WHAT WE ARE HEARING: PREVIEW AND PREDICTION FOR NO.10 CLEMSON vs. LOUISVILLE
- 2022-11-12 02:49:30
Welcome to the Military Appreciation edition of What We Are Hearing!
The Tigers are coming off their worst loss since the Playoff against Ohio State and their worst regular season loss since 2013. It snapped a 38-game win streak against unranked teams when the Tigers were ranked in the top 5, which was the longest such streak in the nation. With the Tigers coming off a bye and fully healthy, none of us saw that coming. Amazingly, though, if you take away the 21 points the Tigers handed the Irish on a blocked punt and two interceptions, the game would have gone to overtime at worst, and the Tigers probably would have won in regulation. You simply cannot do that on the road in a night environment like Notre Dame Stadium and expect to win. The most surprising thing was the 263 rushing yards allowed by the Tigers’ defense, which was No.7 against the run coming into the game. It's time to flush that one, though, and turn the page. The Tigers can still achieve all 5 of their team goals and have a 3-game home stretch in Death Valley to close out the regular season. They will have to bring their A game because they have a red-hot and confident Louisville team, looking to avenge last season’s loss to the Tigers and beat them for the first time to end the nation’s longest home win streak. Buckle up for a big ACC Atlantic matchup!
Last year’s meeting between these two teams was a classic nail-biter in Louisville. The Tigers overcame a 10-point deficit to take a late 6-point lead, but Malik Cunningham and the Cards drove down the field in the closing seconds with a 1st and goal at the 2-yard line. Miraculously, James Skalski and the defense kept the dynamic quarterback out of the end zone on four consecutive plays for the goal-line stand and the win.
Saturday, of course, is the annual Military Appreciation Day in Death Valley, which is always as moving as a scene as any you’ll find in sports. The Tigers traditionally don the all-purple uniforms symbolizing the Purple Heart medal. The Tigers have already clinched a share of the division title and a spot in the ACC Championship, but they have a chance to clinch the division outright with a win over the Cardinals. In 2009, Dabo broke out the Orange Britches with the purple jerseys when the Tigers clinched the division with CJ Spiller in Dabo’s first full season as head coach. I asked Dabo if he might do the same thing on Saturday, but it sounds like he will stick with the traditional all-purple uniforms. The Tigers, as always, have several players with strong military ties in their families, and Will Putnam, whose father is a retired colonel, will have the honor of carrying the flag down The Hill before the game.
On to the matchup…
Clemson leads the all-time series with Louisville 7-0 dating back to when the Cardinals joined the ACC in 2014. Four of those meetings have been one-score games including last season…The 7 straight wins over Louisville is tied with Furman for second-most versus any opponent without a loss. The longest such streak was 29 against Virginia…The only Tiger from the state of Kentucky is starting OG Walker Parks…This will be the first meeting in Death Valley since 2018, as the teams did not play in 2020 due to the altered Covid schedule…Clemson has played 149 games since losing consecutive games, dating back to 2011. That is the longest active streak in the nation…Clemson is 91-6 under Dabo Swinney when dropping in the AP Poll from the previous week…Clemson is one of two teams in the country (UCLA) not to have allowed a play of 50 or more yards from scrimmage…Clemson is the only team not to have allowed a 30-yard run or a 50-yard pass play this season…Clemson has 472 sacks since 2012, most in the nation. The next-closest is Alabama at 432...Clemson has 1,232 tackles-for-loss since 2012, most in the nation. Alabama is second with 1,028…The Tigers set a new ACC record for consecutive home wins (38) and tied Knute Rockne’s Notre Dame teams for the 10th longest streak all-time. A win Saturday would tie Oklahoma for the 9th longest streak in history…The Tigers have won 66 straight games when leading at halftime…Including last week’s loss at Notre Dame, Clemson is 99-4 against unranked teams since the start of the 2012 season…Dabo has won 158 games as a head coach. He took the sixth-fewest games (186) to reach 150 wins. Urban Meyer holds the record at 176 games, followed by Barry Switzer, Gil Dobie, Fielding Yost and Joe Paterno. Switzer and Paterno are the only ones who, like Dabo, won all 150 games at one school….Clemson has the second-most wins and second-best