LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (2-0, 1-0) vs. CLEMSON TIGERS (2-0, 0-0)
Game Time: 8:12 p.m.
Location: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium: Louisville, Ky.
Announcers: Chris Fowler (play-by-play), Kirk Herbstreit (analyst), Maria Taylor (sideline)
Favorite: Clemson by 3
All-Time Series: Clemson leads 3-0
Last Meeting: Clemson won 42-36 on Oct. 1, 2016 at Clemson Memorial Stadium, South Carolina
All black (almost) everything.
Clemson Depth Chart:
Clemson won the national championship last year on the strength of a really good defense and an explosive offense. Deshuan Watson played unbelievably well in their last few games when they needed it most and Mike Williams made numerous big catches. Those two, along with Wayne Gallman and Artavis Scott have moved onto the NFL and Clemson has shown in the first two games that it’s not always easy to replace top level talent. Clemson has had the ability to reload on defense over the last few years when they’ve had to replace stars. The offense is trying to do the same, but the jury is still out.
Watson is arguably the best player in Clemson history, so Kelly Bryant had plenty of pressure as a first time starting quarterback. Bryant shined in his debut against Kent State throwing the football as well as running it. He made it obvious early on that he is a better runner than Watson and that he would likely run the ball more. Watson always had the ability to get to the open field but never quite had the jets to run past the defense. Bryant has already shown that he can outrun people and he can break a tackle or two. It might be a concern for Clemson that Bryant hasn’t always made the correct read on option plays. He’s kept the ball at times when he should’ve given it.
Bryant has really impressed me throwing the ball. I remembered how uncomfortable he seemed in the little bit of playing time he got last year and expected some nerves in his first game. Instead, he came out and completed 16 of 22 (with a couple of drops in there) and his best throw was on his first drive on a deep ball to Deon Cain. Bryant has been inaccurate at times, but when he has time he has been really on the money. What’s impressed me most is that his deep ball is great and when he throws to his outside receivers he gives them a shot to make the play instead of the cornerback. I expect Clemson to try to establish a running game early so that they can work a lot of play action in the rest of the game. That will give Bryant the opportunity to go for the deep ball more often. Bryant hasn’t thrown a lot of passes in the middle of the field so there is still not a lot to know about his accuracy in a crowd.
An area where Clemson’s program has always been pretty good but not always gotten the notoriety is at the running back position. Clemson has had a run of good quarterback play and that tends to get the focus but Wayne Gallman was a big time player for Clemson over the last couple of years. This year, Clemson is still trying to find a number one guy while they sort through the four candidates. C.J. Fuller has started both games but Adam Choice, Tavien Feaster, and Travis Etienne have all split carries so far. Feaster is one of the biggest recruits Clemson has landed in the last few years and Etienne was a late surprise this past recruiting period. They both provide the most explosion and excitement but Fuller and Choice have more experience. I would think that the Auburn game gave the coaches better film to make a decision on who they want to give the lion’s share of carries to this weekend.
Clemson likes to run their backs inside and Louisville has done really well against all types of runs so far this year. Purdue had some success at times with their interior runs but they couldn’t get outside much. North Carolina all but abandoned their running backs after they both had good games the week before. Clemson has the ability to do what UofL has done and go pass heavy with Lamar being the “running back” so to speak. I don’t think they will want to do that against Louisville, however. If they can find balance, they can look to have another game like last year where they moved the ball at will. Turnovers kept the game close but they will obviously look to avoid that this year. The Tigers ran the ball really well last year and I think they’ll look to Feaster as the guy that can both hit the big play this year as well as get tough yards.
#WRU is a twitter argument that fans of multiple teams have tried to claim over the last few years. LSU has an argument as does Miami and a few others. No school has produced more high level talent recently like Clemson has. They might not have the longevity as some of the others but the last handful of years has been great. This year they have to replace one of their best in Mike Williams. Deon Cain is now the big play receiver as well as the guy that defenses absolutely have to account for. UofL fans got an introduction last year when he scored on two long touchdowns. Cain is the big play guy but Hunter Renfrow is the super reliable guy that they go to when they need the big third down conversion. Ray-Ray McCloud has taken over for Artavis Scott and he played really well last week. Clemson hasn’t replaced Jordan Leggett so far, but Milan Richard is a big body and has nice speed.
