How to Watch: Kickoff at 8:12 p.m. on Saturday, ABC
Spread: Clemson -2.5
Last Time: Trailing 28-10 at halftime, Louisville roared back with 26 unanswered points to take an eight-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Clemson responded with two touchdowns in a three-minute stretch, taking a 42-36 lead. Lamar Jackson led the Cardinals into a fourth-and-goal opportunity, but fell short as James Quick ran out of bounds.
Clemson leads the all-time series 3-0, with each game coming down to the final possession.
Meet the Clemson Tigers:
A lot has changed for Clemson, since that epic game last October. The Tigers fell against Pittsburgh in mid-November, but rebounded to claim the ACC title and, eventually, a last-second win against Alabama to win the national championship. The Tigers are one of the premier programs in the country, with a potent coaching combo in head coach Dabo Swinney and defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
First-round picks Deshaun Watson and Mike Williams were among their key departures, leaving Clemson with a reloading offense. New quarterback Kelly Bryant is a dual-threat guy with a big arm, but has veteran receivers like Deon Cain, Hunter Renfrow & Ray Ray McCloud to help.
Now led by their elite defense, the Tigers enter the game 2-0, coming off a win against #18 Auburn where they had 11 sacks. Clemson has yet to allow a touchdown this season.
Players to Watch:
- DT Christian Wilkins
It’d be a disservice to mention only one of Clemson’s defensive linemen here. The Tigers boast the best front four in the country, with Wilkins and Ferrell as bonafide top-ten projected picks, and Dexter Lawrence being a favorite for the top overall pick in 2019.
Wilkins presents the biggest mismatch against Louisville. He has a relentless motor and can cause mayhem in the interior running game. He has the versatility to play either at end or tackle, but did the most damage against Louisville when lined up over the center or guard. His raw strength and athleticism will test Louisville’s guards and Robbie Bell.
- WR Hunter Renfrow
Renfrow is a fan favorite at Clemson, a walk-on who happened to score the game winning touchdown against Alabama. But make no mistake about it, he is worth every bit of the praise he gets. Renfrow is a possession receiver that has become a reliable option for Bryant; Louisville’s struggled so far with containing possession receivers like him, and he could be due for a big game tomorrow night. His success in the short and intermediate passing game complements the big play potential that Deon Cain and Ray Ray McCloud have.
- DE Clelin Ferrell
The Tigers have great interior linemen (Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence), and that helps pass rushers like Clelin Ferrell get favorable one-on-one matchups. Against Auburn, Ferrell showed great anticipation on jumping snaps and displaying lots of pass-rushing moves. Austin Bryant is no slouch either, and had four sacks against Auburn last week. Ferrell gets the nod here because he’ll likely match-up against Geron Christian tomorrow.
Keys to the Game
- Clemson DL v. Louisville OL
Clemson’s defensive line has been a key in their wins against Louisville, and it will be the most important matchup to watch. The Louisville offensive line has looked better to start 2017, but will they be up to the challenge against four potential NFL draftees?
The most important matchups will be Geron Christian v. Clelin Ferrell, and Mekhi Becton v. Austin Bryant. Both will have an important role in setting the edge for Louisville to run the ball, particularly off-tackle. Clemson will likely get their fair share of stops, but can they hold their blocks for Lamar Jackson and Malik Williams to get into space?
- Louisville WRs v. Clemson DBs
If the Louisville offensive line buys Lamar Jackson enough time, Jaylen Smith has the ability to win one-on-one matchups with a young Clemson secondary. Marcus Edmond (foot sprain) could miss the game Saturday, which would be a huge blow for them.
One area that Louisville should be favored is their receivers v. Clemson’s secondary. If Edmond plays, that’s a bonus for Clemson; he has the ability to hold his own against Smith in man coverage. Where Louisville can have success, though, is with inside receivers. If Dez Fitzpatrick and Traveon Samuel can get separation underneath, it can open the door for the quick passing game and nullify Clemson’s pass rush.
- Status of Jaire Alexander
It goes without saying that having Jaire Alexander will give Louisville a huge boost on defense. Alexander’s two interceptions last year gave the Cardinals huge defensive stops, and helped them close the 18-point deficit they faced. Alexander has the ability to cover Deon Cain and prevent him from stretching the defense, vertically.
If he can’t go, putting Trumaine Washington against him is a mismatch that Clemson will likely exploit. Cain scored his two touchdowns last year with Washington in man coverage against him, and could be in for a big day if Bryant has time in the pocket.
As stated, Hunter Renfrow could be in for a big game against Louisville. The Cardinals have struggled against slot receivers like UNC’s Austin Proehl, and Renfrow is definitely one of the best slot receivers in the country. The defense has given receivers plenty of cushion outside, and that’s left Louisville vulnerable to underneath routes. If that happens again, Bryant will throw it to him often and plenty.