LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (2-6, 0-5) At No. 2 CLEMSON TIGERS (8-0, 5-0)
Game Time: 12 p.m.
Location: Memorial Stadium: Clemson, S.C.
Announcers: Mark Jones (play-by-play), Dusty Dvoracek (analyst) and Molly McGrath (sideline)
Favorite: Clemson by 39.5
All-Time Series: Clemson leads, 4-0
Last Meeting: Clemson won 47-21 on Sept. 16, 2017 in Louisville
Louisville Depth Chart:
A few weeks ago, Dabo Sweeney made the decision to switch his quarterbacks and with that change he set his offense up to be the best version of itself. Clemson’s offense has a very good offensive line, big running backs that can fly, and long and lanky wide receivers that can take the top off of a defense. While they had all of that last season, they didn’t have the quarterback that could take advantage of all of it. They do now.
Trevor Lawrence is one of the best quarterbacks in the country and he’s just a freshman. He does all of the things you want a veteran quarterback to do while minimizing the mistakes you expect from a rookie. Lawrence anticipates throws like an NFL quarterback and his arm strength makes sure that those throws end up where only his receiver has a chance at it. He is a remarkable talent and he’s improving each week because he’s only started 4 games in college.
Lawrence has two minor flaws in his game right now. One is that he’s not the runner that Deshaun Watson or Kelly Bryant were. He’s a serviceable runner but he doesn’t have the skills you need to depend on that ability. They will run some read option with him, but he’s not the type of guy that you have to fear breaking a long run on you. He also has had some struggles throwing the ball down the field. He’s been inconsistent in that area and I would expect for Clemson to push the ball a good amount against UofL to help him work on his timing and accuracy there.
The Clemson running game has struggled over the last couple of weeks but the Louisville’s defense will likely be the cure for that. Travis Etienne was a Heisman candidate for a bit but he would need to finish the season on a tear to have a shot at it. “ETN” is ranked second in the country right now with 14 touchdowns. He’s also averaging just under 8 yards per carry which is second among guys who have 100+ carries on the year. Louisville has avoided big plays much of the year, but after Wake Forest broke a few big ones, it’s obvious that this group of running backs could have a historic day running the ball.
Last year, Etienne had his first big game of the year and broke off a long touchdown run to put his name on the map. The same could happen this year with Lyn-J Dixon. Dixon looks like a clone of Etienne but he is a little more fluid and can make guys miss a bit better. I’d imagine that he and Tavien Feaster could see the field a lot and they could all have big games.
I think that Jeff Scott is the best receiver coach in the country and he now has receivers lining up to play for him. In the past, Clemson seemed to always get one guy in each class that was great and they coached up some others. Now they have four and five star guys that are coming in droves. Tee Higgins and Amari Rogers were the big time players they landed last year and both have really taken a big step in their second year. Some have said that Higgins would be the first receiver taken in the draft if he were eligible. Rogers is the guy they like to use on quick screens and bubble screens. He’s a great runner after the catch and he is really hard to bring down.
In the 2018 class, Clemson was able to land Justyn Ross and Derion Kendrick who were both ranked as top ten receivers in the class. They were even able to pull Ross out of Alabama. Ross and Higgins are both 6-4 and they can both run. Clemson also uses that size in the red zone very well. Kendrick plays the same role as Rogers as he’s more of an option on shorter routes where his abilities after the catch are most useful. What’s crazy is that Clemson has found a way to get the ball to all of these guys while also having Hunter Renfrow as the most reliable of them all. Throw in Diondre Overton and Trevion Thompson as veteran guys and the Tigers have an embarrassment of riches at receiver.
The Tiger offensive line is the best that UofL will have faced to this point in the season. They do just about everything well and they’ve actually helped Trevor Lawrence a lot in the passing game. Lawrence has a tendency to hold onto the ball for too long at times but because the line holds up so well, Lawrence is usually at the point of throwing it away or making a thought out decision with the ball once the rush actually gets to him. Most of the time you see guys throw into coverage or take a sack in these situations but he has all the time in the world. Clemson has some injuries on the line but they always rotate their linemen so the guys who have stepped in have plenty of experience this year.
You’ve all heard the stories about how great Clemson’s defense is and I’m here to tell you that they’re all correct. While the defensive front gets the attention, the entire group really does a great job of playing with extreme effort and toughness. You would expect for a team that is this good to take plays off or to rest on their laurels a bit. Instead, they take pride in dominating the opposition as they are an extension of their defensive coordinator.
