Welcome to another edition of What We Are Hearing!
The Tigers are coming off their third straight dominant performance and a historic win, handing FSU its worst home loss ever, 59-10. It was tied for their worst loss at home or away—they also lost by 49 at rival Florida in 1973, three years before Bobby Bowden got there and made it into a real football program. The 59 points was also the most ever scored by an opponent at Doak Campbell Stadium. The Tigers have now handed the worst losses ever to both Miami and FSU—both on the road in the last 4 seasons. The Tigers won at Miami 58-0 in 2015, and Al Golden was fired the next day. Clemson is the first ACC team to beat FSU 4 straight years, and it is the Tigers' first consecutive wins in Tallahassee. On a personal note, I have been to Tallahassee 3 times--in 2006, 2016 and 2018--and those are the only 3 games the Tigers have won there since the 1980's! Dabo is now 8-0 for the fourth time and third time in the last four years. Frank Howard, Danny Ford and Tommy Bowden each accomplished the feat once.
In the 3 games since Trevor Lawrence was named the starting quarterback and hasn’t been injured, the Tigers have outscored their opponents 163-20! The first College Football Playoff Rankings were released, of course, on Tuesday, and the Tigers debuted at #2 behind Alabama, right where they were preseason in both polls. The national media is all singing from the same hymnal and saying Alabama is the clear #1, without knowing the facts. In reality, Clemson is the clear #1, and there is little or no evidence to dispute it. Here are some of the facts:
1) Clemson is the only team in nation ranked in top 10 for both total defense and total offense (NOT BAMA).
2) Clemson's strength of record is better than Bama's.
3) Clemson has #1 differential between total yards allowed and total yards gained.
4) Clemson's opponents are 38-16 versus everyone else. Bama's opponents are 29-28.
5) Clemson is #1 in scoring defense and #6 in scoring offense; the ONLY team in the top 6 for both.
6) Clemson is #3 in total defense. Alabama is #16, behind Fresno State.
7) Clemson has THREE wins against the current top 25. Alabama has ONE, and it was at home against a team Clemson beat on the road, at night, in front of an ESPN Gameday crowd of 105,000. One of Clemson’s wins against the top 25 was with 3rd string quarterback Chase Brice!
8) All of these facts are in spite of Trevor Lawrence only playing half of the first 4 games. If he had started the whole season, the numbers for Clemson's superiority over Bama would be even greater.
Of course, in the long run, none of this matters. In fact, the superstitious would say it’s a good thing if the Tigers go into the playoff ranked #2 because #1 is 0-4 in the playoff era. The Tigers have failed to win the national title both times they were #1 and won it the year they were #2 behind Alabama. I just like to see credit given where it is due, and the Tigers have earned the #1 spot right now any way you slice it. The only reason Alabama is #1 is reputation and what they have done in the past, and neither is supposed to be used as a criterion by the committee. I spoke with new CFP Committee Chairman Rob Mullens just after the release of the rankings on Tuesday night, and I asked him if the primary reason that they ranked Alabama #1 ahead of Clemson was the margin of victory against Texas A&M, even though Alabama played the Aggies at home and the Tigers played them on the road at night. His answer was very watered down, as I expected, without any quantifiable rationale because there isn’t any. I believe the committee knew there would be an uproar if they ranked Clemson ahead of Alabama, so they blindly went along with the polls and moved on to debating other teams. The one tangible consideration of import is that the #1 team gets its pick of Semifinal destinations. Last year, for example, as the #1 team, the Tigers were able to play in New Orleans, which was much closer and better for fans, rather than travel all the way to the Rose Bowl in California. In this case, however, it would likely be a moot point because Alabama is closer to Arlington than Miami, and the Tide has played in Arlington a couple times in recent years. So the Tigers would likely end up in the preferred Miami if they are #1, #2 or #3 in the final CFP Ranking. The Tigers obviously have a rich history in Miami, winning their 1981 National Title in the Orange Bowl as well as a rout over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl in 2015. In fact, the Tigers have won there last 7 games in the state of Florida: FSU (twice), Alabama, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma (twice) and Miami.
