No. 3 Clemson looks sharp heading to Louisville

Field Level Media

October 15, 2019 at 9:12 pm.

Clemson believes it is again playing like an elite team.

The visiting third-ranked Tigers look for their 22nd straight win Saturday against at Louisville, which is aiming for a third consecutive victory.

After getting by North Carolina 21-20 on the road Sept. 28, Clemson (6-0, 4-0 ACC) lost some support in the AP Top 25 and dropped from the top spot to No. 2. With two weeks to regroup from that close call, the Tigers responded with a 45-14 rout of Florida State on Saturday.

Though Clemson totaled 552 yards, including 320 on the ground, forced four turnovers and allowed just 253 yards, it fell to No. 3 in the AP poll this week, surpassed by LSU, which vaulted to the second spot after beating Florida.

That doesn’t seem to matter as long as coach Dabo Swinney’s squad feels good about its progression.

“Huge step in the right direction,” Swinney said of dominating Florida State. “Good to see us look like a really confident team. … That’s really good.”

Quarterback Trevor Lawrence matched a season high with three touchdowns and also rushed for his fifth score despite throwing his sixth interception of 2019. Travis Etienne ran for 127 yards after averaging 64.3 in the previous four games, and Justyn Ross caught two touchdown passes — double the total from his first four contests.

Clemson’s defense remained stout last season, holding an opponent to 14 or fewer points for the fifth time. It also returned an interception for a score.

“We’re 6-0. Great start to October,” Swinney said.

“I just want to see us keep the momentum and take what I saw (against Florida State) and take it on the road to Louisville and continue to play well.”

The Tigers look to make it 18 straight victories over ACC opponents when facing Louisville (4-2, 2-1), which has lost all five meetings in the series and has been outscored 124-37 in the past two. Etienne ran for 153 yards with a touchdown and was one of three Clemson players to rush for at least 100 in last season’s 77-16 rout of the Cardinals.

However, this Louisville group hardly resembles the 2018 team that finished 2-10. These Cardinals, under first-year coach Scott Satterfield, suffered their only defeats at home to then-No. 9 Notre Dame and at Florida State on Sept. 21.

Louisville, coming off a wild 62-59 win at then-No. 19 Wake Forest on Saturday, has averaged 41.4 points since opening with a 35-17 loss to the Irish. Running back Javian Hawkins is tied for 15th nationally with 103.7 yards per game, while Chatarius Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick have combined for 52 receptions, 913 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Quarterbacks Micale Cunningham and Evan Conley have thrown for a combined 11 touchdowns and rushed for four scores. Cunningham, though, was banged up against Wake Forest, and his status for this contest seems uncertain.

“You can’t stop it all,” Satterfield said of his team’s offense. “If you’re going to stop one part of the offense, then something else should be able to have a lot of yards.”

Louisville last beat back-to-back ranked opponents during the regular season in 2006.

Clemson star receiver Tee Higgins (24 receptions, 549 yards, three touchdowns) was bothered by hamstring tightness against Florida State, but is slated to be available.

Swinney is making a change at kicker, going with Steven Sawicki. B.T. Potter is 5 of 9 on field goal attempts this season and missed a 24-yarder last week.