LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (5-1, 3-1) AT CLEMSON TIGERS (3-2, 2-1)
Game Time: 3:32 p.m.
Location: Memorial Stadium: Clemson, S.C.
Announcers: Anish Shroff (play-by-play), Kelly Stouffer (analyst) and Cara Capuano (sideline)
Favorite: Clemson by 9.5
All-Time Series: First Meeting
Last Meeting: None
Series History: Okay, you should have this one figured out
Schedule of Events:
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris makes a ton of money and he typically does a very good job of earning it. Morris is a very well respected offensive coach and quarterback teacher. With the insertion of Deshaun Watson as the starter two weeks ago, Clemson has averaged over 500 yards a game. Morris has struggled to find offensive balance this year and facing the top ranked run defense in the nation probably won't help that.
We are all familiar with the importance of the quarterback position as UofL fans and we really know how exciting it is to have a stud freshman take over as the starter and play well. Watson has done just that for Clemson with six touchdown passes in his first start and ten total touchdown the last two weeks. Watson is a dual threat quarterback but he is far from being a run first player. Outside of designed runs he really only takes off if he can't find the open guy. Louisville did very well keeping Terrel Hunt in the pocket last week, but he did have a few plays where he could find a seam in the pass rush and get down field. That won't work well with a talent like Watson. He isn't a lumberer that will get a few yards and fall forward. He is a quick and speedy guy that's athletic enough to hurdle a defender like he did last week against NC State.
Watson's arm is what really sets him apart from the quarterbacks that Louisville has faced so far. Watson is completing nearly 70% of his passes and looked absolutely great throwing the deep ball last week to Mike Williams. He has great touch down the field and he has a pretty quick release on the shorter routes that Clemson likes to run. He hasn't seemed to be fazed by the big moments he's played in so far or the talented defenses. The big question will be how will he play against a defense that is playing as well as Louisville's. Watson has been sacked five times in the last two weeks and he will likely face much more pressure than he's seen so far. If his line can't protect him, Watson could lose his calm demeanor and make a mistake or two.
The Clemson running game has been very ineffective so far this year. The team wasn't returning a ton of production coming into the year when they lost their top returning rusher just before the season started. With that loss Morris was has been forced to use a committee system instead of being able to utilize one or two backs like they have in the past. Wayne Gallman has been listed as the starter this week but there is really no telling who will get the most carries. The backs as a group are only averaging 122 yards a game and are averaging 4.4 yards a carry. With a wide open offense and so many weapons in the passing game, the rushing attack should have more big plays. The fact that the offense has been so productive while being so one dimensional is really a solid accomplishment.
The Tigers have stockpiled a ridiculous amount of talent at the wide receiver position over the last handful of years and it looks like the loss of Sammy Watkins hasn't hurt them too much. Mike Williams is ranked 16th in the country in receiving yards per game and it looks like he and Watson really have a great connection together. Williams is everything you want in a receiver at 6-4/210 and fast. He, Germone Hopper, and Artavis Scott give Scott a versatile group of receivers that are all viable deep threats as well as quick screen options. Williams is more than capable of taking the top off of the Louisville defense which could really open up the middle of the field on his side. Gerod Holliman and James Sample have done an exceptional job in coverage, but the defense has rarely been tested deep. That will likely change this week with Williams and Watson having such success with the deep ball.
Clemson's offensive line has played about as poorly as Louisville's this year, giving up a ton of negative plays and not being able to protect a mobile quarterback. The line was a question mark coming into the season and they haven't had any success solving their issues. They've given up 5 of their 12 sacks in the last two weeks. Both of those games were relative blowouts against defenses that aren't really very good. With the wayLorenzo Mauldin, Sheldon Rankins, and Keith Kelsey are playing the Tigers have to hope that Morris has a plan that will alleviate some of the pressure on the line.
KEY PLAYERS: QB Deshaun Watson, WR Mike Williams, WR Artavis Scott, WR Germone Hopper
Clemson is known for having a potent offense but the defense has done a great job of producing solid NFL talent over the years. Brent Venables is a very highly respected defensive coordinator and he has done a very good job since joining the Tiger's staff. Venables has a really good reputation as a recruiter and as a defensive play caller. His system isn't very exotic but it gets very good results.