win percentage since 2015 behind Alabama. The Tigers are 97-11 over that period while Alabama is 99-10. Ohio State is 3rd with a record of 88-10 since 2015. Clemson is also 2nd in wins since 2011 with a record of 139-22. Alabama is 147-16 and Ohio State is 132-20….Clemson has the most Power Five wins (99) since 2013. Alabama is 2nd with 96 and Ohio State is 3rd with 92….Clemson holds the all-time record for most wins over a 5-year span with 69 from 2015-2019….Dabo Swinney has the best active win percentage in the nation (minimum 10 years) at .810. Nick Saban is second at .799, Kansas Head Coach Lance Leipold is 3rd (.748). Jimbo Fisher and Brian Kelly round out the top 5….Dabo is currently 12th on the all-time win percentage list but climbing quickly. He’s just two spots below legendary Oklahoma Head Coach Bud Wilkinson, who Dabo could pass for 10th next season….Dabo’s 158 wins are already the third-most of any coach in his first 15 seasons, but Dabo is only in his 14th full season. By the end of the 2023 season, Dabo should topple Urban Meyer’s record of 165 wins in his first 15 seasons….Dabo has the most active wins (158) with one school. Mike Gundy is 2nd with 155 at Oklahoma State. Dabo is 9th on the active head coach career win list, 2 more than Mike Leach….With a win in the Cheez-It Bowl over Iowa State last season, Dabo tied Bobby Bowden for most bowl wins (11) by any ACC coach in history….
The Cardinals have won 4 straight, all by 14 points or more, since a surprising 34-33 loss at Boston College. They trounced No.10 Wake Forest 2 weeks ago thanks to 8 turnovers by Wake, including a couple pick-sixes. The Cardinals also had 8 sacks in that game by 8 different players. Their confident defense followed up that performance by holding a good James Madison team to just 10 points.
Scott Satterfield is an offensive-minded head coach, and he brought in a new Offensive Coordinator, Lance Taylor, after last season. Like Dabo, Taylor was a walk-on receiver at Alabama, and Dabo coached Taylor for a couple years as the Tide’s WR Coach. Taylor coached Christian McCaffrey at Stanford and coached the running backs at Notre Dame for the last 3 years, including the two meetings against Clemson in 2020. Not much has changed with the Louisville offense from last year under Satterfield, though. The Cardinals love to run the stretch zone.
That offense, simply put, begins and ends with Malik Cunningham, arguably the most dynamic quarterback in the nation. He’s drawn comparisons to Lamar Jackson his whole career, and he’s approaching Jackson’s career rushing touchdown record at Louisville with 49 and counting. Cunningham is completing 61.8% of his passes this season for 1,477 yards, 8 touchdowns and 4 interceptions, but his running ability is what keeps defensive coordinators up at night. He’s averaging 5.2 yards per carry, net of sacks, for 541 yards and 11 scores this season. In that instant-classic last season, he rushed for 134 yards and 2 TD’s with no interceptions. With 2 minutes left, he completed a 45-yard pass, ran for 10 more and completed a 19-yard pass to the 2-yard line to set up the goal-line stand by the Tigers.
Cunningham is the Cardinals’ leading rusher, but they don’t have to rely solely on him in the run game. It's a three-headed monster at running back, much like Notre Dame, and it starts with junior Tiyon Evans (#7). The 5’11, 210-pound Hartsville, SC native averages 6.7 yards per carry with 5 TD's. You can bet he’s had this game circled ever since he got to Louisville. They also have Jawhar Jordan (#25), a 5’10, 180-pound sophomore who is averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Trevino Cooley (#23) is a 5’10, 211-pound sophomore averaging 4.7 yards per carry with a couple scores. He also has 9 catches for 66 yards and a touchdown.
In the passing game, Cunningham’s favorite target is Tyler Hudson (#0). The 6’2, 197-pound junior has 46 catches at an impressive 15.3 yards per catch but only one touchdown. Ahmari Huggins-Bruce, a native of Dillon, SC, is a 5’10, 163-pound sophomore with 27 catches at 13.6 yards per and a couple TD’s. You may recall that Dillon was the hometown of a few Clemson standouts, including LB Anthony Waters, WR Derrick Hamilton and LB Quandon Christian, as well as current tight end Luke Price. No other Louisville wide receiver has more than 13 catches, but 6’2, 208-pound senior Jaelin Carter (#88) has 3 catches for 63 yards, and 2 of them went for touchdowns. The Cardinals’ best tight end, junior Marshon Ford (#5), is not a beast like Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer at 6’2, 240 pounds, but he has 23 catches and 2 TD’s at 13.4 yards per catch.