CFP COMMITTEE CHAIR ROB MULLENS TELECONFERENCE
Before I dive into this week’s game versus Louisville, I wanted to point out that basketball season is amazingly upon us already! The Tigers won their second straight exhibition Thursday night, beating Barton College 89-80 after winning at UNC Wilmington 78-67 on Saturday. They were without starting center Eli Thomas in both games. He hasn’t practiced in 10 days due to a bone bruise. The Tigers were minus another big man on Thursday, Malik William, who suffered a concussion recently. The Tigers still prevailed, thanks to their tremendous back court with Marcquise Reed and Shelton Mitchell, and David Skara has been surprisingly good on the offensive side after specializing in defense last season. Skara was 4-4 from the field at UNCW and 7-10 with three 3-pointers on Thursday. The Tigers open the season on Tuesday at 7:00 in Littlejohn against The Citadel. They’re, of course, coming off a Sweet 16 run and one of their best seasons ever and were picked to finish 6th in the ACC at Media Day. Our coverage of Thursday night’s win and Clemson Media Day are below! Back to football….
THURSDAY POST-GAME PRESS CONFERENCE
CLEMSON MEDIA DAY INTERVIEWS
Clemson is 4-0 all-time versus Louisville….Dabo is attempting to start 9-0 for the 3rd time in the last 4 years. The only other years Clemson started 9-0 were in 1948 and 1981....Clemson is 18-1 in its last 19 true road games….Clemson has won a school-record 24 consecutive Saturday games. That is the longest such streak in the nation….Clemson is 26-1 in last 27 ACC Atlantic games….Clemson is 30-2 in its last 32 ACC games…. Clelin Ferrell’s 22.5 career sacks is 7th on the Clemson all-time list and 3rd among active players in the Power Five.....The Clemson defense has created a turnover in 16 straight games and has 5 interceptions in the last 4 games after no interceptions in the first 4....Sophomore Travis Etienne is already #9 on the Clemson career touchdown list with 28. Next on the list is Sammy Watkins with 29…..The Tigers have not allowed a first-half touchdown in 10 of their last 13 games….Hunter Renfrow has caught a pass in 36 straight games. He needs one touchdown to tie Jacoby Ford, Derrick Hamilton and Terrance Roulhac with 16 career TD's, 10th on the all-time Clemson list…Clemson and Alabama are tied for the most consecutive weeks in the AP Top 10 at 52 weeks. Next is Georgia at 21….Clemson has been ranked in the top 4 of the College Football Playoff Rankings for 19 consecutive weeks since the Tigers were #1 in the first release of 2015....
The Cardinals are coming into Death Valley reeling, with a 2-6 record and fresh off a 56-35 home loss to Wake Forest. Dabo said on Tuesday that Louisville is the best 2-6 team he’s ever seen, and that may be true, but their struggles this season are profound. They lost, of course, their most prolific player in program history in Lamar Jackson, and sophomore Jawon “Puma” Pass from Georgia has been charged with the unenviable task of following his footsteps. True to his name, Pass came in as a heralded passer with a big arm, but he has been wildly inconsistent all season. He has completed just 55% of his passes for 1,587 yards with 7 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He was 30-54 for 358 yards and a touchdown against Wake last week. In the previous game at BC, he was just 17-31 for 170 yards with an interception and no touchdowns. Unlike his predecessor, Pass isn’t a very mobile quarterback. He’s rushed for 24 yards, averaging 0.5 yards per carry. He does have 2 rushing touchdowns, though.