Louisville has been flat out bad when it comes to defending the pass and they haven’t faced anywhere near the athletes that Clemson has at their disposal. Cain has already shown what he can do but Renfrow missed last year’s game with a broken wrist. Renfrow is, quite honestly, the better version of Jackson Anthrop (7-82-2) and Thomas Jackson (4-75-2). Louisville hasn’t had an answer for slot receivers or tight ends so far this year and they’re going against a guy that is arguably the best slot receiver in the country. Even if Jaire Alexander is back (He’s day-to-day) he doesn’t help fix the issues inside the hashes. Khane Pass was beat twice last week and Clemson will likely try to go after him and the safeties because it’s worked for others. As much heat as Trumaine Washington has received (I’m probably the most guilty of this) he hasn’t been as bad at giving up big plays as some of the interior defenders. Teams are able to spread the ball around to all areas of the field. Clemson will do the same but their athletes can make a short gain into a big gain.
Clemson lost a lot of skill guys but they did bring back some great experience on the offensive line. Mitch Hyatt and Tyrone Crowder are both all conference performers and both will likely be highly drafted at their positions next year. Hyatt is regarded as one of the top few left tackles in the country and he will be responsible for trying to keep Trevon Young under control. Crowder is a massive guard at 340 pounds but he actually moves pretty well. UofL couldn’t get a sack last year and barely made any plays behind the line. That can’t happen this year with the other deficiencies they already have in the back end. The lack of consistent pressure has made it that much harder on the coverage and Auburn’s pressure really helped keep the Clemson offense in check. Louisville has to find a way to confuse this offensive line or get them on their heels in some way.
Louisville does have the advantage on the right side of Clemson’s line. For whatever reason, Sean Pollard struggled this summer after starting as a freshman last year. He looked completely lost when he did get into the game against Auburn but he wasn’t much worse than the starter. Tremayne Anchrum got beat reapeatedly by Jeff Holland and Bryant took multiple hits because of their inability to even slow Holland down. James Hearns has been a step away from a sack multiple times this year and plays with a better motor than anyone on the team. He plays with a similar style as Holland and is a similar build. At the very least, Clemson could have to keep a tight end in to help or keep a running back in. They could also have to abandon some plays out of their 5-wide sets. Those changes could be big to help Louisville slow down this offense.
I’ve said it in this space before and I’ll say it again. Brent Venables is the best defensive coordinator in the country. Venables reloads on his side of the ball every year and he does it with a mix of 5-stars and 3-stars. Clemson won the national championship last year on the back of it’s defense and they returned nearly everyone this year. Kent State didn’t provide much to learn about the defense this year but a dominant performance against Auburn showed some real improvements for an already stout defense.
Clemson has been and will likely always been known for their great defensive lines. The NFL is littered with guys that either played at end or tackle for the Tigers. Last season, they had their first year with a depth issue in a good while. Austin Bryant was injured during the offseason and Christian Wilkins was moved to defensive end to take his spot. Also, Clelin Ferrell was a redshirt freshman tasked with being the key pass rusher at right end. Clemson still finished 10th in sacks per game and 3rd in tackles for loss.
The starting four is improved this year with Bryant back and Wilkins playing in his natural spot at tackle. Ferrell ended last season on a tear and picked up where he left off this year. You also have all 340 pounds of Dexter Lawrence back in the middle. The front seven dominated Auburn from the second drive of the game on. Bryant ended the game with 4 sacks and Ferrell had 5 tackles and a strip-sack. Wilkins was in the backfield all night causing havoc and flustering Jared Stidham. Then you have to account for how well they all played the run.
These guys do such a great job of eating up blocks and allowing their linebackers to run free behind them. Multiple times Clemson linebackers got to the hole before the running back last week. We saw it a lot during short yardage plays last year where Louisville would try to get Lamar Jackson wide and Ben Boulware was there waiting for him. Clemson is very unselfish and guys really understand their assignments and that their role is to execute those assignments. It starts with a great line that can do it all.
