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Louisville-Clemson Q&A with Shakin' the Southland

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

You can read my responses to STS's questions here. You should definitely read the comments. They are awesome.

CC: Everyone nationally seems to be freaking out about the Clemson offense through four games. Is that justified? Are you freaking out at all?

STS:
There's no doubt the offense isn't chasing history like many of us thought it may. There are some legitimate issues with the offense, which I'll address in a moment, but I think some of the "freak out" is really just us becoming a bit spoiled (myself included). I wrote about inflated expectations in the pre-season and how it could sap some of the fun from a special season, and thus far it has. After last season, the only thing left to accomplish in the Watson era is a national championship, so it's extremely challenging to enjoy each win and not treat them as evaluations to determine if this team has the chops to win one more game than last year's team. Clemson is 4-0 with road wins at Auburn and GT, places they hadn't won at in decades! The "freak out" isn't merited, but it's hard to not fall victim with such a focus on last season's unfinished business.

As for the legitimate problems, I think the primary one is on the offensive line. There's been some drops by receivers and missed deep balls from Watson, which have made some of the final scores closer than needed, but the only long-term concern to me is the run blocking. RB Wayne Gallman hasn't found much running room and the offense seems rather pass-heavy. If the offensive line can correct this, they'll start looking like a national championship contender rather quickly.

CC: Two years ago, Louisville got to experience Death Valley for the first time, but that came in an afternoon game where neither team was nationally ranked. How different will the atmosphere be for an 8 p.m. ABC featuring a pair of undefeated teams ranked in the top five?

STS:
The atmosphere for the first Clemson vs. Louisville game in Death Valley was admirable, but not memorable. This will be our first ACC home game and I think the crowd will impress as they did for UGA (2014) and Notre Dame (2015). It will be notably different than your last visit and I hope it will play a role in the game.

CC: Where does Clemson have the biggest advantage over Louisville?

STS: When Carlos Watkins, Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins, and Clelin Ferrell go up against Louisville's offensive line, I think it's a battle in the trenches that Clemson can win fairly consistently. Jackson can obviously extend plays and it by no means guarantees Clemson a victory, but the Tiger defensive line has vastly out-performed expectations. DL Coach Dan Brooks and DE Coach Marion Hobby are the best in the business and when you give them a D-line, albeit young, that averages 4.25 stars (24/7 Sports) in the two-deep they can work magic. 

CC: Where does Louisville have the biggest advantage over Clemson?

STS:
One of our writers told me this morning that, "whatever the over/under, bet the under. I expect both O-lines will lose to the opposing D-lines." 

Clemson's offensive line was very good last year. They lost two starters, but their replacements are talented guys so we felt good about the unit. Expectations were that they'd be even better this year. I think for various reasons the group hasn't gelled and they'll get there, but time is up. If they don't "get there" by Saturday, it could be too late to win the ACC championship.

CC: Louisville has kept the Clemson offense from doing much of anything in each of the last two seasons. Do you think that's an anomaly that changes on Saturday night?

STS:
I think Louisville is very good defensively, but I don't believe there's some sort of offensive bugaboo on the Tigers in this series. In the 2014 contest, Watson was injured early. Watson ended up missing quite a few games that season and the offense struggled throughout those games (excluding a Russell Athletic Bowl shellacking of Oklahoma). 2015 was a road contest on a Thursday night. I was there and the atmosphere was excellent. The Tigers rushed for over 200 yards in that game, but made some bad mistakes and nearly lost.

I don't think Clemson scores 35+ on Saturday, but I think they exceed the 20 points they scored against Louisville last season.

CC:. Cardinal fans were blown away by the hospitality that Clemson fans showed them two years ago. Will it be the same situation with this much at stake, or if (shudder) Louisville wins?

STS:
I had the pleasure of visiting Louisville for last year's game and was so impressed that I felt compelled to write this article about the Louisville fans. A quick look at the comment section reveals that others felt the same way.

I think it's really interesting to see how Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and Louisville entered the conference in very different ways. Pittsburgh was quiet, unassuming, and since they play in the Coastal Division and haven't played Clemson yet, haven't much of an impression on Clemson fans yet. Syracuse came in loud and boisterous, with coaches complaining about losing great Big East basketball rivalries, teasing Clemson about their campus, and cursing across the field at Dabo. Then you have Louisville, who has brought respectability to the conference in all three main sports while calling the ACC their "dream conference." By all accounts, Louisville is very happy to be in the ACC and we're all the better for having you.
There may be a bad sport or two, but win or lose, you'll once again see the Clemson family treating Cardinal fans right.

CC: Prediction?

STS: I feel confident in Clemson's D-line causing penetration and rushing Lamar Jackson's decisions. Brent Venables is maybe the best defensive coordinator in the country and if Lamar Jackson can be stopped (still questionable at this point) he will figure it out. If I have to pick, Although I have a ton of respect for the program you all have built up in Louisville, I'll take the home team who has played in huge games like this before. They have more raw talent and 80,500 fans in support.

Give me Clemson in a competitive game that's lower scoring than Vegas would have you believe.