The Cards do have some big, good-looking wide receivers, led by 6’4, 220-pound senior Jaylen Smith (#9). He had 5 catches for 79 yards and a touchdown against the Tigers last year. This season, he has just 24 catches for 373 yards and one touchdown, which illustrates the struggles Louisville is having. 6’2, 202-pound sophomore Dez Fitzpatrick (#7) is tied for the team lead in receptions with 24 for 292 yards and 2 touchdowns. They also have a diminutive freshman from Miami, Tutu Atwell (#1), who might be the most dangerous player of the group. At 5’9 and 156 pounds, he similar in stature and athleticism to Wake Forest start Greg Dortch. The Tigers did a good job of containing Dortch, holding him to just 3 catches for 37 yards before he left the game with an injury. Louisville also has a good pass-catching tight end in 6’4, 258-pound senior Micky Crum (#83). He has 18 catches for 178 yards and a touchdown this season. At running back, they are led by 6’0, 218-pound junior Trey Smith (#12). He’s only rushed for 246 yards, which again demonstrates their struggles, but he averages 5.5 yards per carry and leads the team with 4 touchdowns. He also has 10 catches for 74 yards. Their second-leading rusher is freshman backup quarterback Malik Cunningham (#3), who came off the bench to play most of the Western Kentucky game earlier in the season, a 20-17 win. Cunningham also replaced Pass in the previous game against Indiana State. At 6’1, 190 pounds, he is much more athletic than Pass. He has 2 rushing touchdowns this season.
The Cardinals are #118 in rush offense at 117 yards per game. They are #70 in passing offense (232 yards/game), #114 in total offense (349 yards/game) and #115 in scoring offense (22.3 points/game). They are #119 in sacks allowed, at 3.25 per game.
Defensively, the Cards have 3 players tied for the team lead in sacks, and two of them are backup defensive ends. Starting nose tackle G.G. Robinson (#94), backup DE Amonte Caban (#53) and backup DE Jarrett Jackson (#8) have 2 sacks apiece. The team only has 8 on the season, which is tied for 125th in the nation. They have just 30 tackles-for-loss this season, which is 124th in the nation. First-year Defensive Coordinator Brian VanGorder somehow keeps getting Power Five jobs after being fired from previous schools. He was at Oklahoma State for one year last season, one year at Georgia before that, 3 years with Notre Dame, one year with the Jets and one year with Auburn. Incidentally, the Tigers faced VanGorder in 2015 when he was at Notre Dame and 2012 when he was at Auburn, winning both games. But he is somewhat familiar with the Tigers’ offense. His defense has been shredded this year. In addition to allowing 56 points at home against Wake last week—the same Wake team that scored just 3 points at home against the Tigers a few weeks ago—Louisville gave up 66 points at home to Georgia Tech, 51 to Alabama and 38 to Boston College. The Cardinals are #101 in total defense, allowing 438 yards per game. They are #125 in rush defense (251 yards/game) and #115 in scoring defense (36.3 points/game). They have been surprisingly good against the pass, though, ranked #25 and allowing just 187 yards per game through the air.
Louisville is #127 out of 130 teams in turnover margin, at -1.25 per game. They have only recovered 4 fumbles this season with 2 interceptions.
The Cardinals’ kicker, Blanton Creque, is 6-6 on field goals this season with a long of 46 yards. Their punter, Mason King, averages 41 yards per punt with a long of 64.
BOBBY PETRINO PRESS CONFERENCE & QUOTES
The Tigers are in a great place right now, physically and mentally. Justin Falcinelli missed the FSU game due to a concussion he suffered in practice. Gage Cervenka, the former defensive lineman, got his first career start and was named Co-Offensive Player of the Game along with Amari Rodgers. Ordinarily, losing your starting center just before going to a place like Doak Campbell to face one of the best defensive fronts in the country would be a major concern. It just illustrates how much quality depth there is on this team across the board. Amari Rodgers, by the way, had a major breakout game in Tallahassee, scoring 2 consecutive touchdowns in the second half. Ironically, he scored the first touchdown of the season for the Tigers in the opener against Furman and hadn’t scored one in the 6 games since. He finished with 6 catches for 156 yards to lead the team, and he also had 3 punt returns for 62 yards! Freshman WR Justyn Ross was the only other player banged up. He tweaked his hamstring in practice last week, but he still had a big 41-yard reception on Saturday—the first big play of the game for the Tigers. Dabo said both Falcinelli and Ross are fine and ready to go.
