Louisville is the #5 Offense in the Nation.  Clemson is the #2 Defense in the Nation.  Are those rankings currently a reflection of the true value of the Cards & Tigers Offense & Defense?  The rankings might very well be true, but the stat performance is probably a little inflated for both sides.

Last year Louisville averaged 532.7 yards per game and so far in 2017 the Cards are averaging 614.5 yards per game.  Clemson’s national championship defense allowed 311.5 yards per game a year ago and so far the Tigers have been outstanding allowing just 118.5 yards per game.

Is it possible that both Louisville’s Offense & Clemson’s Defense are both beter than they were a year ago?  Sure.  Is it likely?  No.

The Numbers

First of all Louisville has played Purdue & North Carolina.  Last year the Boilermakers & Tar Heels were 91st & 63rd in Total Defense respectively. Early on Purdue & North Carolina rank much lower than they did a year ago on Total Defense…….but they’ve played two games and one each vs. Louisville (tends to skew things).

Clemson started out against hapless Kent State who was 125th on offense last year and held the Golden Flashes to just 120 yards.  Kent State did manage to gain 399 yards this past week vs. Howard…… so how do you measure that?  Clemson did what they are supposed to do in Game 1 and looked outstanding.

Now Auburn is a different story.  AU is a SEC West Power 5 Football program that won a recent national championship.  Gus Malzhan is a supposed ‘offensive genius’ and it stands to reason that Auburn is a viable offensive team……. but they were 107th in Total Offense last year.  AND Auburn hasn’t looked very good offensively in a long time and they’ve lost their last 4 games against Power 5 programs.  Auburn hasn’t passed for 200+ yards in the past 7 games.  (should we go on?)

Louisville had 568 yards vs. the Tigers last year.  Clemson ended as the #8 Total Defense in 2016.  Is Clemson better defensively than they were a year ago?  Is Louisville better offensive than they were a year ago?

The below projection of UofL offense has a HUGE variance of 138 yards to 440 yards.  Obviously this isn’t a metric we can use given the variance this early in the season, but it does show how strong the Louisville Offense & Clemson Defense have been thus far in 2017.

Total Offense Clemson Allowed Deviation from Avg % Gained of Avg Allowed
Kent State 259.5 120 -139.5 46.24%
Auburn 326.0 117 -209.0 35.89%
Average -174.25 41.07%
Louisville 614.5 Projection 440.25 252.35
Total Defense UofL Gained Deviation from Avg % Gained of Avg Allowed
Purdue 460.0 524 64.0 113.91%
North Carolina 587.0 705 118.0 120.10%
Average 91.00 117.01%
Clemson 118.5 Projection 209.50 138.65

A Deeper Look

Stats are great but players play.  Clemson had 11 sacks last week vs. Auburn.  SICKENING.  This is the kind of stat that will give Louisville fans PTSD flashbacks of Houston’s 11 sack performance vs. the Cards last season.

Still Clemson is replacing CB Cordrea Tankersley (3rd Round, pick 97- Dolphins), DT Carlos Watkins (4th Round, pick 142-Texans), Ben Boulware (undrafted- 49ers) and others.  Boulware led Clemson in tackles a year ago and terrorized the Cardinals in last year’s game with 18 tackles (8 Solo, 10 assisted).

Clemson wasn’t the 8th best defense in the country last year because of a few mid-draft selections…. it’s because they have talent all over the field.  Brent Venables has been really good for a really long time and Bobby Petrino seemed to finally crack the Venables code a year with 568 yards and 36 points….. but Turnovers & Penalties really hampered the Cardinal performance.  11 penalties for 104 yards and 3 turnovers (1 INT, 2 fumbles lost).

Upfront the Cards have been better already in 2017.  Mekhi Becton has been OUTSTANDING as a true freshman and his emergence allowed Lukayus McNeil to move into his more natural position at guard.  Robbie Bell did struggle in his initial game vs. Purdue but immediately improved vs. North Carolina a week later.  Needless to say that Clemson’s front is going to challenge the Cards more than UNC & PU.

Offenses can’t be one dimensional to move the ball vs. Clemson.  Lamar Jackson is the ultimate guy to move the ball against the Tigers with his multiplicity.  Clemson also gave up 449 yards vs. Deondre Francois in 2016, Jerod Evans (VT) had 310 yards… and then CU held Jalen Hurts (Bama) to 194 total yards.  This season Lamar has added the checkdown and the short to intermediate throw over the middle.  The checkdown is Lamar’s friend when it comes to avoiding negative plays and managing the game (Louisville has had 27 & 35 first downs in its first two games).  The short to intermediate throw over the middle (which we saw a TON of to Jaylen Smith vs. UNC) is designed to make teams pay that send blitzes over the middle.  If teams are going to send their linebackers with pressure then Lamar & Co. will gladly take the space.  These are two developments that weren’t true a year ago.

But Louisville must establish the running game if they hope to be explosive vs. the Clemson Tigers.  Before Malik Williams got going vs. North Carolina the Tar Heels (and Purdue too) were able to keep some of the explosion plays at bay.  But once Williams started finding a groove in the run game (and Louisville was diligent at staying with the game plan) then things started opening up for Lamar Jackson.

Clemson is likely going to force Louisville to prove that Lamar Jackson will give the running back the ball and that they RB can do something with his carries.  No team, Clemson included is going to allow the most dangerous football player to go unchecked.  So Lousiville needs to establish Malik Williams, Reggie Bonnafon and perhaps even Colin Wilson early & often as a viable threat on the ground.

If Louisville can’t establish a run game beyond Lamar then Clemson will tear the brakes off the blitz and the Cardinal offense will be limited at best.  The good news is that UofL should be able to pass the ball throughout…. but there is unlikely to be much explosion.

Can Louisville’s offensive line mitigate the Clemson front?  That’s a huge question. It’s going to be part physicality upfront and part Lamar Jackson’s decision making with dealing with blitzes and part establishing a running game.

In the passing game Clemson may be stronger than they were a year ago.  But so is Louisville.  Louisville’s best WR, Seth Dawkins thus far has been the most quiet of the starters.  It’s just a matter of time before Dawkins breaks out but in the meantime teams will still have to deal with Jaylen Smith, Dez Fitzpatrick & Traveon Samuel.  Travyon Mullen is Lamar Jackson’s cousin and was a huge Louisville recruit before picking the Cards.  Ryan Carter, Tanner Muse and K’von Wallace are an impressive group of DBs to go along with Mullen.  If Louisville can’t establish the run game Lamar is going to test this group for the duration of the contest.

Louisville should be able to move the ball against the Tigers.  The Cards aren’t going to put up 700 yards (like vs. UNC) but they will have opportunities.  If Louisville doesn’t turn the ball over and continues the penalty trend from the North Carolina game then the Cards could have a nice night offensively vs. Clemson….. but they can’t be one dimensional and they MUST implement some new wrinkles throughout the game to keep the Tigers off-balance.

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@UofLSheriff50. Louisville native, University of Louisville Business School Grad c/o 2004. Co-Founder of TheCrunchZone.com

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