Defensively, the Cardinals are ball hawks with the third-most interceptions (14) in the nation, and 5 players have 2 interceptions each. They have also recovered 10 fumbles this season and lead the nation in total takeaways. That’s bad news for the Tigers, who have turned the ball over 6 times in the last 2 games after taking great care of the football in their first 7 games. Linebacker trio Momo Sanago (#1), Yasir Abdullah (#22) and Monty Montgomery (#7) lead the way on defense for the Cardinals with a combined 21.5 tackles-for-loss and 11 sacks. Sanago has 2 fumble recoveries, while Abdullah and Montgomery have combined for 5 forced fumbles. DE YaYa Diaby (#6), an Atlanta native, leads the team with 6.5 sacks and has a fumble recovery. The Cardinals lead the nation with 34 sacks, bolstered by that 8-sack game against Wake. The defense is fast, very opportunistic and playing with more confidence than ever. They are similar to Syracuse in their aggressiveness but bigger up front than Cuse.
Louisville has a solid kicker in junior James Turner, who is 14-16 this season, but his long is 48, and he has not attempted one from 50 yards this season. He is 2-4 from over 40 yards. He had a rough season last year, making just 14 of 22 attempts. The Cardinals have not been dangerous in the return game so far this season (knock on wood).
Louisville is ranked No.56 in scoring offense (30.2 points per game), No.25 in rushing offense (202.22 yards/game), No.86 in passing offense (221.3 yards/game) and No.44 in total offense (423.6 yards/game). The Cardinals are No.20 in scoring defense (19.4 points per game), No.48 in rush defense (133.78 yards/game), No.37 in pass defense (209.4 yards/game) and No.31 in total defense (343.2 yards/game). They lead the nation in sacks with 34 and are 3rd in interceptions with 14. They lead the nation in total takeaways with 24 and are 6th in turnover margin at +1.11 per game. Their offense has not been good on 3rd down this season, converting 38.84% of the time, which is 74th nationally. Their 3rd down defense is ranked 38th, allowing conversions 34.75% of the time. The Cardinals’ red zone offense is ranked 77th, scoring 82.86% of their trips, and they score touchdowns 51.43% of the time. Their red zone defense is ranked 5th, allowing scores just 66.67% of the time and touchdowns 48.48% of the time. Louisville is ranked 36th in explosive plays over 20 yards.
After a pretty consistent 7-0 start to open the season, the Tigers are suddenly in flux over the last two games on both sides of the ball, and it all starts with turnovers. They didn’t have a single turnover in big games against Wake, NC State and FSU, but suddenly committed 4 against Syracuse, including a scoop and score. Then they went on the road to Notre Dame and gave up a blocked punt for a score, a pick-six and another interception near their own end zone, setting the Irish up for a touchdown. They will have to be extra vigilant to reverse that trend against the team that leads the nation in takeaways! The Tigers’ offense moved the ball well against Syracuse but was dreadful for 3 quarters at Notre Dame with lousy field position all night. Their defense was lights-out in the second half against Syracuse and allowed just 14 total points despite all the turnovers. They only really allowed 14 points at Notre Dame as well, but the 263 rush yards was very disconcerting—especially when they knew that was exactly what Notre Dame was going to do with a below average passing offense and strong winds. Simply put, the defense didn’t show up and was manhandled, much like they were against Ohio State in the 2020 playoff.
Make no mistake, however, this defense is as deep and talented as any in the country, and if they bring their A game with the Death Valley crowd behind them, it will be tough for the Cardinals to score points. The Tigers will have to devote Trenton Simpson or Barrett Carter to spy on Cunningham on all pass plays because he can take it to the house on any given play. The Tigers’ coverage on the back end will have to be at their best as well because of Cunningham’s ability to extend plays with his legs and find receivers in the scramble drill.