The front four for Clemson are the best in the country. Christian Wilkins typically gets the most notice as he has the biggest personality but Dexter Lawrence is probably the best of the group. Both 300+ pounders are impossible to move in the run game and they can also get after the quarterback pretty well. Louisville’s interior linemen have been abysmal at times this year but they have seen some success running the football between the tackles over the last few weeks.
On the edges Clemson has Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant to get after the quarterback. Ferrell is the more well-rounded of the two but Bryant is one of the best pure pass rushers in the country. Mekhi Becton will have an opportunity to show how good he is when he goes against these two. Both are speed rushers that will test how athletic Becton is. The guy that will really be a big factor in this game is true freshman Xavier Thomas. He runs like a cornerback even though he’s 260 pounds. He’s the future of this defense and he probably has the highest ceiling of anyone on this line.
Because of the focus the defensive line gets, the linebackers for the Tigers tend to get overlooked. Kendall Joseph and Tre Lamar are studs on the inside of this defense. Lamar is the big guy in the middle that just eats up tackles as Lawrence and Wilkins take up blocks. Joseph is the guy that does a bit of everything. He’s a prototype weakside linebacker because he can run so well and he is really good at tackling in space.
Isaiah Simmons has been the replacement for Dorian O’Daniel at Clemson’s hybrid outside linebacker/nickelback spot and he has played the role very well. As a natural safety, he does really well in coverage as well as playing in space. His size and speed have really helped him be a force in the run game as well. I think he will play a huge role in this game because Louisville really loves to run crossing routes and Simmons will be the guy that will play in the short zones to take those away.
The one spot on this defense that has had some issues at time is the secondary. It’s been an interesting thing to me because it’s also the area that they have some of their lower rated recruits playing more. I doubt that’s the real issue but it’s just an interesting aspect to me. Texas A&M was able to throw for over 400 yards and Syracuse and NC State completed over 60% of their passes. Those game also happen to be the few games this year where the pass rush was ineffective. I don’t think that will be the case this weekend.
Trayvon Mullen and A.J. Terrell will start at corner for the Tigers and both have had strong seasons so far. Mullen is the type of corner that you just avoid at all costs. He has great size and he can run down anything you try to run against him down the field. Terrell is also a big corner at 6-2 and I like what I’ve seen from him as the year has gone on. He is the only corner with an interception on the year and he also has a forced fumble on the year.
The safety tandem that UofL will see is Tanner Muse and K’Von Wallace. Muse was ejected from the game last year on an early targeting call while Wallace was mostly used as a backup at the time. Muse is a massive safety at 225 pounds and he’s what I call a “run and hit” player. He doesn’t typically make highlight plays and he is pretty terrible in coverage, but he’s going to run down plays and he’s going to hit whoever has the ball once he gets there. Wallace is a more well-rounded guy that can play well in coverage but also does a good job playing downhill and tracking down edge plays. These guys will make it much harder for Louisville to throw the seam routes that they’ve looked for a lot this year.
Excitement Level: 3.9
The fact that it’s Clemson and that this would be the third-largest point spread upset in the history of college football makes this more exciting than the Wake Forest game or the next two games on the schedule, but I think we’re all expecting the same thing this afternoon.
Game Attire: Track attire
This is the first year since Louisville joined the ACC that I haven’t made the trip to Clemson. We’re headed to Breeders Cup instead, and it feels like the correct decision.
Pregame Meal: Brunch foods, alcohol
Not enough alcohol.
Bold Prediction: We score at least one touchdown
I challenge you to be both bolder and accurate today.
Rodjay Burns Kick/Punt Touchdown Return Alert Level: Denim (bad)
The alert level is embarrassed that its guarantee fell through last week, even though Rodjay did have one pretty bad ass return.
Predicted Star of the Game: Mason King
If it makes you feel better, I genuinely believe Mason will punt the ball really well today.
I know that didn’t make you feel better. I’m sorry. I’m trying.
—Louisville is in the midst of its first five-game losing streak since it ended the 2008 regular season with five consecutive losses. U of L hasn’t lost six consecutive games since 1997.
—Clemson enters November as one of four undefeated FBS teams. It’s the 16th time that the Tigers have entered November without a loss, and the third time under Dabo Swinney.
—Clemson remains the only ACC opponent Louisville has faced multiple times but failed to defeat.
