#3 LOUISVILLE CARDINALS
CONFERENCE RECORD: 0-0 (ACC)
NEXT OPPONENT: DUKE
LOCATION: Memorial Stadium, Clemson, SC
BETTING LINE: Louisville (-2)
OVER/UNDER: +/- 67.5
#5 CLEMSON TIGERS
CONFERENCE RECORD: 1-0 (ACC)
NEXT OPPONENT: BOSTON COLLEGE
LOUISVILLE PLAYER TO WATCH
Lamar Jackson – QB
Lamar Jackson has skyrocketed up everyone’s Heisman leaderboard through four weeks this season. Jackson has put up a whopping 1856 yards of offense so far this year and has been responsible for an even more impressive 25 touchdowns. Louisville’s success can be directly attributed to the performance of Jackson, but he’ll be facing his toughest challenge of the season this weekend against Clemson’s defense.
CLEMSON PLAYER TO WATCH
Deshaun Watson – QB
Watson entered the season as the overwhelming favorite to win the Heisman trophy. Four weeks into the season and Watson isn’t even the favorite to win the Heisman within his own conference. This is partially due to Louisville QB Lamar Jackson‘s jaw-dropping start to the season, but also due to Watson’s slow start during the first several weeks of the year. Fortunately for Clemson, Watson has found his stride during the last two weeks, and he looks to continue his success against Louisville by performing at the highest possible level.
LOUISVILLE POSITION GROUP PREVIEW
*Disclaimer: Ratings given on a 1-10 scale*
OFFENSIVE LINE: 7. The Cards’ offensive line has been a major reason behind the team’s success running the football so far this season. Louisville ranks second nationally in rushing yards, a statistic the Cardinals’ O-Line takes great pride in.
TIGHT ENDS: 6. Despite being responsible for three touchdowns so far this season, the only production this unit has seen up to this point has come from Cole Hikutini. Hikutini has scored all three of the TE unit’s touchdowns so far, but he has only recorded 12 receptions and 177 yards in doing so.
RUNNING BACKS: 7. Brandon Radcliff is the most talented running back on the Louisville roster, rushing 46 times for 427 yards and three TDs over the course of four games. QB Lamar Jackson is the team’s most dynamic rushing threat, but failing to recognize Radcliff’s ability as a runner too will only spell out trouble for the opposing defense.
QUARTERBACKS: 10. Lamar Jackson’s stats this season truly speak for themselves, 1856 total yards of offense and 25 total touchdowns. Jackson has shifted all attention in the ACC from Clemson and FSU to Louisville, particularly due to the ridiculous number he has amassed over four weeks.
WIDE RECEIVERS: 8. James Quick and UAB-transfer Jamari Staples lead the Cardinals’ receiver unit. Quick is a dangerous weapon due to his incredible speed (no pun intended) that helps him produce a ton of yards-after-catch, and Staples is a proven veteran that capitalizes on his involvement in the short passing game.
DEFENSIVE LINE: 7. Louisville runs a 3-4 formation on defense, and the odd front causes confusion for many opposing offenses. The Cardinals’ front 3 is lead by Drew Bailey and DeAngelo Brown, however, in the 3-4 defense, it is not primarily the defensive line’s duty to disrupt plays in the backfield.
LINEBACKERS: 8. In a 3-4 defense, the linebackers have the primary obligation to disrupt plays in the backfield. The Cardinals’ linebacker corps is led by James Hearns and Keith Kelsey, who have combined for 7.5 tackles-for-loss and five sacks this season.
SECONDARY: 8. Louisville’s secondary features two talented transfers from the University of Georgia, Shaq Wiggins at cornerback and Joshua Harvey-Clemons at safety. These two players have been leaders on defense for the Cardinals, and they look to continue their success against a very talent WR corps at Clemson.
SPECIAL TEAMS: 7. Kickers Evan O’Hara and Blanton Creque have combined to go three for six on field goals, with a 41-yarder being the longest recorded field goal this season. The Cardinals have also been relatively average in the return game, as they have yet to return a kickoff or punt for a touchdown.
COACHING: 9. Bobby Petrino has done a terrific job developing his program so far. Louisville has not been able to compete with teams like Clemson and Florida State in recruiting, but Petrino has countered those recruiting struggles with incredible player development. Petrino has learned exactly how to maximize the potential of each of his players, and that can be clearly seen through the utilization of Lamar Jackson’s skillset in the Louisville offense.