The name Vic Beasley will be uttered more than anyone could possibly imagine this weekend. He is the star of this Clemson defense and he is widely regarded as one of the best pass rushers in the country. Beasley is third in the nation in sacks per game and he is closing in on Clemson's all time sack record. He has an amazing first step and his speed allows him to get up the field and around blockers to get into the pocket from behind. The rest of the front seven does such a great job of flying to the ball that Beasley is pretty much let loose to get after the quarterback every play. Grady Jarrett is another top player in the ACC at the defensive tackle spot. He has looked vastly improved from a quickness standpoint to go with his great ability to get push as well as hold the point of attack. Louisville's offensive line hasn't played well against speed guys like Beasley, but Tobijah Hugley has struggled with quickness in one-on-one situations as well.
One would have to wonder if Bobby Petrino's gameplan includes a plan to provide help against Beasley. Whether you keep a running back in to create a double team or you line up a tight end to his side to chip him when he releases, something needs to be done to slow him down. His wide splits and tendency to get really high up the field opens up big rush lanes for blitzers from the second level. It's somewhat of a pick your poison situation, but Beasley is the key. If you can't stop him the offense is seriously limited. Forcing blitzers to create pressure means that you should see some single coverage opportunities on the outside. With DeVante Parker potentially coming back to the lineup, those matchups become a big factor in the game.
Clemson runs a 4-3 base set with a good amount of nickel when they need it. The defense relies on the linebackers to be able to run and make plays in the open field. Stephone Anthony is one of the better middle linebackers in the country and he his having another great year with 33 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss. Anthony benefits from an aggressive system as well as having two really good defensive tackles in front of him. Linebackers always play better when they don't have to worry about linemen getting to them at the second level. Jarrett and DeShawn Williams do a great job of taking up blocks and riding along with the flow of the play to allow Anthony and Tony Steward to run and make plays. Clemson's aggression and speed on defense has hurt them at times. UNC did a great job of countering their pressure with jailbreak screens. They ended up getting two touchdowns on the same play and seemingly exposing a flaw in the defense. Then NC State tried the same play and got stuffed each time. State's linemen didn't get out quick enough to get hands on the linebackers and they were able to make plays on the receivers. They are extremely quick guys and Louisville's linemen have to get to their blocks in order to give the offense a chance to move the ball.
The Tiger's defense moves around a lot pre-snap and that really is a factor with their defensive backfield. There are plays where safety Jayron Kearse will line up like a linebacker and run blitz and there are times where Robert Smith will do the same. Sometimes their corners will line up in press coverage only to sink off to 8-10 yards and play quarters. The defense looks to make the decision for the quarterback harder to make. Making that decision harder makes the decision take longer which allows more time for the pass rush to get there. Kearse and Smith have done a really good job against the run so far. They are first and second in solo tackles on the team, respectively. Where Louisville can possibly find some success is getting these guys matched up against Eli Rogers or Michalee Harris in the slot. Both are bigger safeties that don't really do great in short spaces in coverage. However, they can both hold their own down the field in coverage.
Mackenzie Alexander will be the third former 5-star defensive back Louisville will face this year. He hasn't had the impact that most expected from him so far this season. He was beaten for a touchdown in the UNC game and he has made some mistakes in coverage in other games. He was known as a playmaking cover corner coming out of high school and I think fans are still waiting for him to get his hands on the football. He is joined at corner by senior Garry Peters. Just like Alexander, Peters hasn't been able to make a lot of plays in coverage. What he has done, however, is get into the backfield and make plays against the run and on screen plays. His 3.5 tackles for loss put him fourth on the team. Korrin Wiggins is the nickelback for this defense and he has been pretty inconsistent in coverage. He's not too fluid when he has to turn and run and it leads to him grabbing a bit. He was beat pretty badly by Bo Hines last week and took a bad defensive holding call on a pass that was probably overthrown. Reggie Bonnafon has relied heavily on his inside receivers so far, so it will be interesting to see how Wiggins holds up.
