Clemson's Offensive Line Rotation
To start the season, Clemson has been rotating offensive linemen at each spot along the line in an effort to get young players snaps as well as rewarding players for their practice habits. It hasn't worked very well so far. Clemson's offense is playing about as well as it did last year when it got off to a slow start to the season. The difference this year is that they have struggled mightily to run the football. People tend to think that spread offenses just pass the ball nonstop but Clemson's offense is pretty balanced and Wayne Gallman set multiple Clemson records last year on the ground.
Clemson's line has allowed 19 tackles for loss that weren't sacks. Though some of those came in a FCS blowout game where the starters didn't play much. From every snap I've watched it looks like the rotating personnel has really hurt the offense in terms of cohesiveness. At times guys are not getting help when they should and guys are missing assignments that seem obvious. Offensive line play is hard to assess but Clemson's issues are easier to notice because they played so well last year. Dabo Swinney has said that he will continue rotating guys this week but I don't see that happening if Louisville gets out to an early lead.
Louisville's Pass Rush Should Continue To Cause Havoc
Coming into this season Devonte Fields was the Louisville defender most were looking to as the main pass rusher in the front seven. UofL had lost a few highly productive players and no one was quite sure who would step up to proved the much needed pressure on the quarterback. James Hearns has stepped up and he's stepped up in a big way. Hearns is averaging over a sack a game and he's on pace to have about the same amount of sacks as the national leader last year. Hearns has shown that he is a legit pass rusher with great speed off the edge and really great use of his hands to shed blockers. He has twice as many sacks as Fields, which is way more than you can ask of him.
Todd Grantham's system has always been great at getting pressure on the quarterback and this year has been no different. Louisville is 10th in the country in sacks per game and the distribution shows that the pressure is coming from all angles. Clemson has done well protecting Deshaun Watson but he's really just done better at escaping pressure than the pressure not being there. Louisville has the speed and discipline to do much better at getting to him before he can get rid of the ball or escape the pocket. We saw this last year when Watson couldn't get past his first read at times before he was being hit. Louisville might not have the overall talent that they did last year, but they do have this system working extremely well with the talent they have.
Will Clemson Push The Ball Down The Field?
Clemson has the ability to strike very quickly due to the speed of their receivers and the scheme of their offense. However, over the last year the Tigers have rarely tried to go deep down the sidelines with go routes. Mike Williams missed last year and that left the Tigers with a shorter receiver group but they still have speedy players that can separate and get behind the defense. Williams really made a name for himself two years ago by being a big-time deep threat who can make the highlight reel catch. I think Clemson goes deep early and often on Saturday to Williams and Deon Cain on the outside. This will be to try to get a big play as well as to try to get more room in the running game.
Louisville's safeties haven't done a poor job at helping out over top but they have been a few steps late multiple times this year. Jaire Alexander more than held his own against 6-7 Michael Clark from Marshall last week but Clark hadn't played football in five years before this season. Mike Williams will more than likely be the first receiver taken in the draft next year and he is a veteran. Where the Cards can really impact this game plan is by getting to Watson quickly with four rushers. If Louisville can play with two deep safeties I think they will get an interception or two off of Watson. He hasn't been all that great at avoiding turnovers in his career and the Cards could take advantage of that.
Louisville's Offensive Line and Clemson's Defensive Line Are Trending Opposite Ways
I'll start off by saying that the Marshall game is a very small sample-size but it was very worrisome to me because all of the issues we saw last season came back around all at once. Penalties, snap infractions, lazy exterior pass protection, interior linemen being beaten with simple swim moves, and interior linemen being blown off the ball were all issues that popped up in the first half alone against the Herd. While "trending" might not be a fair characterization it definitely could be against what is arguably the best defensive line in the country. Louisville's offensive line absolutely has to start off the game playing well. They improved in the second half against Marshall and looked like they had in the first three games but Clemson is much deeper and their linemen won't be tired and undisciplined like the Herd.
The Tiger defense lost two of the best defensive ends in the country to the draft last year and they've somehow gotten better at making plays behind the line. The defensive tackle spots are absolutely killing it so far for Clemson and they could play a big part in the game Saturday because Clemson has the speed to contain Lamar Jackson on the outside if they only have to rush four guys. Honestly, most teams can do that. We all saw Marshall pull it off early on in the game last week. What Clemson has that most don't is defensive tackles that can actually keep up with Jackson in a small space. Carlos Watkins and Dexter Lawrence won't "run down" Jackson but they can track him down as he starts his scramble. Marshall was the first team to get penetration against Louisville this year and the offense wasn't able to get going early. Louisville absolutely has to find a way to stop this line from getting into the backfield because it changes the way the entire defense can play Lamar.