Louisville at Clemson

The Sports Xchange

October 31, 2018 at 4:59 pm.

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, noon ET
SITE: Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.
TV: ABC
SERIES: Clemson leads 4-0. Clemson won 47-21 in 2017.
RANKINGS: Clemson No. 2

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Cardinals

–QB Jawon Pass has been in and out of the lineup, but he has been more consistent in recent weeks. He threw for a career-best 358 yards and had 392 yards of total offense last week against Wake Forest. A sophomore, Pass has thrown for 1,587 yards and seven touchdowns this season in completing 55 percent of his passes with eight interceptions.

–WR TuTu Atwell was tremendous vs. Wake Forest, setting a Louisville record for the most receiving yards in a game by a true freshman with 132. It was also the most receiving yards for a Louisville player this season. He is one of the fastest players on the team.

–WR Jaylen Smith is Louisville’s leading receiver with 24 catches for 373 yards and a touchdown. He was a preseason all-ACC pick.

Tigers

–QB Trevor Lawrence will be looking for his third consecutive 300-yard passing day in just the fifth start of his career. He also leads all FBS freshmen with 16 touchdown passes and a passing efficiency rating of 162.4. Said Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables of the Tigers’ fast-rising star: “It has been fun to watch him get more and more comfortable. What y’all see is what we’ve been seeing really since he got here. It’s only going to get better, and it’s pretty dang good right now.”

–RB Travis Etienne was held under 45 yards for a second straight game last week, but could be primed for another breakout against a Louisville defense that allows more than 250 yards per game on the ground and ranks 124 nationally against the run. With 14 rushing touchdowns this season, Etienne is just four shy of setting the single-season school record. “He likes to be coached,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “He knows he’s talented — he’s not conceited in that, but he knows he can run, he knows he’s physical, but he also knows that he doesn’t understand all of the schemes yet.”

–WR Amari Rodgers finally had his breakout game last week at Florida State, amassing 218 all-purpose yards in a romp at Florida State. Rodgers, a sophomore, caught six passes for 156 yards and two long touchdowns of 58 and 68 yards. He also had two punt returns for 62 yards.

KEYS
TO THE GAME

Clemson is entering what coach Dabo Swinney calls “the championship phase” of its season with Saturday’s home game against Louisville.

Kickoff in Clemson’s Memorial Stadium is noon ET on ABC.

Swinney certainly likes the position he finds his team in as it bids for a fourth consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference title and a fourth straight berth in the College Football Playoff.

The No. 2 Tigers (8-0, 5-0 ACC) have dismantled their last three opponents (Wake Forest, North Carolina State, and Florida State) by a combined 163-20 margin. The struggling Cardinals (2-6, 0-5 ACC) look to be a fourth candidate for such a rout.

“I challenged our team a few weeks ago and they’ve really responded,” Swinney said. “This is three games in a row that we’ve played complete games, and we’re really starting to build that momentum. There’s not a lot of panic in these guys. They know the type of focus that it takes.”

Clemson, the only team in the country to rank in the Top 10 in both total offense and defense, is attempting to improve to 9-0 for the fifth time in program history and third time in the last four years.

Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, whose team has lost five in a row, knows his team faces a monumental challenge, particularly against a veteran defense that ranks among the nation’s best in almost every statistical category.

“They’re as good of a defense as there is out there,” Petrino said. “Defensive front, linebackers are big and physical and fast. Lot of the same guys we’ve played against for the last couple of years, so we do know them well.”

Four potential first-round NFL Draft picks on the defensive front lead the unit, which is tied for No. 1 nationally in scoring defense, allowing only 13.0 points per game, and ranks second in total tackles for loss (80) and third in total defense (263.9).

And there is depth behind those leaders.

Against Florida State, the Clemson second-team defensive front of Justin Foster, Xavier Thomas, Albert Huggins and Nyles Pinckney had more tackles, tackles for loss and sacks than the Tigers’ starting front line of Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant, Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that deserve to play and we’ve got to play them and we’ve got to play them in critical situations and be committed to that,” Swinney said. “It’s going to further enhance the depth that we already have, but also the competition — Xavier Thomas makes Clelin Ferrell better, it’s as simple as that.”

Still, Swinney is convinced that the Cardinals possess the talent to keep things interesting.

Louisville challenged Clemson for three consecutive years from 2014 to 2016, losing by a touchdown or less in each instance. Clemson won 47-21 last year in Louisville, dropping the Cardinals to 0-5 all time in the series.

“Louisville is 2-6, but they’re the best 2-6 team I’ve seen,” Swinney said. “Their record is not indicative of the players they have.

“They’ve had some tough breaks and I’m sure their coaches are frustrated, but they’re very capable of playing with anybody.”

Freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence has emerged as a big-time threat for Clemson and is coming off back-to-back 300-yard passing games. He leads all FBS freshmen in touchdown passes (16) and passing efficiency (164.2).

“Their quarterback is doing a really nice job for them,” Petrino said. “He can really zip it. He can spin the ball. He’s got a really good wrist and can get the ball down the field to his targets, so it’s a great challenge for us.”

Louisville hopes to get a solid performance from sophomore Jawon Pass, a big, rangy quarterback who has struggled with consistency. The Cardinals had two receivers with 100-yard games last week in a loss against Wake Forest when Tutu Atwell and Jaylen Smith had eight receptions each for 132 and 107 yards, respectively.

“They have as good a group of receivers as we’ve played,” Swinney said. “The quarterback is a young guy they’re committed to. He runs very well and he’s big, he’s just not been as consistent as they want him to be.

“We expect a challenge and a big-time battle.”