Spread: Clemson -7, O/U 52 (Bovada)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET
TV / Radio: ESPN / 93.9 The Ville
Yet again, Louisville had its chances against Clemson late, and was unable to come up with a victory. Trailing 30-24 with 2:19 left, Louisville managed to march to the Clemson two-yard line in the final seconds. However, on fourth down, Malik Cunningham was sacked in a hurried attempt to score the potential game winning touchdown. Clemson escaped with a 30-24 victory over the Cardinals.
Clemson leads the all-time series 7-0.
Entering the Game: Clemson
After a rocky 4-3 start in 2021, Clemson rallied to win its final six games of the season, including a 20-13 win over Iowa State in the Cheez-It Bowl. The Tigers finished with a 10-3 record and ranked 14th in the final AP poll.
In spite of losing offensive coordinator Tony Elliott and defensive coordinator Brent Venables to head coaching jobs at Virginia and Oklahoma, respectively, Clemson entered 2022 with College Football Playoff aspirations. The Tigers come into Saturday’s contest, however, after a 35-14 loss at Notre Dame last weekend, currently sitting at 8-1.
Clemson Offense: What to Watch
How Clemson’s season was going to go was largely going to depend on (A) how Clemson handled losing both coordinators, and (B) how their quarterback situation panned out.
After Clemson landed the top quarterback in the 2022 class in Cade Klubnik, incumbent starter DJ Uiagalelei had to have better performances in order to keep his job. He has completed 65% of his passes (up from 55% last season), and thrown 18 touchdowns to just five interceptions this season.
While he managed to keep the noise down during Clemson’s 7-0 start to the season, it has grown louder in recent weeks. DJU has been benched for Klubnik during the Syracuse and Notre Dame games, two of Clemson’s higher profile games to date. In that stretch, he’s had less than 200 yards, and thrown only one touchdown and three interceptions. Head Coach Dabo Swinney has made it clear that he’s willing to go to other options if DJU doesn’t improve, so that will be the story for Clemson the rest of the season. Klubnik hasn’t done enough in-game to seize the starting job from DJU (45% completion, 4.3 YPA, one TD & INT), but considering Dabo Swinney’s recent track record with quarterbacks, going to a true freshman still isn’t a farfetched option.
Further compounding matters is Clemson receiver Beaux Collins has already been ruled out for Saturday, meaning the Tigers will be without their top receiver for most of this season (and somebody who had 100+ yards last year against the Cardinals). Antonio Williams and Joseph Ngata, however, suit up for Clemson on Saturday. Ngata is Clemson’s best and biggest target outside, he could pose some matchup problems if the Tigers can stretch the field. Williams will likely line up in the slot and can get easy completions. Clemson uses multiple tight ends, Davis Allen (27 rec., 325 yards, two TDs) and Jake Briningstool (15 rec., 163 yards, four TDs), that can be red zone options.
The backbone of Clemson’s offense, though, is Will Shipley. He’s had four 100-yard games this season, and he’s been the engine of the whole offense. Shipley can pretty much do everything well, he’s an adequate pass blocker and a very solid receiver out of the backfield. His high effort on every snap can wear down opposing defenses. There is a chance that Kobe Pace (641 yards, six touchdowns in 2021) could return this weekend, that would give Clemson depth at running back and be able to spell Shipley.
Players to Watch: QB DJ Uiagalelei (64.6% completion, 18 TDs, five INTs), RB Will Shipley (802 rushing yards, 5.9 YPC, 11 TDs), WR Joseph Ngata
Clemson Defense: What to Watch
Yet again, Clemson has an elite defense. How long will that trend last with Venables gone? That is to be determined.
In the short term though, everything is alright on that end for the Tigers. Especially when the defensive line has two, potentially three first round picks all lined up next to each other. Bryan Bresee is a likely top ten draft pick next spring, he’s a dynamic athlete at defensive tackle, very relentless at the point of attack and has a variety of moves. Tyler Davis has been an animal alongside him at defensive tackle, racking up seven TFLs and six QB hurries so far.
Myles Murphy on the edge gives Clemson a strong presence outside as well. He has the prototypical NFL pass rusher size (6’5″, 275 pounds), and has been productive from day one. The third-year player has had double-digit TFLs every season, and currently leads the team with ten this season. He has a great blend of speed and power, and even with Xavier Thomas out for the season, Clemson still has a strong presence at defensive end. Between Murphy, Bresee, and Davis, Clemson leads the ACC in TFLs (70) and is seventh in sacks (23).
The linebackers and secondary are a good unit that thrives when Clemson’s front four are able to get pressure. Andrew Mukuba is a hybrid CB/S that could be a top draft pick in 2024, he has the versatility to play in the box and play single high in coverage. Trenton Simpson leads the team in tackles (56), he and Jeremiah Trotter, Jr. are studs at linebacker (sidenote: I think Trotter, Jr. has a boatload of potential in the future). Barrett Carter (41 tackles, five TFLs) and Keith Maguire (31 tackles) add some solid depth to the Clemson linebacker group.
Players to Watch: DE Myles Murphy (10 TFLs, 6.5 sks, FF); DT Tyler Davis (seven TFLs, six QB hurries); S Andrew Mukuba (31 tackles, INT)
Keys to the Game
- Regardless of who is at quarterback, Louisville needs to dial the pressure up
Part of Clemson’s recent struggles has been due to the inconsistent play at quarterback, which led to struggles with turnovers and an inability to get the passing game in rhythm. Syracuse was +3 in the margin against Clemson in their loss to the Tigers, while Notre Dame had four sacks, seven TFLs, and finished +2 in the margin.
For Louisville to snap Clemson’s 38-game winning streak at Death Valley, they will need to continue dialing up pressure on DJU (or Klubnik) and keep Clemson to a one-dimensional look offensively. I do think it’s inevitable Shipley will get 100+ yards on the ground, he’s just a high effort runner and can get chunk plays. But Louisville will need to continue their excellent play from their front seven, and get back into forcing turnovers to be able to break the streak.
- Louisville needs to swing for the fences on offense
For Louisville to win this game, I think they will need to continue to run a balanced attack on offense. Louisville is one of three teams in the ACC currently averaging 200+ yards passing and rushing (the other two being Florida State and Duke), and they’ve been consistently balanced through most of the season (even if the offense still has areas it can improve on).
Personally, Louisville’s rushing attack could be the difference if the Cardinals are going to pull out a win. They’ve been able to remedy their lack of big plays with Tiyon Evans, a guy that has had two 50+ yard touchdowns in the last two weeks. He’s an explosive runner, Malik Cunningham obviously can rip off big runs at any given time. Getting a few big plays in the running game would help keep the offense from having to go to the passing game more than they have to.
This could also be a game that Louisville looks to use its trick plays. Louisville used a couple against Wake Forest to resounding success, and they haven’t been shy about using them in big moments against big opponents (see: double pass in the 2019 Music City Bowl). Getting a big trick play could spark the offense if they haven’t gained any momentum early on.