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Clemson at Louisville game preview

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The third-ranked Tigers head to Louisville to take on the suddenly red-hot Cardinals.

Boston College v Louisville Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (4-2, 2-1) vs. CLEMSON TIGERS (6-0, 4-0)

Game Time: Noon

Location: Cardinal Stadium: Louisville, Ky.

Television: ABC

Announcers: Bob Wischusen, Dan Orlovsky and Allison Williams

Favorite: Clemson by 24

All-Time Series: Clemson leads, 5-0

Last Meeting: Clemson won 77-16 on Nov. 3, 2018 in Clemson

Series History:

Statistics:

Louisville Depth Chart:

Relevant Videos:

Louisville Uniforms:

Game Day Guide:

About Clemson:

via Keith Wynne

OFFENSE

Clemson doesn’t need much of an introduction but the Tiger’s offense has seem some uncharacteristic issues this season. They laid a bit of an egg a couple of weeks ago against UNC and the questions started to get asked about why an offense that returned so much had played so poorly. Then the Tigers got a week off and Dabo Swinney created some fake outrage and his team responded by boat racing FSU last week. Clemson seems to be back to matching effort with talent and that’s a bad sign for everyone.

Trevor Lawrence is the leader of this offense again and his sluggish start seems like it might be a thing of the past. Clemson’s issues seem to be on Lawrence but I tend to think that their issues running the ball killed their balance and teams could actually cover their receivers with more defenders. That made it hard for Lawrence to find guys and the offense suffered as a whole. Last week, they got the running game going and Lawrence completed 68% of his passes. They still don’t look completely there from a passing standpoint, but Lawrence is still playing at a very high level. Just not as high as you expect from him.

The running game got going because Travis Etienne finally looked like himself again. I said earlier this year that Cam Akers is the toughest runner Louisville will face this year but Etienne isn’t far behind. He’s the type of tough runner that Javian Hawkins is but he’s put on a bunch of weight over the last few years and he’s able to take guys head on now as opposed to running through glancing blows. He also still has that great speed that we all saw two years ago when he had his breakout moment running away from Louisville’s defense. Etienne had his first 100-yard game last week since their opener and he was back to doing that on a limited number of carries.

The other guy that Louisville has to worry about is Lyn-J Dixon. He had 116 yards against Louisville last year and I think that he might be a better runner than Etienne. He’s not the complete back like Travis but he just comes off as a really good pure runner. He really impressed me against Texas A&M when the rest of the offense had some issues.

Clemson will always have a “pick your poison” wide receiver group but this is the most talented group they’ve had. Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross are both first round talents and Amari Rogers shouldn’t have a problem making it to the league himself. Then you throw in Joseph Ngata and Frank Ladson as the freshmen who will replace the outside guys and you have a wide receiver room that might be the deepest in the country. Ross is the best of the group but he hasn’t been able to break loose this season. He’s only averaging 12.1 yards per catch this season and hasn’t had a 100-yard game yet. Higgins is leading the ACC in yards per catch and he’s been the consistent guy in this offense this year. Louisville has just as few answers for these guys as anyone else but getting them in third and long would be helpful.

The loss of Hunter Renfrow seems to be a bigger deal than anyone probably expected. Diondre Overton has stepped into a role as a fourth option but he only has 4 catches on the season. Rogers is still a great threat as the short screen guy that this offense uses so well, but he hasn’t been that slant guy that Renfrow was. If there’s a chink in the armor it’s those third and long plays. Clemson is only completing 42% of their third down passes and only 30% on third and long.

The Clemson offensive line is doing a great job protecting Trevor Lawrence. They’ve only given up 3 sacks on the year and he’s rarely hurried. The group is very experienced with four seniors but the best of the group might be the true sophomore Jackson Carman. He was the top offensive linemen in the 2018 recruiting class and they did a great job rotating guys last year and getting them experience. That made the transition for him much easier and now he’s another dominant tackle for them. The run blocking has also been much better than the individual stats show. The Tigers are averaging 6.1 yards per carry and they’re second in the ACC in rushing.

DEFENSE

Every year we watch Clemson get killed by top players either graduating or leaving early for the NFL. Then we all watch Brent Venables show why he’s the best defensive coordinator in the country as he just plugs in new guys and dominates. Statistically, the Clemson defense is better than they were last year. As crazy as that might sound, I think they are still improving.

Clemson lost their starting defensive line from the last few years as they were all drafted in the spring. Venables had one proven commodity returning in Xavier Thomas but no one else on the line had been put in a position where they had to be reliable contributors. The results have been a little mixed so far. They’re getting sacks like they always do but they’re not getting as many negative plays as usual. That was expected but it has been impressive to see the defense still play well without having the ability to just rely completely on their front four.

