Saturday, Sept. 16 the Louisville Cardinals play host to the Clemson Tigers in one of the most highly anticipated Atlantic Coastal Conference matchups of the season.
Clemson Tigers taking on the Louisville Cardinals is a relatively new rivalry, but it is one that has quickly developed into a marquee game for the conference. Their first ever head-to-head matchup came just a few years ago in 2014. The Tigers’ 23-17 victory in that game was secured by a last-minute goal-line stand, a turning point for a program whose defense was historically unreliable. The 2015 iteration was similar, with the Tigers coming away with a 20-17 win on the road thanks to a Louisville missed field goal and unsuccessful hail mary attempt. It wasn’t until the 2016 matchup that the game exploded, both in scoring and in implications for the college football landscape. Both teams were gunning for position in the ACC with a potential slot in the College Football Playoffs on the line.
Both teams were also helmed by legitimate Heisman contenders. Led by Heisman contender Deshaun Watson and eventual Heisman winner Lamar Jackson, the 2016 Clemson-Louisville contest was a true thrill ride. The game saw the Tigers score 28 points in the second quarter to take the lead heading in to halftime. It was the Cardinals who came back strong in the second half, ultimately leading 36-28 with less than ten minutes remaining in the game. It was Deshaun Watson’s two late touchdown passes that regained the lead. 42-36 in favor of the Tigers, and a defensive stand on fourth down deep in Tiger territory that sealed the victory. One can only imagine what the 2017 installment will bring.
The game between the Clemson Tigers and Louisville Cardinals on Saturday is once again about more than bragging rights or position in the ACC. Tiger fans are likely still grumbling about the Heisman committee selecting Lamar Jackson over Deshaun Watson last season. Cardinal fans are undoubtedly hungry for a win in the series that currently stands at 3-0 in favor of the Tigers, and some probably still wanted Louisville in the playoffs over Clemson last season. This game represents a chance for each team to settle some old scores and cement themselves as contenders in the ACC and beyond once again.
What To Watch For
The number one thing to watch for in this game will be Clemson’s defense and their attempts to stop or contain the Louisville offense and specifically the force that is Lamar Jackson. Who wouldn’t be excited to watch the defending Heisman trophy winner take on the reigning and defending National Champion defense? Lamar Jackson picked up this season exactly where he left off last year, generating over a thousand total yards of offense and eight touchdowns in just two games. The Clemson defense is hot off a win against Auburn that saw the team rack up 11 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. Clemson’s uber-talented defensive line, made up of Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant, Dexter Lawrence, and Christian Wilkins are certainly eager to put Jackson’s “best college football player” moniker to the test.
What should worry Tiger fans heading into this game is their offense. The Tiger’s win in 2016 was thanks in large part to the heroics of Deshaun Watson, who managed to throw five touchdown passes in the contest. Without him to lead the team this year, the Tigers may not be able to keep pace another massive statistical performance from Lamar Jackson, who gained over 450 total yards and added another three scores in last year’s contest. New Tigers starting quarterback Kelly Bryant will be put to the test should this game become a shootout. While the Louisville defense isn’t quite as stout this year as they have been in previous years, the unit returns perhaps their best player in Jaire Alexander. Alexander proved to be quite the thorn in the proverbial Tiger’s paw when he generated two interceptions, a forced fumble, and two tackles in last year’s game. How Bryant fairs against the Cardinals’ talented secondary in potential shootout conditions will play a major part in the outcome of this game.
The game between the Clemson Tigers and the Louisville Cardinals this Saturday should be another thrilling installment in what is quickly becoming an annual must-see game for the ACC. Kickoff is at 8 p.m. at which point we should find the answers to all these burning questions and more. Which team is the contender? Which team is merely a pretender?