#3 Louisville vs. #5 Clemson
Saturday, 10/1, 8:00 PM on ABC
Memorial Stadium, Clemson, South Carolina
Two of College Football’s top five will face off Saturday with serious playoff implications on the line. Louisville, and quarterback phenom Lamar Jackson, have been the surprise of the season thus far, beating their first four opponents (including playoff contender Florida State) by an average of 41 points. Clemson entered this season with high expectations after reaching the title game a year ago. Despite a 4-0 start, the Tigers haven’t looked like the force many thought they would be again this season. That opinion could change Saturday night.
What’s at stake:
Louisville: With a win Saturday, the Cardinals can assert themselves over the rest of the ACC and put themselves in the driver’s seat for the College Football Playoff. A road-game with #6 Houston later in the season still awaits, but topping both FSU and Clemson would make them the most likely candidate to emerge from the ACC.
Clemson: For the reasons mentioned above, Clemson needs this one. It’s hard to say a game is a ‘must-win’ this early in the season, but a loss gives UofL a stranglehold on the division. A win Saturday puts them back on top, and silences the critics questioning their legitimacy.
What to watch for:
QB Matchup: Lamar Jackson vs. DeShaun Watson
Clemson’s Watson was regarded as a preseason favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, but it’s UofL’s Jackson who has claimed the spotlight this season. 25 touchdowns (not a typo) in 4 games will do that. Watson will be coming into this one with a chip on his shoulder without a doubt. His game is more polished, the product of experience and comfort in the offense. The younger Jackson is a raw, explosive talent- as dangerous a player as there is in college football. The crucial factor here is whether or not Jackson can make the reads and decisions necessary in the passing game against this tough Clemson defense.
The ‘Death Valley’ Effect
Louisville went on the road last week for the first time, earning a 59-28 victory at Marshall. Fair enough. They looked pretty good, but lagged a bit at the start. ‘Death Valley’ as it’s known, is a totally different beast. Clemson really needs this game, and the home crowd will do everything they can to help. A nationally televised game, on the road in front of a roaring crowd, could present problems for the Cards they haven’t yet encountered.
The Cardinals Running Game
An overlooked aspect of UofL’s season thus far is how effective the running backs have been. They struggled to run out of the backfield last season, but the O-line looks much improved from a year ago. Senior RB Brandon Radcliff leads the nation in yards per carry, and Jackson has been scorching teams with his feet as well. However, Clemson presents a challenging matchup. The Cardinals’ offensive attack thrives off the success of the read option, so keep an eye on the running game early. If the Cards can’t establish Radcliff and the RB committee as a threat, it will hold Jackson’s explosiveness in check as well.
UofL gets the huge road win 38-31.