8:00 PM EST, ABC – Line: Louisville -2, Over/Under: 68
A primetime clash of top-five teams featuring what many would describe as the top two front-runners for the Heisman takes place tonight at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, South Carolina, as the fifth-ranked Tigers host the third-ranked Louisville Cardinals. Few teams have been as impressive in the early stages of this season as Louisville (4-0, T-1st in ACC Atlantic), who on the strength of thier explosive offense have positioned themselves among the favorites in the College Football Playoff debate. Of course, much of that can be attributed to the play of their electrifying Quarterback Lamar Jackson, who has taken the College Football World by storm. The Sophomore has flourished in 2016, tormenting opponents with his legs; Jackson has rushed for 526 yards and a whopping twelve touchdowns on a ridiculous 8.6 yards per carry. However, he’s made great strides as a passer, under he watchful eye of Bobby Petrino, one of the game’s more innovative Head Coaches. The True Sophomore has completed 58.7% of his attempts for 1,330 yards (10.6 y/a), thirteen touchdowns and three interceptions. To give you an idea as to how prolific this kid has been, consider this; his twenty-five touchdowns are more than 121 of the total 128 teams in the FBS. And as a result, the Offense has been absolutely humming; the Cardinals have averaged a staggering 63.5 points on 682.0 total yards, including 363.8 through the air along with another 318.3 on the ground, all the while racking up 9.0 yards per play. And this is where Petrino comes back into play. The Offensive Guru went 41-9 from 2003 to 2006, culminating in a 2006 Orange Bowl victory, before departing for an ill-fated stint as the Atlanta Falcons skipper. A disappointingly controversial stay at Arkansas left his resume’ tarnished, but now that he’s back where he started, it’s as if he never left. Louisville was in shambles when he returned, but since then have put together eight and nine win seasons, and are enjoying thier highest ranking in the Polls since 2006. When these teams met last year at Papa John’s Field, Jackson had yet to earn the starting gig, as the then Freshman completed his only pass for fifteen yards while carrying the ball once more for a gain of eight.
Meanwhile, despite coming into the season ranked No. One in the Polls, Clemson (4-0, T-1st in ACC Atlantic) has fallen to fifth in recent weeks, thanks in part to a slow start to the campaign. However, don’t read too much into the belief that the bloom is off the Togers’ proverbial flower, for they have begun to round back into shape over these last two weeks. Indeed, in comparing thier performance in those first two games to the most recent pair, it’s night and day. Dabo Swinney’s charges escaped Auburn in the opener (19-13), and very nearly avoided a major upset the following week at home against Troy (30-24). In the following two weeks they hammered the likes of South Carolina State and Georgia Tech to the tune of a combined score of 85-7. So what’s been the difference for the Tigers, you ask? Well, a big reason for thier slow start was sloppy play, particularly in the form of penalties and turnovers; Clemson committed five turnovers in the first two contests, yet cleaned thier act up considerably in the last two, turning the ball over just once. And man, was it ever evident on the box score, as they out-gained South Carolina State and Georgia Tech an astounding 997-226! That’s a difference of 776 yards, folks. And it’s with that said we take a trip back to when the Tigers and Cardinals met last year; in a tightly contested affair, visiting Clemson rung up 401 total yards of offense, including 202 via the run, but saw a pair of long drives negated by turnovers, allowing the hosts to hang around until the end. Star Quarterback DeShaun Watson was 21-of-30 for just 199 yards, two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. The Junior has had to dodge mounting questions about lingering injuries as folks have tried to rationalize his slow start this season. Watson has completed 60.0% of his tries for 996 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions, while rushing for another 120 yards on thirty-five carries. Fortunately, the Defense has been a major surprise, relinquishing a scant 11.0 points per game (3rd Overall), despite having to replace six starters. They must remain disciplined tonight in attempting to contain Jackson, lest that figure stands to rise.
Predicted Outcome: Clemson 31, Louisville 27