This defense is overlooked because of the history of high powered offenses for theTigers. When you really break down their season so far they've really only had one bad quarter and that wasn't against Todd Gurley and the fresh group of running backs behind him. They are susceptible to the big play as FSU and UNC both showed in their matchups. But, NC State put up a great fight against a really good Florida State defense two weeks ago and got absolutely shut down by this Clemson front seven last week. Louisville will have to take the game down the field where Clemson isn't as experienced. Vic Beasley and company will have their way if not.
KEY PLAYERS: DE Vic Beasley, DT Grady Jarrett, MLB Stephone Anthony, OLB Tony Steward, FS Jayron Kearse
Excitement Level: 9.3
I have been looking forward to this since pretty much the day we made the decision to go. Death Valley is on the bucket list of just about every college football fan, and this is the biggest game and the best team Louisville has faced this season. Win or lose, days like this are the reason we were all so euphoric the day U of L was invited to the ACC. I couldn't be more excited about the hours ahead.
Pregame Meal: No idea
I assume that I will be wondering around the area near the stadium, so hopefully somebody somewhere in that place has food for sale.
Game Attire: New red U of L polo, khaki shorts, red Cardinal bird shoes, red and white University of Louisville hat
Since every school's "unofficial" colors include white and black, I sort of feel like you have to wear your team's primary color when you go to a game away from home (unless, of course, you have a particular outfit that's on a winning streak). I don't trust any of my warm-weather red U of L shirts right now, so I made a purchase last night just for this game. Clearly I'm not f---ing around this weekend.
Bold Prediction: Brandon Radcliff hits the 100-yard mark for a third straight game.
After last season's magic, I'm not just trying to not go 0-for-the season.
Predicted Star of the Game: James Burgess
He's our fastest and most versatile linebacker, and thus the guy who needs to take keeping DeShaun Watson from going off into his own hands.
Griffin Uhl Playing Alert Level: Brick Red (Can't believe I haven't used this color yet. I'm not sure anything could be more appropriate. Solely because of this discovery, I'm saying he sees the field.)
Motivational Opposing Player Tweets:
Clemson football has a strict no tweeting policy for its players, who all appeared to give up the service (aside from the occasional retweet) on July 31.
If you still need this section to get your blood flowing, just check out my man Clemson Tom's entire feed.
--The Louisville defense has not allowed a touchdown in their last 13 quarters. The last time an opposing offense found the endzone against the Cards was in the third quarter of the game against Virginia on Sept. 13.
--This is the first time since the 2013 Sugar Bowl that Louisville has entered a game as the underdog.
--The Cardinals' last loss in a game they weren't favored to win was the 2011 Belk Bowl against NC State.
--Clemson has won each of its last 21 games against unranked opponents by 10 points or more.
--Dabo Swinney is 25-0 at Clemson in games where the Tigers are double-digit favorites. As it stands at the moment, Louisville is a 9.5-point underdog.
--Louisville has won four straight games against ACC teams they are playing for the first time.
--Louisville is 13-3 in the month of October with Bobby Petrino as the head coach.
--Louisville is 19-0 over the last three seasons when attempting at least 35 rushes in a game.
--Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley needs just one more sack to become the school's all-time leader in that category.
--Saturday's game at Clemson will be only the eighth game played on natural grass for the Cardinals over the last three seasons. This will be the Cardinals second this season played on natural grass after playing at Virginia on Sept. 13. Louisville is 6-1 in those games, with the only loss coming to Virginia this season.
--Louisville has scored in 25 of its 27 trips to the red zone this season. One of those failed attempts came at the end of last week's win over Syracuse, when the Cardinals elected to let the clock run out
--The Cardinal defense enters this game ranking first in the country in total defense. They lead the nation in interceptions and rush defense, and are second in tackles for loss and third down conversion rate.
--U of L safety Gerod Holliman leads the FBS with seven interceptions.
--Clemson enters this game averaging 491 yards of offense and 40.4 points per game.
--Dabo Swinney is 21-3 in ACC home games as Clemson's head coach.
