LOUISVILLE, Ky. – It’s week three of football season, and the national spotlight is shining on Louisville for the second-consecutive season.
ESPN College GameDay is returning to Louisville to showcase a top-15 matchup between reigning national champion and No. 3 Clemson and the No. 14 Cardinals on Saturday. The programs will square off in primetime on ABC at 8 p.m.
Since joining the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Cardinals have dropped three memorable games to the Tigers, most recently, a 42-36 loss last season in a top-five tilt in Death Valley last season that came down to the final possession – just as the two other games did as well.
Louisville, however, is eager about being at the forefront of the college football landscape this weekend.
“It’s great for our recruiting and it’s great for our players,” head coach Bobby Petrino said. “This is the type of game you grow up picturing yourself playing in. It’s something that our players definitely look forward to. I would expect us to have a good week of practice.
“I’m hoping that our experience last year with Florida State and going on the road at Clemson will help us there. I thought that at Clemson, when we started the game at Clemson, we had some guys that were too hyped up, so hopefully, that’ll carry over for us.”
GameDay is making its second appearance in Louisville after the crew came in last season, almost a year to the day, to witness one of the biggest wins in school history – a 63-20 drubbing of No. 2 Florida State on Sept. 17, 2016.
“To be honest with you,” Petrino said, “the thing that probably jumps out the most to me is when (former wide receiver James) Quick goes down the sideline, and he’s running down for what looked to be a touchdown right before half, and (Lee) Corso’s holding his head. That’s probably the number one thing I remember.”
However, that win is in the rearview mirror, and this year’s team is focused on a different challenge from a Clemson team that went on to win the national title last year in a one-point decision over Alabama.
“That’s what we’ve been working on all pre-fall is finishing the games,” Petrino said. “We’ve had three really good battles with them – had our opportunities and have come up short, so this is something that is really important to our players. First of all, we should have confidence that we’re there and that we can play, but it is up to us to win the game.”
The UofL offense, which ranks fifth in the country, will face a stiff challenge from a Clemson defense that registered 11 sacks last weekend in the win over then-No. 13 Auburn.
Clemson held Auburn to just 117 yards of total offense and 38 yards on the ground, which is a concern for Petrino, whose team is breaking in a new offensive line.
“Clemson very good up front,” Petrino said. “They’ve got two big, physical defensive tackles, two really good guys on the edge. We played against two of their three linebackers last year that are really fast and slippery. They slip blocks and make tackles and they keep them free. They run very fast to the ball. It’s a good package.”
While the Tigers have one of the best defenses in the country, the Cardinals have one of the best players in the nation in Lamar Jackson, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Jackson is coming off one of his best performances, recording 525 yards of total offense and six touchdowns in the win over North Carolina.
“He’s a great player,” Petrino said. “You watch him the other day and you’re like: ‘Wow, this guy is pretty good.’ He’s throwing it all over the place and he’s running for touchdowns. The play I liked was the one where they brought a corner off the edge and we missed blocking it, and he stepped up and kept two hands on the ball, reset his feet, and threw a strike for a 75-yard touchdown. That shows a lot of maturity, whereas a year ago, I know for sure two years ago, he would have just took off and ran.”
For the Cardinals to capture their first win over the Tigers, they will need Jackson and his teammates to step up on one of the nation’s biggest stages.