Outside of Thomas, Tyler Davis has been a key player up front for Clemson. Davis is a true freshman who has stepped into the defensive tackle role that Christian Wilkins played. Venables has always done well to find tackles that are well rounded and Davis is just that. He plays with good speed and quickness but he is very strong and holds his ground well. Probably the most impressive freshman Louisville will see this year. They will also rotate Jordan Williams with Davis and they play next to Nyles Pickney who is one of the few veterans up front. Justin Foster and Logan Rudolph are part of the rotation at the ends. Even though Thomas and Davis are the only guys that have shown they could be on par with the guys they lost they are much deeper than they were last year.

The best defensive player Louisville will see this year is Isaiah Simmons and I’m not sure it’s close. Simmons is listed as a “SLB/NB” but he’s more of a “defensive weapon” to me. Venables can do whatever is needed with him and I don’t know that I’ve seen anything like it outside of Derwin James at FSU. Simmons can line up as an edge rusher, spy, middle linebacker, slot corner, or robber safety. I followed Simmons’ recruitment as Louisville was in on him at one point and there’s no way I saw this coming from him. Brent Venables lets him loose like a pit bull on third downs and he just goes and chases the ball. I have no clue what Louisville can do to counter him and that’s partially because I don’t think Venables has a concrete plan with him.

The other linebackers for Clemson have been a step down from what they’ve had recently, in my opinion. The Tigers were caught off guard when Shaq Smith transferred this summer and they’ve had to make due with James Skalski and Chad Smith. Neither are bad players, but they don’t make the highlight types of plays that we’ve seen in the past. They are very good at executing their assignments and that might help them against a Louisville team that likes misdirection and relies on linebackers biting on play action in the passing game. This group is not very deep, so an injury or fatigue could play a role.

Clemson has had surprising issues at finding effective cornerbacks over the last handful of years but they’ve always been good at the top of the depth chart. A.J. Terrell has become a shutdown guy on one side of the field but they’re not as strong on the other side. Derion Kendrick switched to defense after last season and one the starting job. He had a pick six last week on a badly overthrown ball but he hasn’t shown too much so far to get an idea on how good he might be there. I think that Louisville’s passing attack is the best that Clemson will have seen to this point and they might get a chance to test these guys.

The safety spot for Clemson is very experienced with Tanner Muse and K’Von Wallace. They’re also two of the players I really like on this team. Wallace was a very lowly rated player coming out of high school and he was undersized. He found his way on the field as a freshman and his role just kept growing. Really cool to see on a team full of elite players. Muse is a jumbo safety that has gone from being a hammer that was a liability in coverage to a guy that leads the team in interceptions. Louisville still should try to find ways to get Muse matched up with Tutu Atwell in the middle of the field.

The wildcard guy in the secondary is Nolan Turner. He’s listed as Muse’s backup but he sees the field a lot. I believe he’s a mainstay in their nickel and dime packages. Turner can play at two levels of the defense and leads the team in pass breakups. He also has two tackles for loss on the year and is sixth on the team in tackles. Louisville has had some issues running the ball lately and the second level players have been an issue when it comes to blocking. Turner is the type of guy that worries me as an edge defender. He can really move and he’s another guy on this team that executes at a high level.

Excitement Level: 8.0

Any time you have a semi-legitimate shot to pull off what could be a top five win in program history, the level has to be at least at an 8.0. The Cards are definitely up against it, but the weather’s going to be perfect, and the probability that the team is at least going to be competitive is significantly higher than any of us thought it would be two months ago.

Game Attire: Grey old school Cardinal bird shirt, red Louisville pullover

We’re keeping things exactly the same as the last two weeks. I can neither confirm nor deny that there is a trace amount of spit-up on the pullover.

Pregame Meal: Media food

We’re doing the pregame show from the press box from 9-10:30, so this is my only play. Fun fact: I still don’t have a press pass. I’m an uncredentialed heathen stealing your food, U of L.

Bold Prediction: Louisville returns a fumble for a touchdown

So close the last two weeks. My original prediction here was “Louisville covers the spread,” but then my balls dropped and I took a home run swing.

Ty Tyler Sack Alert Level: Green-Yellow (medium)

The alert level is embarrassed over how confident it was a week ago. Tyler played well (two tackles), but did not get to the QB.

Predicted Star of the Game: Javian Hawkins

Unlike in recent years, the strength of this Clemson defense is its back seven, not its front four. For Louisville to have any shot at winning this game, it feels like Hawkins has to have a monster effort.

Notable:

—Clemson has won 21 consecutive games, the longest winning streak in program history.

—Clemson remains the only ACC team Louisville plays on an annual basis that the Cardinals have yet to defeat.

—Louisville enters Saturday averaging 489.0 yards per game, which ranks third in the conference and 16th in the nation. Additionally, the Cardinals rank fifth in yards per completion (17.1) and ninth in passing efficiency (176.0).

—Clemson has recorded multiple sacks in 14 consecutive games, its longest such streak since 2013.

—Louisville is the only team to intercept Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and hold him under 100 yards passing in the same game.

