Last year, the Cards struggled to move the ball. James Quick’s 73-yard catch to flip the field accounted for nearly 28% of Louisville’s offense on the day in which UofL ran 68 plays and gained just 264 yards. The Cards had 4 fumbles on the day, 2 that were lost, and one that was a score on a sack fumble from Reggie Bonnafon. Most of Louisville’s yards came through the air as UofL averaged just 1.4 yards per rushing attempt. Briefly: It was a rough day for the Louisville offense.
In fact, when the game came down to its final play defensive coordinator Brent Venables discussed in post-game how he had recognized the final play as a “go-to” play from watching tape of Petrino’s offenses from Western Kentucky during the off-season. As bad as things went for the Cards offensively they still had a chance to win on the road in Death Valley. And that’s really the message and tone that we at TheCrunchZone.com are taking in Petrino’s likely approach to this weekend.
Louisville couldn’t run the ball last year vs. Clemson and they had a terrible time protecting the football as well (and special teams, but we’ll get to that later). Thus far in 2015 the Cards have had its Quarterback position up in the air since the very first snap. Versus Clemson, Petrino is likely to go with the signal caller that protects the football the best. No matter which ‘person’ trots out at QB for UofL on Thursday night, his charge will be to move the offense effectively without interceptions or fumbles. Turnovers have killed Louisville so far in 2015 as the Cards have lost 6 in two games and rank 111th (of 128th) in the country in lost turnovers. Clemson on the other hand has gained 4 turnovers and ranks 29th! If Louisville hopes to win on Thursday, it must protect the ball.
Clemson was the best defense in football last year. After two games vs. over-matched opponents the numbers are still holding strong with a host of Top Rankings in several statistical categories. Clemson’s defensive line was a problem last year and the Tigers return very little production from a year ago. Venables will lean on Shaq Lawson (6-3, 270) to lead a bunch of youngsters who don’t have a great deal of experience. If Louisville can do any better than its 1.4 yards per carry than a year ago then that is a positive sign. Louisville’s young offensive line has made some progress against some stiff competition, while Clemson has done quite well against teams that it puts away early in match-ups. At linebacker Ben Boulware really emerged towards the end of 2014 and had a great game vs. the Cards. Going by stats for Clemson can be mis-leading considering the scores at halftime.
Also, neither Wofford or Appalachian State were tests through the air for the Tigers. Clemson is 4th in the country in pass defense despite winning both of its games by a combined total of 70 points. That should tell you that even with big deficits neither team really felt confident throwing against Clemson. Perhaps that’s more on Clemson’s opponents than Clemson itself, but Mackensie Alexander (5’11, 195, Soph.) is one of the best corners in the league and Jayron Kearse (6-5, 220, Jr) already made a tremendous play running down James Quick last year in the final moments.
Louisville has several wide receivers that will be OUT vs. Clemson. Jamari Staples and Alphonso Carter have yet to see action for the Cards in 2015 and James Quick is OUT from his low ankle injury that he incurred during the Auburn game. Instead, Louisville will be going with a host of new & young players: Ja’Quay Savage, Jaylen Smith, Traveon Samuel, Devante Peete, Emonee Spence, Javonte Bagley and Dontez Byrd. Even the young tight ends, Micky Crum, Cole Hikutini & Charles Standberry will mix in with veteran Keith Towbridge. What Louisville lacks in experience it has in talent and the good news is that talent has been in some really tough early battles.
Louisville’s offense isn’t going to suddenly EXPLODE into Bobby Petrino’s signature offense from 2004. It’s going to take time for it to evolve. Clemson has lost a great deal of talent from a year ago and is largely untested. Don’t look for either side to completely dominate the other, but also don’t be surprised if Louisville uses a conservative approach if it can frustrate Deshaun Watson defensively like it did a year ago. Expect that the Cards will attempt to establish a running game early and often. If UofL can get some headway on the ground then we may have a ball game. Who Louisville brings in a QB to start the game may not be who finishes and the expectation should be that unless things are going really well that someone else will be tried. Could it be Will? Could it be Reggie? Lamar? Kyle? Absolutely. But Petrino will likely want to “PROTECT THE FOOTBALL” and not give Clemson and its talented Quarterback easy money on the other side.
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