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What To Watch For: Clemson Tigers

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NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Clemson Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

BRENT VENABLES MIGHT HAVE AN ANSWER TO LOUISVILLE’S PLAY ACTION GAME

Two years ago I watched a Louisville football team move the ball almost at will over the first two weeks of the season. Then I watched as Brent Venables completely shut that same offense down as if it didn’t have a returning Heisman winder at quarterback. How did he do it? He spent the game rushing four guys with one of his defensive ends dropping into coverage and blitzing a linebacker. That was it. He was able to spy Lamar Jackson because he didn’t bring an extra guy and they just dominated that game with their defense.

Louisville is much more diverse on offense than they were with Lamar at quarterback but they still rely on play action a lot. They were able to utilize a lot of straight drop backs against Wake Forest but I don’t know how well that works against Clemson. Louisville isn’t built to go heads up with Clemson yet so they need to make them work a bit. That’s what the play action things do to defenses. But I’d bet Venables has a plan for that.

I think Venables will do something that is somewhat similar to what they did in 2017. It will be about simplifying things and stopping the run with less. I highly doubt we’ll see a bunch of linebackers and safeties flying to the run like we saw against Wake. They’ll rely on their defensive line to make stops and the linebackers will be able to sit back and react when they know it’s run. Venables will come up with something. It’s what he does.

LOUISVILLE HAS TO GET CLEMSON INTO THIRD AND LONG

Trevor Lawrence is completing 45% of his passes on third downs. That number dips to 33% on third and long. Louisville absolutely has to find a way to make Lawrence prove that those numbers are a fluke. I tend to think that Clemson became so reliant on Hunter Renfrow that they haven’t really figured out how to adapt to his loss. Clemson has extremely talented receivers and they can go off at any moment but they’re all a bit similar. I don’t know that they have a guy that fits the mold of a quick possession guy that can work the middle of the field.

Clemson protects Trevor Lawrence really well but I would love to see Bryan Brown utilize a lot of dummy looks this week when they get into these situations. It’s not to confuse Lawrence as much as it’s to confuse the offensive line and maybe speed up Lawrence. Those dummy looks could force him to throw it more quickly than he wants or maybe throw into a lane where a guy is dropping. He’s an unbelievable quarterback and we all know that. But he’s also averaging an interception a game. Louisville has to take advantage of anything and everything.

THE LOUISVILLE DEFENSE WILL EXECUTE WELL FOR THE SECOND STRAIGHT WEEK AND IT WON’T MATTER

Watching the Wake Forest game was rough because it’s always frustrating watching the other team execute at a level where they just flat out beat you. Louisville was there to contest every throw through three quarters. They boxed in the Wake Forest rushing attack outside of a few chunk runs. Hell, they even kept Jamie Newman in check and he had his worst game as a starter since his second career start. Louisville did what they needed and essentially played a good enough game. But then the plays started adding up and guys got tired.

I think they’ll execute well this week, too. At the end of the game, it will still look like they had a bad game. Clemson kind of does that to you. They don’t do elaborate things to beat you. They just out-athlete you and they execute their plays like their second nature. So it’s almost impossible to stop what they do well. But I think that Bryan Brown will stay aggressive with his coverage calls like he did against Wake and sell out to stop the run. His guys will play it well but Clemson just has too much talent.

THIS GAME WILL BE CLOSER THAN THE SPREAD SHOWS

I’m a full believer in this staff and this offense. Boston College and Wake Forest weren’t great defenses but what they showed is that this offense can adapt. Wake sold out to stop the run and it worked. But it also left them vulnerable to play action passes. Scott Satterfield did something that I didn’t expect after they got the lead when they got away from play action and started using straight drop backs. I’m not going to pretend like I know why he did that but it showed that he could change things up and that will help when Clemson’s front kills the run game.

This team also has every reason to believe that they can do what people told them they can’t. No one expected them to be this good this quickly. They also got embarrassed by their last two opponents last year and came out and beat them both this season. They won’t enter this game thinking they’ll lose and that will play a role in how this team plays. It all sounds cliche and silly but Clemson nearly lost to UNC. They refocused last week and beat down FSU but they’ve been shown to be beatable. Louisville players will hear about that all week and I think that will lead to them keeping this game closer than expected.