—Louisville redshirt freshman Javian Hawkins enters Saturday ranked second in the ACC in rushing yards per game (103.7).

—Louisville’s largest home upset came in 2002 when the Cardinals were a 14.5-point underdog against Florida State. U of L is a 24-point underdog against Clemson.

—Clemson is seeking its 22nd victory in its last 23 true road games and its 35th victory in its last 38 games away from home overall. Clemson will attempt to win its 10th straight true road game, which would mark only the second streak of 10 consecutive true road victories in the program’s history.

—Louisville’s quarterback combination of Micale Cunningham and Evan Conley has combined to throw for 1,242 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, against only two interceptions.

—Louisville kick returner Hassan Hall leads the FBS in kickoff returns with a 38.8-yard average.

—Clemson fans stormed the field after beating a 2-6 Louisville team by 61 last year. It was super weird.

—Louisville is 17-56-1 all-time against opponents ranked in the top 25 of the Associated Press Poll, including an 8-15 mark at home. The Cards snapped a 10-game losing streak against ranked foes last week at Wake Forest.

—Clemson is attempting to win a 16th consecutive ACC regular season game for the second time in school history (20 from 1981-84).

—Clemson enters this week’s contest averaging 41.8 points per game against Louisville in five all-time meetings. That 41.8-point average is Clemson’s highest all-time against an opponent presently in a Power Five conference.

—Louisville is an underdog of 24 points or more in a home game for the first time since 1991. This will be just the fifth time in program history the Cards have been an underdog of 24 points or more in a game played at home.

—Clemson enters the game leading the ACC in total defense (254.8 yards allowed per game) and passing D (150.3), while ranking second in third-down conversions allowed (29.5%).

—Clemson will attempt to win in its first six games against a school for the fifth time all-time (the second time against a school presently in the FBS). The Tigers previously won each of their first six all-time contests in series with The Citadel, Furman, Newberry and Virginia.

—Louisville hasn’t won three consecutive ACC games since 2016.

—In seven seasons as a head coach, Scott Satterfield owns a 37-7 record in conference play.

—Satterfield’s teams have won 16 of their last 18 games in the month of October.

—Clemson has won 36 consecutive games played on Saturday.

—Clemson running back Travis Etienne is averaging 17.9 yards per carry in two career games against Louisville. Etienne had 153 yards on only eight carries in 2018 and 98 yards on six carries in 2017.

—Louisville is 3-0 this season when winning the turnover battle, and 1-2 when losing it.

—Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 243 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, and the 14th-longest nationally.

—Louisville is 187-13 all-time when scoring 35 or more points in a game. The Cards are also 6-113 all-time when allowing opponents to score 40 or more points. Both of those things happened a week ago in U of L’s 62-59 win over Wake Forest.

Quotable:

—It’s exciting. You want to go out and go against the best. You want to use that if you’re playing in this game you want to go out and challenge yourself to go out against the best. As a player, that helps fuel that desire.” —Dwayne Ledford

—“Coaching matters. There’s no question about that. They just kind of were a team is disarray last year. A team that for whatever reason just wasn’t playing hard. But I’m gonna tell you, it’s a different deal now. And they’ve got dudes... This group has come in and you can tell that these kids believe in what they’re trying to do and what they’re trying to build.” —Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney

—“When you lose four first-rounders and lost another guy, a fifth guy to the draft, you’re going to take a hit, but Clemson is one of the top programs in the country for a reason. They are deep. They’re always just going to reload. It’s not like they’re just going to lose all their talent; they’re still a really talented front seven. They’re one of the top three defenses in the country right now.” —Robbie Bell

—‘’Watching Louisville, it’s tough to get a bead on them. It looks like they wanted to do one thing at the start of the season and now they’re kind of settling in. ... We’re going to have to challenge our guys to be locked in.’’ —Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott

—“I think over the last four years they’ve pretty much been the same kind of team. They’ve won 21 straight games and man, that’s hard to do in college football with the parity that we have. They’ve had a few slip-ups, but not many, and they’ve won most of them even if they didn’t play well just because of the talent they have.” —Scott Satterfield

—“They’ve rushed for over 200 yards on everybody they’ve played except Florida State, including Notre Dame. Everything they do offensively is built through running the football. I really like their scheme.” —Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney

—”You know what Clemson is coming in here to do. They’re the national champs. They’ve got great talent, a great coaching staff. They’re at the top of the game right now. The guys up front are excited about it because they’re getting to play the best in the game right now. They want to see how good they can be now and this is a great opportunity for that.” —Dwayne Ledford

—“We’re not worried about last year. This is a whole different team with a new confidence, a new swagger. We’ve just got to come to play. If we come to play, we can play with anybody in the country. Just because they won the national championship….They’re a pretty good team, but if we come to play we’ll be alright.” —Micale Cunningham

Card Chronicle Prediction: Clemson 49, Louisville 27

We win this, and I’m picking Louisville to lose every week until they actually do it.

Go Cards.