At the linebacker spot you get a good example of how Clemson’s improved recruiting is paying off. Tre Lamar was the 3rd ranked middle linebacker in his class and stepped right into the lineup with Boulware graduating. Kendall Joseph moved over to the Will linebacker spot and Clemson barely skips a beat after losing their leading tackler and vocal leader. One play that really stood out to me when it comes to guys stepping up is after Jalen Williams got a tackle for loss against Kent State. Joseph was livid with Dorian O’Daniel because he wasn’t lined up correctly at the snap. The camera focused in on him and it showed him getting on Williamsnext . He had just made a really good play and it still wasn’t good enough. That leadership and the standard is what makes the defense work and Joseph has taken on that role.
The Tigers didn’t play a lot of guys last year against Louisville. Boulware and Joseph didn’t leave the game and Wilkins and the other defensive linemen barely did. Louisville also ran 102 plays which is absolutely ridiculous. For some context, the 51 plays UofL ran in the first half was only 15 less than Alabama ran in the entire national championship that had plenty of scoring. Clemson got to Lamar early and often last year but couldn’t even make him uncomfortably by the middle of the third quarter. Their depth this year should help that. Jalen Williams was a starter at the start of last season and Chad Smith has played well in his few drives behind Tre Lamar. You might remember Tre Lamar giving up a long pass to Cole Hikutini early in last year’s game. He blew the coverage and Hikutini was wide open. The backups this year have played in a big game and some played last year. Venables likely has more trust in them and wouldn’t have a problem using them to give his starters a break.
One of the most impressive things I saw in Clemson’s beat down of Auburn was how well they covered in the back end. Pressuring the quarterback doesn’t matter much if you can’t cover receivers as we all learned last year as Louisville fans. The Tiger’s secondary shined last week, only giving up one pass over 10 yards and breaking up multiple deep passes. Clemson is physical and gets called for more pass interference calls than you’d like but why not give up 15 yards if you know you’re getting beat for 30? Against Auburn they got two early flags but really did well to avoid them the rest of the game. They’re all fast guys that can run with just about anyone and they did just that. A few times they even ran the route for the receiver and didn’t even give an opportunity to make the play.
Louisville has been killing teams with their short passing game and passes down the seam. Dez Fitzpatrick has shown to be the perfect inside receiver while Jaylen Smith has been lights out on short routes across the middle. Smith’s route on his long touchdown last week was absolutely perfect and he beat one of the best corners in the country. Clemson will be the first team that plays press coverage on the outside for the majority of the game. I also expect them to play closer to the inside receivers to try to take away the quick throws or at least disrupt some of the timing throws. If that’s the case, Louisville will have to try to take advantage of the safeties in coverage as they’re bigger and could have some issues keeping up with guys like Traveon Samuel.
Excitement Level: 9.8
No reason to lay out all the reasons. We all know they don’t get much bigger than this in September ... or ever.
Game Attire: Black Cardinal bird polo, shorts, grey Cardinal bird hat
So I won this polo like two years ago but it was way too big for me. It, uh, it is not too big for me anymore. The last two Blackouts I’ve worn the same national championship black shirt and a two different black hats that I never wear, and neither of those games went particularly well. So we’re going with what will hopefully be a big time debut.
Pregame Meal: Beer, bourbon, assorted dips, potato salad, burgers, wings, cookie cake
It’s gonna be a show. My best friend gets in from Dallas at 10 a.m. and we don’t typically get to do football games together anymore, which will only add to the madness. I will be showing up at the green lot a little before 2. If they don’t let me in, I will sit there in the car and stare at the person doing the resisting. I will feel bad about it later.
I love big game days, but I hate big game day mornings. I can’t settle down until we’re at our spot and everything’s set up and I can have a few drinks and discuss the state of things with like-minded individuals. I need every minute I can squeeze out of this tailgate.
Bold Prediction: Louisville wins the turnover battle by at least two
Even though Clemson has lost the turnover battle in its first two games, if you look at Louisville’s turnover numbers since 2015, you’ll understand how bold this is.
Zykiesis Cannon Interception Alert Level: Teal Blue (really bad)
I’m feeling some Clemson turnovers, but the Alert Level is not feeling Zeke making them happen. At least not via the interception. Again, I don’t control this thing.
Predicted Star of the Game: Lamar Jackson
I flirted with getting cute and going in a different direction here, but come on. If Lamar isn’t Louisville’s biggest star in this game then we’re probably all going to sleep tonight unhappy.
