Louisville took baby steps in their victory over Syracuse last week with the offense looking a little more crisp and freshman QB Reggie Bonnafon looked a little more comfortable, but if the Cards hope to march into Death Valley and take down Saturday afternoon’s opponent Clemson, it will take more than just a little bit of improvement.
There is still a lot of unknowns about the Louisville offense, and playing in front of the biggest crowd any Louisville fan has seen since Florida State in 2000, the unit will need to be more mentally sharp than they have been all season. That means no penalties, turnovers, or miscommunication, or this Clemson team will eat the Cards alive.
If they can stay mentally sharp, can they move the sticks vs. a stout Clemson defense? What kind of impact will WR DeVante Parker have if active? Who will be the QB? These questions and more will be answered when Louisville takes on Clemson for the first time 3:30 on ESPNU.
Clemson is 3-2 on the season, and in its three victories, the Tigers have won by an average of 40 points. They dominated South Carolina State as well as ACC opponents North Carolina and North Carolina State.
Both losses came on the road vs. ranked teams, as they fell 45-21 in the opener at Georgia and lost 23-17 at Florida State in overtime. They do not have a marquee win, but they are averaging 40 points per game and have played tough, especially at home.
Statistically, both the offense and defense of the Tigers are going to pose problems. As good as the Louisville defense has been this year, they faced nothing close to the kind of offense they will see in Clemson. Their passing attack is ranked 10th nationally averaging roughly 336 yards passing per game, and the closest team to that on Louisville’s schedule thus far has been Miami, who averages 260 ypg and is ranked 49th nationally in that category. The secondary will reportedly be without DB Trumaine Washington, and in his absence, senior Andrew Johnson, who has been picked on quite a bit this year, will have a much bigger role.
On the ground, Clemson has not proven to be a major threat, averaging only 3.4 yards per carry this season, and it is nothing Louisville’s top-ranked rush defense should be fearing. However, they have a playmaker in freshman QB Deshaun Watson who can beat a team with his feet as well as his arm. The front 7 of Louisville will have to contain the player who is basically Clemson’s version of Teddy Bridgewater. He has been electric this season for the high-powered Tiger’s offense, throwing for over 1,000 yards despite just three starts to go along with 12 touchdowns to just 1 interception. If Louisville hopes to win, Watson must be contained.
The other side of the ball will prove to be the real challenge for the Cards, though. Ranked 10th in total defense, the Tigers allow only 290 yards of offense per game. For a Louisville offense that has struggled to move the ball all season, that could prove troublesome. Factor in an amazing pass rush featuring probably first round pick DE Vic Beasley (2nd in the nation with 7 sacks), and the Cards are going to need their A+ game.
They are not the Orange Bowl winning squad from 2013, but Clemson is still a very dangerous opponent capable of winning and winning big.
The Louisville offensive line vs. the Clemson front 7. The old saying goes, “Football is won in the trenches,” and that is true as ever Saturday vs. Clemson. The OL has been a disaster area for Louisville this season, allowing 19 sacks and over 40 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Beasley and the Tigers’ front 7 should be licking their chops. While the line has improved in recent games, particularly in the second half of games, it has yet to face this kind of pressure. Simply put, if Louisville cannot contain the Tigers’ pressure, it could be a long day for the Cards.
3 Reasons Why Louisville wins
- The Cards are able to get up for a big-name team. The best the team has looked, particularly the OL, this season was against Miami. If they play with the same passion and intensity they played with in the opener, they have the talent to come out on top.
- The run game continues to impress. Brandon Radcliff has been dominant running the football the past two games, and if he continues to move the sticks, it will give the OL confidence, and it will allow Louisville to control time of possession.
- Louisville’s #1 ranked defense is legit. The unit has played like an elite group all year long, and now they get to prove it on a big stage. It’s true Louisville has not faced on offense like Clemson’s yet, but the same can be said about Clemson and Louisville’s defense.
3 Reasons Why Louisville Loses
- Penalties and turnovers. If the yellow flags continue to rain down and clog offensive series, it is tough to imagine Louisville coming out on top. Ball protection is a must, as well, and Louisville has to hold on to the ball.
- The QB play continues to be erratic. Neither QB has looked spectacular vs. sub-par competition, and one of Gardner and Bonnafon will need to step up in a major way.
- The OL continues to struggle. Again, this game will be won in the trenches. If Louisville does not block, Louisville does not win.
Clemson 24, Louisville 13.
Louisville will play arguably it’s most disciplined game of the season, but the strength of Clemson’s defensive vs. Louisville OL will prove too difficult to overcome in the end. The defense will play a solid game, but the dual-threat talents of Deshaun Watson will allow the Tigers to convert third downs and control the clock. DeVante Parker will return, but with the OL getting pressed and the QBs getting little time, his impact will not be as big as it could be.
The Cards take an L, but they learn from the experience and bounce back next week at home with a victory over NC State to become bowl eligible.