The Louisville Cardinals will take to the field on Saturday sporting a, frankly, unbelievable 4-2 record after recently breaking a couple of quite depressing losing streaks. The Cards are resurgent in a far shorter period of time than nearly all professional sports wonks may have guessed, and deserved praise is being heaped upon Scott Satterfield as a result. And so the universe, being the absolute dick that it is, has deigned to dump a giant bucket of tiger piss on our heads as Dabo and the undefeated (6-0) #3/#2 Clemson Tigers come rolling into town. And the symmetry is indeed fearful as Louisville will, for the first time this season, face both a dominant offense and defense.
DATE: Saturday 19 Oct 2019
TIME: 12:00 p.m. EDT
LOCATION: Cardinal Stadium
Tailgate – 46°F Mostly Sunny
At Kickoff – 62°F Sunny
End Of Game – 72°F Sunny
Clemson is the Veruca Salt of college football; a spoiled-ass brat who still thinks the world isn’t giving her what she deserves. They’ll always find something to complain about, and this week it’s the utterly degrading and punitive insult of demoting them to #3 in the AP and #2 in the coach’s poll despite a 6-0 record with five of those wins coming against Power 5 opponents. Indeed, the reigning national champs are the ever-persecuted red-headed stepchild of college athletics. Nothing ever goes their way. Here you are, riding the longest win-streak in school history at 21-straight coming off a 45-14 shellacking of Florida State, and people are making hay about one measly little game against North Carolina. The nerve! Don’t you know who we are?
Joking aside…it’s freaking Clemson. Yes, the game against a relatively weak Tar Heels team does stand out, but everything about it says fluke. The romp against Florida State is a far superior bellwether by any standard. Sophomore QB Trevor Lawrence led the Tigers during nearly 40 minutes of total possession for 552 yards. Good things generally happen when you possess the ball for two-thirds of the game. Good things also tend to happen when your top running back (Jr. RB Travis Etienne) can casually throw a TD pass as well as receive a TD pass in one game. He got so distracted he forgot to run for a TD but Jr. WR Amari Rogers was kind enough to swap spots and rush for a TD so things evened out. Normally we’d expect to see Jr. WR Tee Higgins and his avg. 22 yards a catch but after missing the second half against FSU due to injury he’s still in the questionable column. And yet with Lawrence standing behind an O-line that’s allowed only four sacks on the season it’s not necessarily going to be difficult to find alternate targets. With Clemson playing its up-tempo offense, and with Louisville allowing an average 615 yards against BC and Wake you have to prepare yourself to see big numbers on the scoreboard.
A good portion of that heightened tempo can be attributed to the fact that depth is never an issue for Dabo Swinney. Clemson is the manifestation of the Gashouse Gorillas from that Bugs Bunny baseball cartoon. A never ending stream of monstrous talent stepping into the breach as their predecessors are launched into the NFL. The Tigers averaged 72 players seeing the field per game in 2018 and hit an all-time peak of 111 this season against Charlotte. The second highest total? 94 against Louisville in 2018.
That depth will play a key role for the Clemson defense as they come into the game with top DE Xavier Thomas questionable after being put on concussion protocol after a practice injury this week. Despite losing a lot of talent to the NFL after 2018 it’s been nothing but a string of stellar performances from Thomas along with his equally capable counterparts in Logan Rudolph, Justin Foster, and Sr. safety K’Von Wallace. The Tigers have not allowed an individual 100-yard rusher in 27 consecutive and are allowing just over 100 yards/gm total rushing this season. When you compare the numbers, it doesn’t look good. Second in the nation 150 pass yards/gm compared to Louisville’s 264. Third in the nation 254 total yards/gm compared to Louisville’s 439. And points allowed? 12.3/game compared to Louisville’s 31.5. Every game (except EKU) has been a shootout for Louisville up to this point, and offensively the total stats between the Cardinals and the Tigers are comparable. But a paper Tiger, Clemson is not. The Cards simply must find a way to push the ball on the ground to have any hope of victory.
Let’s face it folks, the odds don’t look good. Louisville has never beaten Clemson. Hell, the only team from South Carolina the Cardinals have ever defeated is Furman and that was during the Nixon administration. Louisville may need some of that Tricky Dick magic if they hope to stand any chance of pulling this one out. But hope springs eternal, and this team has a lot to bank on going into this mid-season crucible. Micale Cunningham will likely get the start at QB and deservedly so. But that’s no slight to Evan Conley who’s proven to be an unexpected source of maturity and poise in some tight spots. Downfield, Cunningham and Conley have a reinvigorated WR corps with a now resurgent Dez Fitzpatrick. On the defensive side, key performances from the likes of Rodjay Burns and Yasir Abdullah have inspired confidence despite the sometimes shocking level of opponent scoring.
The Louisville offense has been rolling but now faces a mountain to climb. The Louisville defense still leaves much to be desired and now faces a locomotive. Whatever the outcome, this season has shown it’s the Cardinals who are burning bright. They’re not here for moral victories.