—Louisville is 0-5 in the ACC for the first time since joining the conference in 2014, and 0-5 to start conference play for the first time since 1997. That season the Cards finished 0-6 in Conference USA and 1-10 overall.
—Since trailing Syracuse, 16-7, at halftime on Sept. 29, Clemson has outscored opponents 183-27, including a 163-20 scoring advantage in three games in the month of October. Clemson’s 47.7-point differential in October was its largest in any month with multiple games in program history, surpassing a 44.5-point average differential in two games in September 1950.
—Clemson storms the field after every game. It’s weird.
—Louisville enters Saturday ranked 115th in the nation in scoring defense, 103rd in total defense, 124th in team sacks and 122nd in tackles for loss.
—The Cardinal offense ranks 114th in scoring offense and 112th in total offense.
—Clemson has out-gained opponents by an average of 258.7 yards per game this season, the largest margin in the country and more than two yards ahead of top-ranked Alabama (+256.4).
—A Louisville victory over Clemson would be the third-largest point spread upset in the history of college football. It would also knock Syracuse’s 2007 upset of the Cardinals down to the No. 4 spot.
—The 39.5-point spread is the second-largest of the 2018 college football season for a game featuring an FBS team playing another FBS team. Only Alabama’s 48.5-point spread against Louisiana was larger.
—Clemson is the first ACC team besides Florida State to be favored to win a conference game by 37 points or more over the last 40 years.
—This is the largest underdog Louisville has been in a game since 1987.
—All-time, the Cards are 5-0 against the spread when being labeled as a 37-point or more underdog. They are 0-5 straight up in those games.
—With four touchdowns against Florida State, Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence broke Deshaun Watson’s school record for single-season passing touchdowns by a true freshman, recording 16 so far this year.
— Louisville is allowing 43.0 points per game during its current five-game losing streak, giving up over 50 points on two occasions. The Cardinals are being outscored 112-34 in the second half over the last five games.
—Louisville is 5-18-1 against the spread in its last 24 games.
—Bobby Petrino can become the 12th active coach with 120 career wins if Louisville defeats Clemson. He’s 119-54 lifetime, including 77-33 in two stints with the Cardinals.
—Louisville is 54-1 all-time and 18-0 under Bobby Petrino when rushing for at least 300 yards.
—Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 233 games dating back to a 31-0 loss to Florida State during the 2000 season. The streak ranks as the third longest in the ACC behind only Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.
—Louisville is 183-13 all-time when scoring 35 or more points in a game. The Cards are also 5-109 all-time when allowing opponents to score 40 or more points. Both of those things happened in last week’s 56-35 loss to Wake Forest.
—”They’re the best 2-6 team I’ve seen. I don’t know how else to say it. Their record is not indicative of the players that they have.” —Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney
—”I know if you go back and look at the beginning of the year, coach Petrino’s never been one to make all these declarations and ‘We’re gonna be this. We’re gonna be this. We’re gonna be this.’ He kind of calls it how it is. He felt this was his most talented team. He felt this was his fastest team and his most explosive team. He felt that they’d be a little more consistent this year post Lamar Jackson.” —Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables
—“(We have) to be schematically sound. They know Clemson is an awfully good team. Good players, good coaches. They demand our best.” —Brian VanGorder
—“Well, what you have to do is go out and practice hard. Do everything you can to get in the game and try to get it into the fourth quarter. That’s what you have to be able to do is try to get it into the fourth quarter. There have been games in the past that teams have went in there and beat them, so you have to rely on the fact that we’re going to just give our best effort and play as hard as we possibly can.” —Bobby Petrino
—“They are still very talented and they got a lot of D-linemen that they roll in there. The linebackers are big. They got a couple of explosive guys in the secondary, still young at some spots. That’s what you are seeing more so than anything is more of the youth is starting to show up as you get later in the season. They are very capable. They got some really good looking bodies on that defensive line that flash at times. If they put it all together, they are going to be scary.” —Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott
—“These guys have made me proud. I don’t have any regrets. They’ve been consistent in their approach, they’ve stuck together and supported one another.” —Brian VanGorder
—“We’re looking forward to traveling to Clemson and playing in front of that atmosphere. You know, it’s one of the toughest atmospheres there is in the country, and the crowd and the noise and everything that you have to deal with, so we’ve been working hard at that. They’re a really good football team. They’ve got a great defense. Their defensive front, their coverage guys, their linebackers can all run and are very, very active, so we know that’s a great challenge.” —Bobby Petrino
Card Chronicle Prediction: Clemson 56, Louisville 10