Louisville's Guards Vs. Clemson's Tackles
The biggest impact on this game will be Louisville's ability to stop Clemson's defensive line from getting penetration. Louisville has been able to do a great job running the football with the read option, traditional run plays, and inverted veer. They've also been able to do a great job giving Lamar Jackson the time to survey the field and find the open receiver.
The key to stopping a mobile quarterback is containment and the only way you can do that is if you have guys free to spy the quarterback. People think that speed is a big deal with spying quarterbacks but it's really about angles and free space for the defender. Marshall did a good job with this early in the game last week if you want a visual aid. The spy wasn't necessarily needed, but you can see how they were able to play because they had the space. Lamar Jackson is what the kids call "a problem" because he is insanely quick in open space and he doesn't waste movement. If Clemson can cause havoc with four or five rushers, Lamar will be running into more than one guy as he scrambles and that man will have the angle on him.
Where Clemson's defensive tackles really can cause a problem is by collapsing the pocket and shrinking the space that Lamar Jackson has to operate. Jackson bailed out of good pockets last week against Marshall because he brought his eyes down to the rush Dexter Lawrence and Carlos Watkins could get push against UofL's interior linemen and push the pocket right back into Jackson. At that point Jackson would have a hard time not watching the rush and the passing game ends up suffering. Louisville's line needs to play like they did against FSU or this game ends up being a close one.
Cordrea Tankersley Vs. James Quick
I'm a sucker for a really good receiver/corner matchup and with the way that both of these guys are playing there could be some really fun battles throughout the game. Tankersley will play the boundary side on Saturday, so he won't always be matched up with Quick but when he is it will be fun to watch. Quick has been the big play receiver for Louisville after being moved back outside this year. Quick has shown that he can run by guys as well as get physical and force guys off balance. What's really stood out this year is how well he's done on routes to the boundary and catching the ball with his hands. Tankersley is an extremely physical guy that plays with a lot of confidence and likes to get into guys pads at the line of scrimmage. He excels down the field on contested passes and got tons of practice last year when he was being picked on opposite Mackensie Alexander.
The first key actually impacts this matchup a lot. If Clemson can get pressure with their front four they should be able to line up with two deep safeties. Bobby Petrino likes to dictate what the defense does with formations and play designs. When things are going well he manipulates the defensive formations and next thing you know you have a streaking wide receiver going in for a 71-yard touchdown. That's exactly what happened last week on Quick's score. Marshall was playing three safeties deep but one of them was responsible for the second receiver to his side. Petrino lined up in a two back set with a slot to the left side. That means that the safety to the right side of the offense is now responsible for the second receiver to that side (The RB). The running back ran to the flat which drew the safety up the field. That just left Quick to beat his man and he's in for six. Brent Venables gets to do what he wants because his line is dominating those plays are harder to come by.
James Hearns Vs. Mitch Hyatt
Mitch Hyatt is one of the best left tackles in the country and he played very well as a true freshman last year. He wasn't perfect, however, and James Hearns is playing like an All-American so far this year. Hyatt is a pretty athletic tackle but Hearns has had a lot of success using his speed to get around guys while also having enough strength to fight fight through linemen when they're extended. Hyatt's footwork is impressive and I don't think he will have to reach as much with Hearns, but Clemson will have to push the ball down the field in this game so that extended time in the pocket could give Hearns the time to get to Deshaun Watson.
Ben Boulware Vs. Lamar Jackson
Louisville has had a knack for struggling against backside linebackers over the last few years and that trend started two years ago when Ben Boulware stepped in for an injured Tony Steward in 2014. Boulware finished with 9 tackles with 2 of them being behind the line. Boulware is an outstanding interior blitzer and he plays like a maniac. Lamar Jackson is outstanding at escaping pressure and making a defense pay for pressuring him. So Lamar has to see Boulware's blitzes and get away from him and rush up the middle of the field when he can. Blitzes vacate an area and if Lamar can't make a pass in that zone, his legs can get him there.
Brent Venables Vs. Bobby Petrino
Saturday will pit the best two minds in offensive and defensive football in the country. Both Venables and Petrino are known as great play callers as well as preparation experts. Petrino's 15 play script to start a game is one of the most fabled things in college football while Venables' pressure packages are known to blow up any game plan. Venables has a slight upper hand with a few extra days to prep as well. Petrino has two games against a defense that he couldn't beat. Bobby is the type of person that losses sleep over things like that. I'd imagine that a good chunk of his off season was spent scheming against Venables' defense. He also has Lamar Jackson and no one else does. I think that initially Clemson will hold their own but eventually Petrino figures out where the weak points are and attacks them.