8:00 PM EST, ABC – Line: Clemson -3, Over/Under: 58.5
A crucial Atlantic Coast Conference clash highlights this weekend in College Football, as the third-Ranked Clemson Tigers travel to Louisville to face the Fourteenth-Ranked Cardinals Papa John’s Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky. This is of course a rematch of one of the more entertaining games of the 2016 Season, as eventual National Champion Clemson (2-0, 0-0 in ACC) outlasted Louisville in an epic battle 42-36, that featured a ridiculous 1,075 Total Yards of Offense and ten Touchdowns, along with eight Turnovers. Former Quarterback Deshaun Watson (who has since departed to the NFL) put together a vintage performance, eviscerating the Cardinals with both his arms and legs; the No. 12 Pick in the NFL Draft completed 20-of-31 Passes for 306 Yards and five Touchdowns, while rushing for another ninety-one Yards on fourteen carries, with his last two scores coming inside the game’ final seven minutes, as the home side rallied back from an eight-point deficit. Tailback Wayne Gallman added another 110 Rushing Yards and a Touchdown on sixteen Carries, while Mike Williams hauled in five Receptions for seventy Yards and a score of his own in the victory. So in the rematch a year later, what can we expect from Dabo Swinney’s charges, you ask? Well, don’t expect to see the likes of Watson, Gallman, or Williams, for there’s a whole cadre of talented kids plying their trade at Clemson, led by Junior Quarterback Kelly Bryant, who after sitting behind Watson for each of the past two seasons is reveling in his role as the starter. Until you see the name on the back of his jersey, you might think that Watson was granted yet another year of eligibility, for Bryant has looked uncannily similar to his predecessor through the first two games of the campaign; adept at making plays through the air or on the ground, the Junior has completed 35-of-51 Attempts for 417 Yards (8.2 Y/A), a Touchdown and an Interception, while compiling another 136 Rushing Yards and three scores on twenty-six carries. His versatility was the key in defeating Thirteenth-Ranked Auburn last weekend’s 14-6 slugfest; trailing 6-0 shortly before Halftime, Bryant scampered into the End Zone to take the lead with forty-eight seconds before Intermission, only to put the game out of reach with a 27-yeard Touchdown Run early in the third stanza. From that point, the Tigers’ Defense went about their business, which has spelled bad news for the opposition thus far. Swinney and Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables have stockpiled a wealth of talent on this side of the ball, for this group may be even better than they were last year despite losing so many contributors to the NFL. Clemson has yielded just nine points in it’s first two outings, despite not forcing a single Turnover, they’ve wrecked havoc in opposing Backfields, amassing ten Sacks. They absolutely smothered Auburn last Saturday, relegating the SEC inhabitants to a scant 117 Total Yards, including just thirty-eight Rushing Yards on forty-three Carries, which for those not mathematically inclined averages out to a miserable 0.9 Yards per Rush. Negative plays were the key to their domination, as the hosts accumulated a staggering eleven Sacks, one shy of a school record. It certainly helps having a Defensive Line littered with potential All-Americans featuring Christian Wilkins (11 TKL, 2.5 TFL, 2.0 SK) and Dexter Lawrence (6 TKL) providing pressure up the middle, with Austin Bryant (12 TKL, 4.0 TFL, 4.0 SK) and Clelin Ferrell (11 TKL, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 SK) coming off the edges. Look for these guys to play a huge role in Clemson’s attempts to neutralize reigning Heisman Lamar Jackson, who is arguably the most explosive player in the country.
Meanwhile, after watching last year’s epic battle between these two teams, one can’t help but feel that Louisville (2-0, 1-0 in ACC) was on the cusp of greatness. You see, in 2016 the Cardinals came into their annual meeting with the Tigers unbeaten in four contests, ascending to Third in the Polls after absolutely embarrassing Florida State two weeks prior in a 63-20 thumping. The visiting side would take an early 7-0 lead, but relinquish twenty-one unanswered points, trailing 28-10 at the hallway mark. That, ladies and gentlemen, is when Bobby Petrino’s charges went to work; emerging from Intermission, Louisville went on to score twenty-six straight points, led by eventual Heisman Winner Lamar Jackson, who spearheaded the attack with an 8-Yard Passing Touchdown to James Quick to get things started, and an 11-Yard run into the End Zone to cap the onslaught. Unfortunately, Clemson would go on to score another two touchdowns to take a commanding 42-36 lead, but undeterred Jackson drove his team down the field all the way to the host’s 3-Yard Line, where his final pass of the game landed in the hands of the aforementioned Quick before being knocked out of bounds shy of the End Zone as time expired. Clearly, Jackson and Co. put the fear of God in the eventual National Champions, coming oh so close to a season-defining victory. Jackson, for his part, totaled a ridiculous 457 Total Yards and four Touchdowns, doing most of his damage with his legs, rushing for 162 Yards and a pair of scores on thirty-one Carries. Fast forward a year, and little has changed for this group, which has earned a pair of victories over the likes of Purdue (35-28) on a neutral field, and at North Carolina (47-35), both contests that were far more competitive than one would have thought. The problem is that Louisville has been constantly caught up in shootouts thanks to their poor Defense, particularly in regards to defending the pass; the Boilermakers and Tar Heels have combined to complete 65.3% of their Passes for 677 Yards, and seven Touchdowns. If not for four Takeaways against the former, or a crucial Goal Line Stand in the Fourth Quarter against the latter, the Cardinals could very well have been winless heading into tonight’s showdown. With all that said, if these guys are going to make a leap in the Polls this is likely to be their only real chance to impress the Voters, and it will take everything that Jackson can muster tame this relentless Tigers’ Defense. The 2016 Heisman has begun this campaign like he did the previous one, racking up a whopping 1,010 Total Yards and eight Touchdowns thus far, making great strides as a passer, which only makes him that much intimidating for opponents; granted, it’s only two games, but the Junior has completed a career-best 64.7% of his Attempts for 771 Yards (9.1 Y/A), five Touchdowns and most importantly zero Interceptions. With last weekend’s win over North Carolina, he became the first player in FBS History to post consecutive 300-Yard Passing/100-Yard Rushing Games, hanging a staggering 525 Total Yards on the Tar Heels, a School Record against them.