Something will have to give when No. 14 Louisville hosts No. 3 Louisville on Saturday night at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in front of a nationally televised audience on ABC.
The Cardinals, with the No. 5 offense in the country, face the Tigers, which possesses the No. 2 total defense. The Tigers are coming off an impressive performance last weekend, sacking Auburn quarterbacks 11 times in a 14-6 win at Death Valley.
“I had the opportunity to watch Clemson play last weekend,” UofL head coach Bobby Petrino said. “They always have a great defense, real strong defensive front, fast linebackers and secondary, and do a really good job of playing together and playing hard, so we’ve got a great challenge there. We’ll have to be able to mix the run and the pass and be balanced, not just count on one phase: running or passing.”
The defending national champion Clemson has put together staggering numbers through its first two wins of the year, outscoring opponents 70-9. It’s holding teams to an eye-popping 118.5 yards per game, including just 40.0 yards through the air.
“They’re very good up front,” Petrino said. ”They’ve got two big, physical defensive tackles, two really good guys on the edge. We played against two of their three linebackers last year that are really fast and slippery. They slip blocks and make tackles and they keep them free.
“They run very fast to the ball. It’s a good package. They know how to keep them free. They know how to add a guy to the run box, so it’s a really good challenge for us. I think the thing we did last year is, we went out there and played fast. Our guys didn’t hesitate, so we were able to make a lot of plays.”
While the Tigers’ defense might pose an unmovable object, the Cardinals’ offense has been good enough to compete with anyone in the nation, with the play of quarterback Lamar Jackson, and wide receivers Jaylen Smith, Dez Fitzpatrick and Seth Dawkins.
Jackson, who is the second player in FBS history to record consecutive games of 300 yards passing and 100 yards rushing, has displayed his development, which could spell danger for the opposition.
“Lamar is amazing,” offensive tackle Geron Christian said. “It helps you out a lot because you know he can make plays. He keeps people in line and the defensive front at home. They have to make sure they have contain and stay in gaps.”
Preparing for a defense with the talents that Clemson will bring to the field on Saturday, Petrino is a little more confident knowing the reigning Heisman Trophy winner has the football in his hands for most of the game.
“He’s a great player,” Petrino said. “You watch him the other day and you’re like: ‘Wow, this guy is pretty good.’ He’s throwing it all over the place and he’s running for touchdowns. The play I liked was the one where they brought a corner off the edge and we missed blocking it, and he stepped up and kept two hands on the ball, reset his feet and threw a strike for a 75-yard touchdown.
“That shows a lot of maturity, whereas a year ago, I know for sure two years ago, he would have just took off and ran. To be able to have that poise in the pocket, to feel it and see it, to have that quick release and accuracy says a lot about his maturity and how far he has come in his game.”
While Jackson’s big-play ability will take center stage, the Cardinals have to be able to run the football and control the line of scrimmage. Last week, Malik Jackson provided a spark in the running game, recording a career-high 149 yards, including a 74-yard run to set up the final score.
“We have to be able to run the football,” Williams said. “Reggie (Bonnafon) and I will have to step up when our numbers are called. We feel great about this game, and it’s a big opportunity for our football team with College GameDay here and such a tough opponent coming into our stadium.”
The Cardinals are looking for their first win in this series, but the games have all come down to the final possession. If the Cardinals are going to make a dent in the series, one of the nation’s top offenses will have a say in the outcome.