The Louisville Defense is the #1 unit in the country and allows just 12.7 points per game. The Cards have yet to allow 300 yards of offense in a single game and the most thus far to FCS Murray State who gained most of its 292 yards after Louisville was up by 5 touchdowns. In its only loss the Cardinal Defense allowed 285 yards to Virginia, while the Cavaliers only had to travel 42 yards to score 16 of 25 points after 4 Louisville turnovers.
Clemson’s offense is far and away better than anything the Cards have faced so far this season. But the same is true for Clemson and the Louisville Defense. The Tigers’ opening season loss to Georgia can’t be factored here as Quarterback Deshaun Watson saw limited action. Since Watson’s role has been elevated Clemson’s offensive efficiency exceeds the production allowed of opposing defensive averages by 15 percentage points per game. The Cards allow an average of 230 yards per game meaning that we should expect Clemson to gain 265 yards against the Cards………but that’s just math.
Deshaun Watson is real. The 6’3, 190 lbs freshman Quarterback is calm, athletic, and accurate. Through 5 games (4 really) Watson has been good……really good. To compare, Deshaun Watson’s 1st 106 college passes are as follows: 73-106 (68.9%), 1181 Yards, 12 Touchdowns and 1 Interception. Teddy Bridgewater’s 1st 106 passes: 67-106 (63.2%), 693 yards, 4 Touchdowns, and 5 Interceptions.
Clemson, however, is coming into Saturday’s game with a lot of injuries and depth issues. The Tigers are searching for answers at Center and recently moved a defensive lineman over to the offensive line for an extra body. But the starting group that Clemson will bring into Saturday’s game is more than adequate to build on Watson’s recent performance.
The Tigers have scored 91 points the past 2 weeks against North Carolina and NC State. NC State’s Defense ranks 68th in the nation and the Tar Heels are 120th…..that’s a long way from Louisville’s #1 spot. Florida State’s Defense ranks #36 and allows 347.8 yards per game, Clemson piled up 407 yards but scored just 17 points in overtime. Clemson had 14 drives against the Seminoles and just 6 drives gained more than 20 yards, 9 of those were non-scoring drives of 5 plays or less.
Clemson’s offensive line is a little beat up, Louisville Defensive front is one of the best I’ve seen this year (Clemson’s is another). Clemson has given up a great deal of sacks and tackles for loss and I expect that the Cards will do a tremendous job on Saturday of disrupting Clemson behind the line of scrimmage and the Tigers have a not so impressive rushing attack.
One thing Clemson could definitely take advantage of is Deshaun Watson’s running ability when the Cards over-pursue and allow running lane. Louisville has given up a few big plays this season when a QB eluded the rush and found open field. Watson has 137 yards rushing (5 rushes over 10 yards) and 3 touchdowns.
Louisville’s secondary could get a boost with the return of Jermaine Reve. It’s been rumored that Terell Floyd is moving to cornerback for the Clemson game with Reve’s return and Trumaine Washington likely to miss a game with a minor injury. Floyd has been fantastic at the nickel position, but the defense really could notch up with Terell at corner if Reve is fully back to plug into the nickel spot. The Cards could use the size against a big receiver like Mike Williams (6’4, 210). But unlike Virginia, Clemson’s wide receivers don’t have as much size across the board but they are MUCH faster.
Charles Gaines is going to get tested in this game. Gerod Holliman and James Sample will have to come up and make sure tackles so as to not allow a great deal of yards after the catch. But there will be plays to make. Louisville’s pressure should create a few opportunities for some turnovers, but more than anything the Cards need to focus on getting off the field on 3rd down.
Louisville has an edge here, but Clemson is going to move the ball some. The Cards can’t play overly aggressive and have 90% lights out but 10% huge plays. That will get the Cards beat. Todd Grantham’s young Georgia Defense last season allowed 38 points and 467 yards in a 3 point loss and is very familiar with what Dabo Swinney and Chad Morris attempt to do on offense. Louisville has the players and the scheme to cause problems and slow this offense down….the question is: will it be enough?
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