackson said. “I’m very excited (for Clemson to come to Louisville). You know, we played there very loud. The fans were all into the game, and it’s our turn now. Going to be a great game.”