Louisville and Clemson have never stood on opposing sidelines. The ACC is certainly new and exciting to Louisville, but almost all the teams are familiar opponents. Arriving onto the gridiron against Clemson at Memorial Stadium Saturday is the first time the Cardinals will experience something never seen before. The two teams have no history together, they rarely battle for recruits, and 80% or more of their fans believe Louisville to be located in the northeast. (Yankees)
Somehow, a rivalry is beginning to fester between the fan bases due to middle school level insecurity showcased by some of Clemson's followers. The game will deliver on entertainment value Saturday afternoon and following the Cardinal victory, Louisville will finally feel its arrival into power five football.
Broken record almost feels inapplicable when discussing the keys to a Cardinal victory. Every week the goal is to limit penalties and correct the unforced turnovers. Instead of harping on the past let us compare the Cardinal and Tiger/Tater personnel.
Generally considered the most important player on the field, Clemson holds a significant edge over Louisville in the quarterback department. If I told you in August Clemson would be starting a true freshman, 10 out of 10 Cardinal fans would have professed that Petrino and his QB would have a definite advantage.
Reality settled in quickly for Louisville as Will Gardner failed to deliver and then suffered an unfortunate injury. Louisville turned to a true freshman of its own, and Reggie certainly has shown flashes of greatness, but his inexperience has shown through consistently as well.
Deshaun Watson is the real deal and Cardinal fans should get used to him torching defenses for the next three seasons. Watson has thrown for nearly 1200 yards in five games, he started only three of those, and his completion percentage is 69. He has 12 touchdown passes compared to just one interception and has rushed for three scores as well.
Bonnafon and Gardner have combined for 1329 yards and both have a completion percentage hovering around 56. Louisville's receivers have uncharacteristically dropped a lot of balls, but there is no denying the inconsistent accuracy of the Cardinal QB's. However, turnovers are why Watson and Clemson hold such an advantage under center. Bonnafon and Gardner have combined for 10 turnovers compared to Watson's one. Louisville is going to need their best game of the season from Reggie and or Will on Saturday, and if not their best, please just protect the ball.
2. Running Backs
Clemson and Louisville are very similar in the rushing department. The Cardinals and Tigers rank 74th and 76th respectively in rushing offense, and Louisville has rushed for 13 scores compared to Clemson's 10. Both teams also showcase four capable and impressive running options when excluding their quarterback.
In terms of carries, C.J. Davidson is the leading rusher for Clemson, but freshman Wayne Gallman averages the most yards per carry and tends to be a popular receiving target. D.J. Howard and Adam Choice will also see the field and it appears all four backs are more than capable of providing electricity to the Tiger offense.
Brandon Radcliff has been the breakout star as of late for Louisville, but if Dominique Brown, Michael Dyer, or L.J. Scott settles into a rhythm expect the hot hand to carry the workload for the Louisville offense. I don't see an edge here for either team, but the ground game could be the deciding factor for Louisville. If the Cardinals control time of possession and keep Deshaun Watson off the field, Louisville should return home with a 6-1 record.
3. Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
DeVante Parker is back and is the best receiver in college football, the end.
Louisville was very confident in its receiving corps before the season, but Parker's injury and the underwhelming performances thus far have left Cardinal fans questioning the AFROS. Eli and Michaelee have dropped a lot of game changing opportunities, and James Quick has been the lone bright spot. Christian has been more than able at times, but seems to disappear for long stretches as well. With Parker returning, the pressure and weight on everyone's shoulders should lift significantly and I expect Louisville's wide outs to make a major statement Saturday afternoon.
Clemson appears to have three very reliable targets in Mike Williams, Artavis Scott, and Adam Humphries who have each caught 15 or more passes this season. Germone Hopper and Mike Williams are their big play receivers averaging 29 and 25 yards per catch respectively.
With Parker returning everything changes for the Louisville offense, but until proven on the field Clemson has the edge here due to past performance. Clemson makes plays, big ones, and our secondary is going to receive the test they have been waiting for all season.
4. Offensive Line
Louisville's offensive line has been the most criticized unit in 2014, and for good reason. The penalties are an embarrassment, but worse, Louisville ranks 114th in sacks allowed having given up 19 thus far. The single positive regarding the Cardinal front line is their ability to play their best in the fourth quarter. Clemson has a daunting defensive line so let us hope and pray the offensive line delivers discipline at the very least.
Clemson claims worry about their offensive line, and they have had issues themselves giving up 12 sacks in 2014. However, they are playing at home in their comfort zone and will have no issues hearing their coaches and quarterback. Clemson has the edge here as well, but as has been proven, no team is invincible to Mauldin, Rankins, Mount, Burgess, Kelsey, and the rest of the Cardinal defense.
Louisville's saving grace in 2014 has been unwavering in its commitment to excellence and keeping the opposition out of the end zone. No offense has crossed the Cardinal goal line in 13 consecutive quarters... wow! That stat is 100x more impressive due to the excellent field position opponents constantly attain.
Every player has done their part and Charles Gaines, Gerod Holliman, Terrell Floyd, James Sample, and the rest of the Cardinal secondary will be needed greatly Saturday. Deshaun Watson has torched each secondary he has faced. Louisville leads the nation in interceptions with 12 and Watson has only thrown one, in other words an unstoppable force is meeting an immovable object.
Clemson has a great defense in its own right and has played a better schedule than Louisville to this point. The Tigers rank 10th in total defense and have sacked the opposing quarterback 16 times. Their rushing defense only ranks 24th compared to 17th in passing yards allowed.
Louisville has the edge on defense, but Saturday will be an enormous test of the Cardinal resolve. If Louisville gives Clemson a consistent short field, the Cardinals will not survive and things could get ugly quick.
6. Special Teams
Special teams are relatively straight forward. Teams usually focus on not screwing up and making a momentum grasping play if possible. Both field goal kickers have missed more than once this season, and neither punting unit seems to be lighting the world on fire. An electrifying kickoff or punt return could change the landscape Saturday drastically, and as Cardinal fans already know, fielding the punt can be the difference in winning and losing. No edge is awarded to either team and both have the propensity to screw up royally. Disciplined football Cardinals, please.
Last and easiest topic of discussion is the matter of Bobby Petrino against Dabo Swinney. 46-10 v. 54-25. Big game Bobby against way-too-big-sweatshirt-Swinney. Also, there is this: http://deadspin.com/heres-clemson-coach-dabo-spinney-ruining-pharrell-for-t-1643987392
The Cardinals and their fans will receive a real welcome into upper echelon football Saturday afternoon. Clemson is a premier program with loyal and raucous fans, and their stadium will be filled to capacity with over 80,000 in attendance. Playing the role of underdog is unfamiliar to Louisville as of late, but as seen in the past, Coach Petrino and these kids relish in opportunities to surprise the nation. Fundamentals and discipline will win the game for Louisville. Enjoy Cardinal fans; this is what college football is all about.
All Hail UofL!!