Trevor Lawrence passed for over 300 yards for the second straight game and was named ACC Rookie of the Week for the second straight week. He also broke Deshaun Watson's Clemson record for passing yards and touchdowns by a freshman quarterback. DW4 must be growing tired of Lawrence coming in behind him and breaking his records! He broke Watson's Georgia high school records for passing yards and touchdowns as well. Saturday was the first time the Tigers had passed for 300 yards in consecutive games since Watson did it in the National Championship Game against Alabama. As I predicted in my last 2 previews, the opponents loaded up to stop the run, and Trevor answered the challenge with flying colors. He was 20-37 for 314 yards with 4 touchdowns and no interceptions. Chase Brice was also extremely efficient when he came into the game, leading 2 touchdown drives with a TD pass to T.J. Chase.
The Tigers are not only dominating their opponents, they are having fun doing it. On Saturday, we saw the “Fridge Package” for the first time, with Christian Wilkins lining up in the I formation behind Big Dex. He barreled into the end zone ala William “Refrigerator” Perry for his first career rushing touchdown. Wilkins also has a touchdown reception in his career. That wasn’t the only special play added to the game plan on Saturday. Redshirt junior TE Garrett Williams took a handoff on a belly play for his first career touchdown, and that was special because the Orlando native’s dad played for FSU. In fact, his dad was involved in the famous “punt rooskie” play that enabled the Noles to beat the Tigers in Death Valley back in 1988.
HEISMAN WATCH: Travis Etienne is currently 5th in ESPN's Heisman rankings (SEE HERE). He needs just 3 touchdowns to tie James Davis and Lester Brown for the Clemson single season rushing TD record (17). After becoming the first Clemson player with 3 rush TD's in 3 consecutive games, Etienne had non at FSU. In the last 2 games, Etienne has totaled just 84 yards because of the way NC State and FSU designed their defensive game plans to stop the run. He is still on pace to break Wayne Gallman's single season rushing record of 1,527 yards he set in 2015.
The Tigers are #1 in scoring defense (13.0 points/game), #7 in rush defense (91.63 yards/game), #13 in pass defense (172.3 yards/game) and #3 in total defense (263.9 yards/game). They are #6 in scoring offense (44.1 points/game), #14 in rush offense (237.0 yards/game), #22 in pass offense (285.6 yards/game) and #8 in total offense (522.6 yards/game).
I’ll make this short and sweet. Louisville is simply out-gunned. In fact, they are bringing a knife to a gun fight. The Tigers would have to play their worst game in years for the Cardinals to even have a chance. Don’t think the Tigers are resting on their laurels because of their blowout wins over the last 3 opponents. The home loss to Pitt two years ago—the only blemish of their National Championship season—is still fresh on their minds, and they know what is possible if they don’t play their best. Puma Pass seems to be looking over his shoulder on every bad throw, wondering if Petrino is going to replace him with the freshman. I think he will get rattled early and often by the Clemson front seven, and he may indeed be replaced early in the game. In fact, it wouldn't completely surprise me if Petrino started the freshman quarterback just to see if he could catch the Tigers off guard. He knows he's not going to win this game straight up. If Pass does start, the Tigers' defensive front is going to be licking its chops and will tee off on the sophomore, who is a bit of a statue in the pocket.
I expect Louisville to follow the same defensive script of NC State and FSU, loading the box to stop the run—especially because the Cardinals’ secondary has been its strength this season. They will rely on their corners and put them on islands against the Clemson receivers. Louisville has been so dreadful in stopping the run that they really have no other choice. This will allow Trevor Lawrence to put up big numbers for the third straight week. He goes over 300 for the third straight game and third time in his career, and the Tigers stomp yet another Atlantic Division foe that has been formidable in recent years.
The Prowl toward a 4th consecutive ACC Title, a 4th consecutive College Football Playoff and a 3rd National Title continues…….
CLEMSON 66 Louisville 13