GAME PREVIEW ANALYSIS
Louisville travels to Clemson, SC for perhaps the most compelling ACC matchup since FSU vs. Clemson last season. Clemson has opened as a 2-point underdog to Louisville, making it the first time since 2013 that the Tigers have been underdogs on their home field. Louisville enters Death Valley with an incredible amount of hype, mainly due to the video game-esque statistics of QB Lamar Jackson. Jackson has been a human highlight reel so far this season, putting up a staggering 1330 yards passing and 526 yards rushing, with 13 passing touchdowns and 12 touchdowns on the ground. Alternatively, Clemson has not put up the numbers on offense that so many fans and pundits had expected up to this point in the season. Clemson started to get back in a rhythm on offense against SC State and Georgia Tech, though, as they corrected many of the mental issues that led to their disappointing start on offense. Despite the slow start on offense, Clemson’s defense has been a particularly bright spot, especially the defensive line. Clemson is coming off a performance where they held Georgia Tech to just 23 total yards in the first half and just 124 yards for the entire game. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they will face a must tougher challenge when they take on Louisville and the dynamic playmaking ability of Lamar Jackson. Will Clemson’s dynamic defense slow down the stout Louisville offense, or will the Cardinals continue putting up record-breaking numbers on offense?
GAME PREDICTION: Clemson 30 – Louisville 28
CLEMSON POSITION GROUP RATINGS
*Disclaimer: Ratings given on a 1-10 scale*
OFFENSIVE LINE: 6. Clemson is definitely feeling the void left behind by the departure of All-ACC linemen Eric MacLain and Joe Gore. The Tigers have struggled to get much of a push on the line, which in turn has caused the Tigers’ rushing offense to suffer. This unit had a lot of hype entering the season. However, they have failed to live up to expectation so far.
TIGHT ENDS: 7. TE Jordan Leggett entered the season as a potential first-round draft pick, but his slow start to the season has caused his draft stock to drop. Leggett was essentially missing-in-action throughout the Tigers’ first three games, but fortunately for Clemson, he reemerged last week against Georgia Tech and had a very pivotal role in the passing game. If Clemson wants to have a shot against Louisville, they’ll need Leggett to continue to be a viable weapon in their offense.
RUNNING BACKS: 8. Despite Clemson’s struggles in the run game this season, it’s still quite evident that there is a plethora of talent in the Tigers’ backfield. The Clemson rushing attack is led by All-ACC RB Wayne Gallman, although backups Adam Choice and Tavien Feaster get a decent number of carries as well. Clemson has used more of a “running back by committee” approach this season, but that should be no surprise considering the amount of talent the Tigers have at the position.
QUARTERBACKS: 9. Deshaun Watson entered the 2016 season as the overwhelming favorite to win the Heisman, and it’s obvious that he has felt the pressures associated with such large expectations. Watson started off slow to begin the season, but the past two games have shown Watson return back to Heisman-level form. Watson lives for the big stage, so look for him to rise to the challenge against Louisville.
WIDE RECEIVERS: 9. The most pleasant surprise so far this season has been the development of Ray-Ray McCloud III, who is filling in for an injured Hunter Renfrow. McCloud has proven to be a dynamic threat in Clemson’s offense, recording 21 catches for 255 yards and two touchdowns this season. Alternatively, Mike Williams has elevated his game beyond that of his pre-injury self, resulting in him being virtually unguardable so far this season. Clemson’s receiver corps is loaded with elite talent, thus making them a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.
DEFENSIVE LINE: 10. The defensive line has become the biggest asset for the 2016 Tigers, particularly due to the performances of DE Christian Wilkins and freshman DT Dexter Lawrence. This is a unit that held Georgia Tech’s triple-option attack to less than 150 yards last week, and they hope to continue their dominance against the phenomenal Louisville offense.
LINEBACKERS: 8. Kendall Joseph has filled the void left by the departure of BJ Goodson tremendously this season, as he’s assumed a leadership role within the Tigers’ defensive unit. Perhaps the most dynamic member of Clemson’s linebacker unit, however, is Ben Boulware. Boulware exemplifies the definition of “gritty”. His high-motor makes him a dangerous weapon in stopping the run, especially when executing designed blitzes.
SECONDARY: 7. Although safety Jadar Johnson and cornerback Cordrea Tankersley are the only veteran members of the Tigers’ secondary, Clemson has still found success from newcomers Ryan Carter and Van Smith. Smith has proven to be a bright spot on defense, as he has developed exponentially each week. The inexperienced Clemson secondary will face a far more difficult challenge against Louisville this week, so it’s very important for the young defensive backs to maintain their composure throughout the game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: 7. Greg Huegel has kicked the ball through the back of the end zone on almost every kickoff this season, but punter Andy Teasdall has struggled to get much distance on his punts. The punt team has become a major liability for Clemson, so look for Louisville to take advantage of the Tigers’ punting issues. Fortunately for Clemson, Ray-Ray McCloud III has proven to be dynamic returning punts, something that Clemson has been in dire need of for three years now.
COACHING: 9. Dabo Swinney has put together a terrific coaching staff over the past few years. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables very well may be the best DC in college football, as his defense has contained even the most dynamic offenses. On offense, look for co-coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott to open the playbook against Louisville. Don’t be surprised if Clemson calls a trick play or two against the Cardinals.