Louisville’s trip to Death Valley has been met by both skepticism and excitement for an opportunity. The Louisville-Clemson matchup is the focal point of the season. A win will put them in the conversation for an ACC Championship game, better bowls, and maybe even into a much broader discussion.

We know if the team that has shown itself for the majority of the season shows up in Death Valley, the Cardinals won’t grab a win.

What I’ll intend to do in this post, is to get into some of the intricate reasons why Louisville has a good chance to win in Death Valley on Saturday.

“They are who we thought they were”

Louisville ranks as the #1 team in the Country in Total Defense, they are the only team ranking in the Top 20 of each defensive statistic. They’ve held opponents to twelve points. They haven’t had a touchdown scored on them in 13 quarters. Despite that, the rising talk of the Cardinal defense brings much skepticism given the opponents that Louisville has faced.

They’ll have a chance to answer that on Saturday, a chance to play inspired against one of the Nations’ most explosive offenses. The Tigers lead the Country in plays over 10 yards. They’re headlined by Deshaun Watson, the quarterback with the highest passer rating in College Football. They’ve garnered much attention, much praise from recent pundits. They’ve yet to see a defense like Louisville’s.

A dream scenario for the Louisville defense would go as follows: The talented pass rushers of the Louisville defense expose an already paper thin Clemson offensive line. Pressured all day, Deshaun Watson throws not one but two interceptions. One from Gerad Holliman, the man leading the Country in interceptions with seven, the other from Charles Gaines who is a potential first rounder in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Of course this a dreamers scenario for Louisville. It’s not bound to happen, it’s not likely to happen, it’s simply somewhere in the realm of possibilities given the caliber of the Louisville defense. I do believe the Louisville defense lives up to the bill Saturday evening, I do believe they play inspired. The only question will be: Is that enough?

The Devante Parker factor

I don’t care how healthy he is. I don’t care if he’s not 100 percent. If he plays on Saturday – correction – if he sees the field on Saturday, it completely altars things for the Louisville offense.

He cannot be discounted. You don’t become the consensus – at least for many – number one wide receiver in the 2014 NFL draft just based upon potential. Parker has proven time and time again just how dynamic of a player he can be.

What can he do for a Louisville offense that has sputtered mightily? Who knows? Perhaps it’s that he’ll be a decoy and free up coverages for speedy James Quick? Perhaps he’s healthy enough to become the down field threat that Louisville has deeply needed? Maybe he’ll be involved in a staple of the Petrino offense – the screen plays.

Whatever it may be, Devante Parker is sure to have enough a major impact on the outcome Saturday. It may just be enough to overcome the Louisville offense’s inefficiencies, it may just push the Cardinals over the edge.

Louisville stops stubbing its toe on offense

I mean this should be simple enough right? It’s turnovers, it’s needless penalties, and it’s been sacks that have put a hold on many a Louisville drives before they even gotten started.

“We have to be able to establish good balance on first down and be able to be successful. That’s one of the things that’s not allowed us to be consistent – the negative plays,” Bobby Petrino told the media after practice Wednesday. “If we can just go forward every play and not have the sacks or the lost yardage, then I think we have a chance to get to third-and-short and have some success.”

He’s right. In short, Louisville offense just needs to give themselves a chance. They’ve already topped their mark of 10 turnovers last season with 13. Six of those of been fumbles within their own 30. They rank as the second worst team in College Football when it comes to taking care of the ball. Imagine what they could do if they could stop fumbling in their opponents red zone, or better yet, not fumble at all?

Let your mind run, while you’re doing that, lets discuss a little more why this is so important: the run game.  To be precise, the part of the run game that Bobby Petrino hit on.

Louisville will not only rely on Brandon Radcliff – the rising star who has posted back-to-back 100 yard rushing games – they’ll also need Dominique Brown and Michael Dyer to show up giving the versatility they present. The most important thing they do is make body contact, they seek out hits. That’s been the formula for beating Clemson. We saw what Georgia did with Todd Gurley early. They kept pounding him, repeatedly tiring the Clemson offense. What happened? Gurley went wild in the fourth quarter running for over 75 yards in those 15 minutes alone.

Clemson didn’t score in the fourth quarter, partly because Georgia controlled both possession and third down chances with the strong rushing game.

Louisville has no Todd Gurley. They don’t have a running back who will have over 300 yards in All Purpose yards on Saturday like Gurley did. That’s okay though.

The three headed monster they do have is capable of presenting some of the same issues combined and in some ways, even the same effects. It’s an absolute must that Louisville’s running game be established against the Tigers. To do that, they need to stay in third and short. To do that they have to avoid turnovers, sacks and penalties. Sitting a tone on the ground gives Louisville a massive edge on Saturday, it’s battle they must win to capture a victory.

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Chris Hatfield

Residing in Louisville, KY (via Bardstown, KY). I write things about Louisville Sports. Sometimes you'll like them. Follow me @_ChrisHatfield Email me at chatfield60@gmail.com

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