The Cardinal Offense hasn’t been as explosive as fans had hoped to start the Bobby Petrino era. The coaches have tinkered with a lot of different line-ups and other changes have been forced by injury.
Louisville is expected to be at full strength on offense for the 1st time in the 2014 season. Wide Receiver DeVante Parker missed 6 games, Running Back Michael Dyer missed 3, and Quarterback Will Gardner has missed the last 2. DeVante Parker could change the offense completely with his ability to demand attention, but the real question is: Who starts at Quarterback?
On one hand, Reggie Bonnafon has made tremendous strides starting the last two games…..on the other Will Gardner has much more extensive work with DeVante Parker, who could be the Cards’ primary weapon. Will Gardner would be coming back from an injury from the Florida International game on 9/20, and has had trouble hanging on to the football while Bonnafon is more elusive in the pocket and has shown the ability to create more time…….a true dilemma.
Against Clemson, ball security at the Quarterback position is paramount. While the Tigers are a mid-level team at creating turnovers they are extremely skilled at making plays in the backfield AND hitting the Quarterback. Clemson’s 3.2 sacks per game and 8.2 tackles for loss allowed per game does not paint a good picture against the Cards who allow 3.17 sacks and 7.17 TFLs per game. It should be expected that Clemson will get into the Louisville backfield. What needs to change are the Cardinal fumbles, particularly at the Quarterback position. If the Cards can take the blows while maintaining composure AND possession when protection breaks down then that is a 1000% better than the 10 fumbles (most on the wrong end of the field) that UofL has endured through the 1st six games of the year.
The main source of pressure is of course DE Vic Beasley who has 7 sacks on the season and 8 TFLs. With the Cardinals flipping their line from weakside the strongside Clemson may be able to tailor their defense to really play to Beasley’s advantages. But Clemson’s defense really is a group effort and Head Coach Dabo Swinney called his unit at his Tuesday Press Conference “The most complete unit we’ve had”.
The Tigers do an excellent job both in the air and on the ground of preventing yardage, but the Tigers do allow more points (22.0) than you might expect given the 290.8 yards per game that Clemson allows. Perhaps that is because Clemson really is just average at creating turnovers……..Louisville could do itself a huge favor by hanging onto the football.
Louisville is going to do what it can to establish the run. Brandon Radcliff has had the hot hand, but he won’t be the only back getting work. I’d expect that Bobby Petrino is going to mix in several backs early in the game to try and figure out which style might be the most effective against Clemson. And that’s just the thing, Petrino has 5 backs that are all very different. Lately Radcliff has run inspired but Dominique Brown was incredible versus Miami. Michael Dyer has yet to be the same player that he was at Auburn and Saturday will be his 3rd game back from the deep thigh contusion that sidelined him for the start of the season. Michael could be sitting on a big game.
Clemson is going to be bringing pressure similar at a similar rate as Virginia did a few weeks ago. Clemson however, runs a 4-3 style defense but will likely be in nickel for most downs against the Cards. Louisville is going to have to hit some quick passes to keep this pressure at bay so being able to avoid batted balls and hit Eli Rogers and Gerald Christian in the slot and at tight end will be a big deal. Also, Louisville QBs have really not done a very good job of hitting the pass to the running back. This year passes in the flat have always felt like an adventure. Improving this aspect could be at least worth a 1st down per game……Clemson’s defense is fast and they cover a lot of ground, but Louisville needs to make sure that they make Clemson cover all of it.
On the outside James Quick should finally get a break and not have to match-up against teams’ #1 Cornerback now that DeVante Parker is expected to return. Some believe that Parker will be used as a decoy, I’m not buying that. DeVante is well within his recovery window and has been chomping at the bit to get back on the field. Louisville’s 1st practice saw some work for Parker, but the staff is unlikely to truly push DeVante prior to gameday so as to avoid any set backs. Clemson is an excellent pass defense team and they have several big bodies that prevent a lot of completions. If the Cards can get some time in the pocket they may be able to find some space for a deep ball or two but more than likely Louisville is going to have to work the ball down the field and hope for yards after the catch.
Clemson has the advantage here, but Card fans should be excited to see this offense finally healthy with all of its weapons.
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