Offensively, everyone is fascinated to see what happens at the quarterback position. Will DJ get out of his two-game funk and play loose and confident like he did for the first 7 games? Will Dabo give Cade a couple of series mixed in? Cade was put in a tough position at Notre Dame on the road at his own 10-yard line, and it resulted in the interception to set up a Notre Dame touchdown. But Cade might be able to do some things in the friendly confines of Death Valley. If it were up to me, I’d give the freshman a start and see how it goes. They can always bring DJ in if Cade struggles early. With the playoff more than likely off the table (although not impossible if chaos ensues), maybe it’s a good time to start getting Cade ready for next season. On the other hand, DJ bounced back and played well in the 4th quarter at Notre Dame, leading two touchdown drives with some nice throws and a big run to the goal line. And, incidentally, the pick-six was not DJ’s fault. Ngata gave up on the back shoulder route, and Dabo said it was a great throw by DJ relative to where Ngata was supposed to be. Ngata has done that a couple of times this season, and he has to learn to protect his quarterback and not allow the DB to make the interception. Assuming DJ does get the start, Streeter needs to give him a couple of designed runs early to ease him into the game. I thought they would do that at Notre Dame, but they relied on the swing pass instead. The first play was a good one, but Collins was called for holding on consecutive plays resulting in a 3 and out, and it was all downhill from there. Shipley was running the ball well in the first half, and they need to rely more heavily on he and Mafah on Saturday.
Beaux Collins, of course, will be out with a separated shoulder, so this will be an opportunity for EJ Williams, who has had a quiet season, to step up, as well as Brannon Spector. Speaking of receivers, Jeff Scott was fired by USF on Sunday, sadly. His team had shown a lot of improvement early in the season but was dealt an unlucky blow when they lost their starting quarterback to injury. Scott’s loss could be the Tigers’ gain, though. I am told he will be in Death Valley on Saturday, and I think there is a good chance he will join the Tigers as an offensive analyst. Hopefully, he will be back on the staff next season with his old job as WR Coach and possibly Co-Offensive Coordinator or Recruiting Coordinator. In my opinion, Tyler Grisham has been underwhelming as Scott’s successor. The receivers certainly haven’t been the same since over the past couple seasons. Part of that has been youth and injuries, but there have been a lot of dropped balls and other troubling things I have seen from the receivers under Grisham’s watch. Clemson has been known as WRU for a long time but hasn’t lived up to the moniker over the last couple years. Antonio Williams has fit the bill, though. What a sign he was! The freshman is easily the best receiver the Tigers have right now. Davis Allen had a great game last week, but Briningstool has been quiet. Hopefully the Tigers will get both of the tight ends involved early and often on Saturday.
Defensively, the Tigers are in good health, but sadly, Xavier Thomas is done for the season after re-injuring his foot in practice last week hurdling a running back. My heart goes out to him because he finally got his head on straight and worked his tail off to transform his body to have a stellar last season. I have no doubt that he would have had an All-American season, but he was derailed with the injury just before the season started and, after a few games back is sidelined again. He still has a year of eligibility left, so let’s hope he decides to return, but he may decide to go ahead and enter the draft despite the injury-plagued season. If he does come back and stays healthy, he stands to make millions more for himself!
This team continues to keep me scratching my head. Maybe they don’t have the same player leadership that they’ve had in the past from guys like Skalski, Spector and Turner. I fully expected to see them play their best game coming off the bye last week, but the opposite happened. The Tigers had won 10 straight games following byes before last week. Still, I have to believe that this team has enough pride and resolve to bounce back from last week and show everyone what they are capable of. They did that last year after a 4-3 start and rattled off 6 straight wins with not a single player opting out of the Cheez-It Bowl when just about every other bowl team in the country had opt outs. It certainly helps that they will have the Death Valley crowd behind them and defending the nation’s longest home win streak. I expect to see intensity on the defensive side, but on the offensive side, they need to play clean and execute! Enough with the turnovers already. Get back to protecting the football and making the opponent earn their points against this defense. That’s the complimentary football that gave this team 14 straight wins for the nation’s longest win streak. Louisville is supremely confident right now, and I have no doubt that Cunningham will make some big plays, but if the Tigers finally take care of the football, they should win fairly comfortably. Make it 8-0 versus the Cardinals and 39 straight at home to clinch the outright Atlantic Division title!
The Prowl toward another ACC Championship continues…
CLEMSON 31 Louisville 20
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