Motivational Opposition Tweets:
Clemson players are barred from Twitter during the season, but there’s been no shortage of stuff on that website from their fans over the last year that will make you want to throw the closest breakable object. The weird obsession with Lamar Jackson, grown women tweeting at him to call him ugly and a thug for seemingly no reason, the constant patronizing; none of it is too hard to find.
—Saturday’s game marks just the fourth time in college football history that a reigning national championship team has squared off against an opponent with the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. The team with the Heisman winner is 1-2 in those games.
—Clemson enters Saturday ranked first in the nation in passing defense, and second in both total defense and sacks.
—Louisville is 3-0 all-time in home games where both teams are ranked in the AP Top 25. Louisville has won all three of those games by double digits.
—In its three years in the ACC, Louisville has a combined 335-106 record in the sports of baseball, football, and men’s and women’s basketball, a .760 winning percentage that is easily tops in the league.
—Louisville has won 12 straight Saturday night games at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, and is 13-1 all-time in such contests. Their lone loss in a night game at PJCS came against Illinois (41-36) in 1999.
—Clemson has won its last 10 road games. A win over Louisville would make the 11-game road winning streak the longest in program history. The Tigers also won 10 straight on the road from October 7, 1939 through October 24, 1940.
—Louisville is 6-1 all-time in home openers under Bobby Petrino.
—Clemson’s defense has only allowed five plays of 10 yards or more this season. That's half as many as the next fewest by any team in the FBS that has played two games.
—Louisville is 0-3 all-time in games against reigning national champions.
—Louisville is 77-24 all-time when playing as a team ranked in the AP top 25.
—Clemson has allowed just 80 yards passing in its first two games, one yard by Kent State and 79 yards by Auburn.
—Louisville is 142-76-2 in home games starting at 6 p.m. or later, including 35-13 in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. The Cards are 33-12 in such games since 2000.
—U of L hasn’t hosted a ranked team for a Saturday night game since second-ranked Florida State visited in 1991. The Seminoles won that game, 40-15.
—Clemson is 13-2 over the last three years when losing the turnover battle, including 2-0 this season.
—Clemson is just 2-8 all-time in games against Heisman Trophy winners. One of those wins took place against Louisville last season, before Lamar Jackson had actually won the award.
—Lamar Jackson ranks first in the country in total yards per game at 505 ypg. That’s 40 more than anyone else in the country.
—Louisville is 6-21-1 all-time against teams ranked in the top 10.
—The Cardinals are 8-10 all-time when playing as a ranked team against a ranked foe.
—Over the last three seasons, Clemson is 8-1 in games where both teams are ranked in the top 15.
—If Clemson defeats Louisville by a touchdown or less on Saturday it will be the first time in program history that the Tigers have beaten the same team four consecutive times by seven points or fewer.
—Clemson’s Austin Bryant tied a school record with four sacks last week against Auburn. He entered the game with just 3.5 career sacks. The team recorded 11 sacks in that game, which also tied a school record.
—Louisville hasn’t been an underdog at home since Clemson visited Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in week three of the 2015 season.
—Bobby Petrino is 23-5 in September games, including a 12-2 mark at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
—Louisville is averaging 46.2 points per game in home openers under Petrino — scoring over 50 points on three occasions.
—Since 2015, Clemson is 12-2 in games decided by eight points or fewer. Those 12 wins in one-score games over that span are the most in the FBS.
—Saturday’s game marks the second time that ESPN’s “College GameDay” program has visited Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. The other occasion was last year’s 63-20 stomping of Florida State.
—Since Louisville joined the ACC in 2014, “GameDay” has visited four ACC games. The Cardinals have been a part of three of them.
—This will be the seventh time that Louisville has hosted a “Blackout Game.” The Cards are 4-2 in such contests, including a 24-14 victory last season. The Cardinals lost to Clemson 20-17 in a Blackout game in 2015.
—Louisville has achieved at least 500 yards of offense in 11 of its last 15 games.
—Jaylen Smith’s 300 receiving yards are the most ever by a Louisville player through the first two games of a season.
—Clemson has won six straight games against ranked opponents, which is a school record.
—Clemson is 40-1 under Dabo Swinney when rushing for at least 200 yards as a team, and has won 36 consecutive games when hitting that milestone. Their lone loss when hitting the 200-yard rushing mark came against Georgia Tech in the 2009 ACC championship game.
—Clemson is 37-26-1 all-time in ACC openers.
