I broke down some plays from both Louisville’s matchup with Marshall and Clemson’s matchup with Georgia Tech.  Clemson and Louisville are similar in that both run a read-option spread offense with dynamic quarterbacks.  Also, both squads have powerful backs that keep linebackers and defensive ends guessing when their quarterback sticks the ball in their gut while reading his option keys. The two teams also have comparable receiving corps that featuring deep threats, shifty slot guys, and effective downfield blockers.  The advantage here can be found on Louisville’s more experienced offensive line, and highly productive tight end Cole Hikutini over Clemson’s Jordan Leggette, who has gotten off to an extremely slow start.

Louisville’s defense is also more experienced than Clemson’s as a slew of defenders that didn’t grade out as highly as they would have liked in the NFL draft.  Clemson however, boasts the highest defensive S&P rating for the young 2016 season.   After discerning all the factors that will be at play Saturday night, I’m going call this a push. The factors I considered were crowd noise and energy level, Venables being better than Grantham by a horse length,  Clemson’s strength of schedule against Louisville’s, and the fact that Louisville’s offense has been clicking at an unprecedented level while Clemson has been solid, at best.

Here are some of the staples of both teams offense:

Clemson can run their entire offense from this formation. They can pitch or stretch to the strong side where they will have the H-back as the lead blocker. They can also run the read option, or go with a designed QB run which would provide Watson with an extra blocker to the strong side in Wayne Gallman.  They can also run bubble and tunnel screens to the stack side or, fake that way and hit their Z wide receiver on the boundary side deeper down field.  They can also call read/pass/option plays with the H-back slipping out into the flats and the stack receivers run the wheel.

Thanks to Watson’s dynamic ability to beat you with his legs, the deep ball, and quick strikes vs. zone or man, Clemson can be extremely problematic to stop in traditional 4-wide spread sets as well as trips.

The Tigers  can also run the ball out of the spread with some clever schemes. Ray Ray McLoud is a threat in the slot as a receiver underneath, but also in the running game on end arounds, shovel passes, jet sweeps, and slot reverses.  McCloud’s vision and change of direction skills are mongoose level.  Teams have to stay home and have the ends set the edge to account for these types of plays, an overaggressive team is going to spend a lot of time chasing after McCloud downfield otherwise.

When a tempo spread offensive is executing efficiently it will cause even the best defenses to look soft and lost, ask Alabama.  This is the cap on the Tigers’ opening drive, a fade to future NFL wide receiver Mike Williams.

Most of these plays (check the score on the right side of the screen) were from Clemson’s scripted opening drive.  It was their best drive of the game and I wanted use this as an example of what the Tigers’ offense can do when it is firing on all cylinders.  Mistakes happen, and they will in Saturday’s game as well.  But what good does it do to scheme against anything but the best examples of what needs to be stopped.


Now let’s look at some things Louisville’s defense did wrong, that must be corrected in order to stop Clemson from driving right down the field for six like it did on its opening drive against the Yellow Jackets.

Remember when I said the edges have to be contained to stop Ray Ray McCloud? Well second level defenders are going to have to come up and do that against Jeff Scott’s spread attack.  Here Josh Harvey-Clemons is going to take a bad angle and get beat outside.  He did a really good job setting the edge and filling off tackle against FSU, he’s going to need a repeat performance Saturday to take away Clemson’s gadget plays to the slot receiver out of 4-wide sets.

Now this is how the Cards need to execute against Clemson’s read option, specifically pertaining to setting the edge.

Fields cannot however, get greedy and break discipline like this.

Now, I didn’t get a lot of good film of Louisville’s pass defense in this game because Marshall’s execution was sloppy for most of the game.  But the key to stopping Clemson (and everyone for that matter) is keep them in third down passing situations and let Grantham cook up his blitz packages.  Watch this.

Ok now for the fun stuff, let’s look at what Louisville’s offense did well in the first quarter against Marshall.

I think Brandon Radcliff is a hard-nosed running back that runs like a pissed off rabid boar.  I don’t know if boars can catch rabies but if they did they would run like my man.  Anyway, last year he wasn’t very productive and I think that was more a product of uncertainty under center and suspect line play.  This year however, the UofL offense has done a complete 180 and Radcliff has flourished, especially in the read option.  Against Marshall, the Herd keyed solely on Lamar Jackson and Radcliff ripped off 19 carries for 131 yards and a touchdown.  As a matter of fact,  the senior has 46 carries this year for 427.  That’s an astronomical 9.28 yard-per-carry average, which leads the nation for backs with at least 45 carries this season.  As good as Lamar Jackson has been, Louisville torrid offensive start would not be possible without Radcliff breaking off chunk runs to complement his quarterback’s dynamic running prowess.  Radcliff is my number one key to victory for Louisville in Death Valley.  Here is why.

Radcliffe is import scheme wise, in a defense has to choose its own adventure.  Do we key on Lamar and let Radcliff come at us with steam, or do we key on Radcliff and make Lamar beat us.  If I’m a defensive coordinator I’m gonna make Lamar beat me. Why? Because Radcliffe is built to carry a heavy load.  He’s a prototypical Bobby Petrino big back with a stout frame that gives out more damage than he absorbs.  Jackson on the other hand is a Lamborghini not a Sherman Tank, and those hits are gonna eventually add up.  This is why Radcliff is so important to UofL, he keeps Lamar healthy and reduces his number of hits.

I look for Petrino to go all out in this game against Clemson so look for designed runs to Lamar and for him to pull it out if the defense chooses to key Radcliff, which I think they will. Going forward however, Petrino is gonna have to chill with using Jackson so much as a runner in order to preserve him for Houston, the ACC championship, and a play-off run.  This is why Radcliff may very well be the second most important player on the Louisville offense, and why if I was Clemson, I would key on him in the read-option rather than Jackson.

Another key to keeping Jackson fresh and clean is the offensive line’s pass blocking performance.  They have improved tenfold this year and here’s what I’m talmbout.

As good as the line has been to Lamar, he has to trust his guys to do their jobs. Here Lamar gets a clean pocket but gets happy feet and bails on it too early.

The line hasn’t been perfect however, and when Petrino calls a designed run, they can’t make these kind of mistakes.

Finally, Lamar has to be consistent in his decision making against Venables and company.  He has shown he can diagnose the defense, go through reads, and throw the ball to the “spot” at times.  Unfortunately, he has also shown a propensity to come out a little to “jacked up” a la Brett Favre in the first quarter and overshoot open receivers.  I expect Petrino to work Jackson into an early rhythm in this game with some easy sprint outs to the TE and high low combinations to the field side.  Still, Lamar has to limit mistakes because the last thing Lousville wants is to throw a pick, which will compound the road game struggle by igniting the jacked up 8pm Death Valley crowd.

Finally, let’s watch what makes Clemson’s defense so dangerous and why they have the capability to contain Lamar Jackson.

Clemson’s defense is relentless, disciplined, and physical.  They will be jacked up coming into this one and it would be shocking to Louisville simply have their way with them as they did against the Seminoles at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.  But that is not to say it is all doom and gloom, nor should you bet the under.  Clemson is down a few bodies on the defensive line and their numbers in the secondary are somewhat thin as well due to attrition that is the nature of the best in college athletics.

If Louisville is going to win this game, they have to limit first half mistakes, get Radcliff going early, play physical and aggressive the way they did against FSU (and everyone for that matter), and wear down the Tigers in the second half and pull away.  Special teams will also play a big role in this one, as we saw the last time these two teams matched up.






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Dave Lackford

Prosecutor at JCAO

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