--Clemson is 35-6 all-time in home games under Dabo Swinney.
--Overall, Clemson owns an all-time home record of 354-125-15.
--Clemson QB Deshaun Watson leads the nation in yards per pass attempt (11.1). He also ranks second in the country in passing efficiency.
--Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 179 games dating back to the 2000 season. The streak ranks as the third longest in the ACC behind Virginia Tech (250) and Georgia Tech (217).
--Louisville is 9-4 all-time in games played on Oct. 11. They haven't taken the field on this day since a 34-10 victory over Army in 2003. Bobby Petrino, who is 2-0 on 10/11, was the Cardinals' coach for that game.
--Dating back to 1980, Louisville is 146-15 when scoring 30 or more points in a game.
--"I think that we're in a good spot, and this is a huge one for us this week because this is an outstanding team and a big challenge, and for us it's just about we've kind of created a little bit of momentum, trying to keep that momentum going. We could be a really, really special team when this thing is all said and done at the end of the year." --Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney
--"When you looked on the schedule, and you say, 'hey, we get to go play in Death Valley,' these are the type of games that the players we recruit and the guys that are here came here to play in." --Bobby Petrino
--"Clemson's a very, very good football team. They're very explosive offensively. I think it'll be our biggest challenge that our defense has faced to date as far as their ability to throw the ball deep, a running quarterback, a great receiver -- they have a lot of pieces in that offense." --Bobby Petrino
--"I just know that if we get the first stop in the game, we're going to win that game because we as a defense know that by getting the first three-and-out, we're in their heads already. We know that if we play with a confident defense, pretty much the game is ours." --Lorenzo Mauldin
--"These guys are good. It doesn't take long when you turn the game film on - they really grab your attention in a hurry." --Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris
--"It's a loud place. We've played in loud places. Every place we go is going to be loud. Obviously they think this is the loudest. That's a credit to their fan base. When you go on the road and play, you have to deal with the noise. That's just a fact. That's all I really meant to say." --Bobby Petrino
--"You can't say that it ain't gonna affect you. We done watched film of a whole lot of places. We ain't ever seen nobody camera shaking. And every time we watch film in Death Valley the camera's shaking." --Clemson DT Grady Jarrett
--"We relish playing on road games. We love crowds like that. It's why we come to college to play football." --Lorenzo Mauldin
--"I think it's going to be a nice physical game. It's going to be a game of the year. It's going to be nice to see both of the defenses out there and the offenses going out to respond to these defenses." --Clemson safety Robert Smith
--"Mauldin is one of the top sackers in the country and Kelsey is a guy who's very involved - he'll really come at you off the edge. They will attack you. They're very very physical at safety. They're the No. 1 defense in the nation for a reason, so it's going to be a big challenge." --Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney
--"Coach Strong and their staff did a great job of recruiting and that's well-documented in their success against top teams. They won't come into Death Valley in awe - I don't believe. The mantra of that team is about being tough and having an edge to them and competing at a high emotional level. A lot of guys that wear it on the sleeve and I like that and have respect for that." --Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables
--"Both guys have had good weeks of practice," Petrino said. "I'm excited about both of them." --Bobby Petrino on his quarterback situation
--"We play with a chip on our shoulder every time we go out there and every chance we can prove to the country we're one of the best defenses in the country. Saturday will be a big statement for us." --Clemson DE Vic Beasley
--"This is why you come to a program like this. Growing up as a kid, you would watch games and see those big crowds, and you always hoped to be in those shoes one day. It's a dream come true for me and my teammates." --Reggie Bonnafon
--"It's been a battle but we've really done a good job of finding ways to win the game in the fourth quarter. I've enjoyed our players on the sideline in the fourth quarter and seeing their mentality that, 'hey, we're going to go out and win the game.' The way they've rallied around each other says a lot for their heart." --Bobby Petrino
--"Come on, man. They'll be here Saturday. They will be here Saturday. At the end of the day, we still got to play the game. That's the only thing that really matters, is the teams on the field." --Clemson DT Grady Jarrett
Let's do this. Go Cards.