—The Tigers are 54-15 in ACC regular season games under Swinney, but just 4-4 in conference openers.
—Louisville is 10-2 in ACC games played at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
—A win would give Louisville a 3-0 start for the fifth time in eight seasons.
—Clemson has won 33 of its last 35 games and 17 of its last 18 ACC games.
—Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 214 games dating back to the 2000 season. The streak ranks as the third longest in the ACC behind only Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.
—Louisville is 178-11 all-time when scoring 35 or more points in a game. One of those losses came last season at Clemson. The Cards are also 5-103 all-time when allowing opponents to score 40 or more points.
—"We've had three really good battles with them, had our opportunities and come up short. So, this is something I think is real important to our players that first of all, we should have confidence that we're there and can play. But it is up to us to find a way to win the game." —Bobby Petrino
—”To me that's what you come to Clemson for, to be a part of games like this in great environments. We're looking forward to it, and it's a fun game to prepare for, because you just know that every play is so critical and you got to make your opportunities count when you get them. And then, just the challenge of playing against the Heisman Trophy winner. I think that's something that you get excited about, because you want to play the best.” —Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney
—“The environment at Louisville, it’s probably one of the loudest stadiums we’ll play at this year. It’s definitely a different environment… They’re loud. That’ll play a little bit of a factor. The atmosphere up there, it’s just different. The fans are loud. They come to support their team. They’re very passionate about their team.” —Clemson LT Mitch Hyatt
—“(Lamar is) a special talent. He’s got a different gear. He’s strong, he’s fast. So it’s going to present us a great challenge, but I believe that we face that same thing in Kelly Bryant every day in practice. It should be just like putting practice on a game day atmosphere.” —Clemson DE Austin Bryant
—“I’m very excited. We played there, it was very loud. The fans were all into the game and it’s our turn now. We know what happened. We just started losing. We’ve got to transition into this year, turn it into motivation.” —Lamar Jackson
—“In some ways, for me it’s sometimes easier to get maybe a little more relaxed in some ways when you’re at home. You’re like, ‘OK, if I’m off a little bit, if the team’s off a little bit, the crowd will get us going. But you don’t have that on the road. You’ve really gotta be excited. Bring your own energy. You’re always on edge. You’re like, ‘OK, your crowd’s booing us?’ I kind of feed off that more so.” —Clemson DT Christian Wilkins
—Going into a hostile environment like Louisville, the atmosphere is going to be really crazy and electric. Just be Kelly B. Try not to get into all of that. That’s when the pressure comes in and you try to do too much.” —Clemson QB Kelly Bryant
—"We've had some incredible battles with them and I don't expect this one to be any different.” —Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney
—"We just need to continue getting better technique-wise. Our coaches have a good game plan, we just have to keep doing a better job of executing." —Trevon Young
—"I've had to block a lot of them on Twitter. The voters made the decision. I didn’t.” —Lamar Jackson on Clemson fans
—"Really, we all feel like we owe them. We know what we could've done, what we should've done. This year, we have to go out and get what we deserve and what we should've gotten last year." —Geron Christian
—"Sometimes the worst thing you could do against Vince Young was cover everybody, and Lamar has that, too, He can make something out of nothing, and he can do it all day." —Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables
—“We don’t get overwhelmed by anything that we see in our competition. Even though we respect everybody we play we don’t get overwhelmed because we feel like we have the best here and we go against it every day.” —Clemson DE Austin Bryant
—“He got recruited by Clemson as well, I think he had a mindset of coming here at one point. We talked about that as well He was really excited for me and happy. Where we came from, it’s just big that we both went to schools.” —Clemson CB Trayvon Mullen, Lamar Jackson’s cousin
—"Heisman's not on my mind at all. I don't really care about it. I have one of my own, so I'm just focused on winning those games. That's the most important thing. Without winning games, it's nothing." —Lamar Jackson
—"Of course, we're going to have to bring it. Some games are going to be like (Auburn), others you're going to put up points." —Clemson QB Kelly Bryant
—“We can’t win the division this week, neither can they. We can’t lose the division this week, neither can they. But man, you can get off to a great start and really stay in control of your destiny in the division and that’s what both teams want to do.” —Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney
—"Nobody in the locker room wants that feeling again.” —Geron Christian
Card Chronicle Prediction: Louisville 30, Clemson 28
Let’s make some memories.