Game of the Week: Clemson vs. Louisville
Two weeks of the 2017 college football are in the books, and we have already been given a multitude of surprises.
Despite losing a seemingly irreplaceable amount of production on both sides of the ball, Clemson thus far looks like it will be right back in the hunt for a College Football Playoff berth.
Also, those who thought Louisville might have peaked last season could be in for a rude awakening because, through two weeks, reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson looks even better than he was last year.
The next chapter of Clemson-Louisville will kickoff this Saturday at 8 p.m. in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium for hopefully another invigorating clash between these two ACC contenders.
Last year’s matchup literally came down to inches, as Louisville just barely failed to convert on 4th down inside the red zone, allowing Clemson to prevail, 42-36.
Bobby Petrino’s Cardinals are on a mission to avenge themselves after last season’s poor finish. An upset win over Clemson would be a phenomenal start.
Petrino is one of the top offensive minds in college football, and it helps that he has a player of Jackson’s caliber at his disposal.
Despite winning the Heisman last year, Jackson struggled at the end of the year as a pocket passer, which made their offense one-dimensional as opposing defenses adjusted.
However, Jackson added ten pounds on the offseason, is even faster this year, and spent a lot of time working to develop as a passer. Even though it is still early in the season, so far it has paid tremendous dividends.
Through two games, Jackson is completing 65 percent of his passes for 771 yards, with five touchdowns to zero interceptions. He also has accumulated 239 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. If he maintains this level of consistency through the air, opposing defenses will have almost an impossible time stopping him.
Jackson has an explosive complement in the backfield in senior running back Malik Williams, who broke out against UNC last week for 149 yards on 13 carries.
Jackson has also found two very reliable targets on the outside in junior Jaylen Smith and freshman Dez Fitzpatrick. Smith already has 17 catches for 300 yards, while Fitzpatrick has corralled three touchdowns passes.
The Louisville offensive line is still a question mark, however, even though it has looked better so far. They will have their first major test on Saturday against a devastating Clemson defensive front.
Dabo Swinney’s defense suffocated Auburn last weekend in Death Valley, recording 11 sacks on a supremely talented Jarrett Stidham. Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence are all future first round NFL Draft picks and should be in for monster seasons.
Clemson has allowed only 237 total yards of offense so far this season, including just 80 passing yards. The one thing they have not done, however, is force many turnovers, with just one takeaway through two games. This may need to change in order to slow down the potent Louisville offense.
On the other side of the ball, new Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant has been quite a pleasant surprise. He leads the team in both passing and rushing, and has committed just one turnover. While not as polished of a passer as Deshaun Watson, he may be an even more dangerous runner than his predecessor, while also showing the ability to create big plays downfield with his arm.
Clemson also has one of the top receiving corps in college football yet again, with Deon Cain, Ray-Ray McCloud and Hunter Renfrow all returning.
Like last year, turnovers have been a bit of a problem for this unit, which will need to change if Clemson is to contend for another College Football Playoff berth.
As good as Louisville’s offense has been, its defense has been just mediocre against two subpar teams in Purdue and UNC.
Its defensive front does not have the same amount of depth as last year’s team and its secondary has really struggled without preseason All-American cornerback Jaire Alexander in the lineup.
Alexander is listed day-to-day for this weekend’s game, but if he is unavailable, Louisville may need to rely on their offense to win them the game.
It should be another exciting matchup to watch this year. Clemson’s defense will have another great challenge defending an even better Lamar Jackson.
However, Louisville’s offensive line just may not have the ability to contain Clemson’s stout defensive front for four quarters, which will be the difference.
Also, even if Alexander can play, he may be a bit rusty this week and Clemson’s talented wide receivers will be too much to handle for Louisville in the end.
Either way after Saturday night, we will have a better idea of just how good both these teams are, particularly Clemson’s defense and Louisville’s offense.
Prediction: Clemson 33, Louisville 24
Will Desautelle is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Junior / Broadcast Journalism and Political Science