In 2016, Clemson and Louisville played an all-time classic game at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, where the Tigers hung on for a 42-36 victory over the Cardinals on their way to a National Championship.
If it wasn’t for James Quick running out of bounds (below), Louisville may have been able to knock off Clemson on the road.
This year, the matchup comes much earlier in the year, so the stakes aren’t as high. However, the winner of this game will have the early inside track to representing the Atlantic Division in the ACC Championship Game.
With last year’s game being such a classic, can we expect the same in 2017?
Both teams are 2-0, with Clemson having the only marquee win between the two, a 14-6 victory over Auburn last Saturday night at home. The win bumped Clemson up to #3 in the country, while Louisville sits at #14 after a win against North Carolina.
This year’s game will be played at Louisville, a big factor for a team looking to make the jump to true national championship contender. Louisville may also have the most talented player in the country in quarterback Lamar Jackson, who has been spectacular so far this season, accounting for over 1,000 yards in just two games. For as impressive as Jackson has been, Clemson’s defense has been the best unit in college football through two weeks, yielding just nine points and no touchdowns. They held a “fixed” Auburn offense to just 117 yards and Kent State only managed 120 yards.
To put that into perspective, Louisville’s defense allowed 164 more yards in their win last week than Clemson has in two weeks.
This means that something will have to give. Either the Clemson defense breaks, or they are able to shutdown Jackson, who torched them for 457 yards in last year’s contest. Three future NFL stars in Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Dexter Lawrence, who have blown up plays at a ridiculous rate for Clemson, lead Clemson’s defense. If they can force Jackson into making quick decisions, they can force him into making poor decisions with the football, which will lead to turnovers.
If Jackson is able to get time in the pocket and the read-option game gets going early, he could be in for another monster game.
On the offensive side of things for Clemson, Kelly Bryant may not be DeShaun Watson, but he’s done a nice job of running an efficient offense and has avoided turnovers. He scored the only two touchdowns of the game last weekend, and was efficient as a passer, not forcing anything into coverage.
Bryant has a plethora of weapons to take the pressure off of him in this one, and with those weapons comes an unbelievable amount of speed. Ray-Ray McCloud and Deon Cain are two homerun hitters on the outside, while Hunter Renfroe (who’s been there for what seems like 25 years) patrols the slot. Tavien Feaster is one of the fastest players in the country at running back, and Adam Choice has some giddy up in his step as well.
Louisville’s defense has not looked sharp early on, allowing over 750 yards of offense thus far, and will have trouble covering all of Clemson’s weapons on the outside. They forced four turnovers and recorded four sacks against Purdue, but did not force any against North Carolina and could only muster two sacks.
The defense must be sharper against Kelly Bryant and Co., because if theyre not, it might be a long game for the Cardinals.
The X-Factor in this game will be Clemson’s defense. If they can limit Jackson, the offense should score enough points against a shaky Louisville defense. If Jackson is able to pick them apart and it becomes a shootout, Louisville will run away with this game.
In the end, Clemson’s defense will make enough plays to squeak out another marquee win, this time, it’s at Papa John’s Stadium. Jackson will put up his numbers, but the Tigers’ defense will bend, not break, and Clemson will be the new #2 team in the country at the weekend’s end.
Clemson wins 31-27 in another instant classic.
Cover Photo via TheSpun
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