Clemson relishes big games, and will get one against Louisville

By The Sports Xchange   |   Sept. 12, 2017 at 10:30 PM
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Clemson coach Dabo Swinney loves playing in big games, and his team's showdown against Louisville on Saturday night certainly qualifies.

The Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division rivals meet at Louisville's Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in a nationally televised (ABC) game set for an 8:12 p.m. ET kickoff.

"Louisville is an outstanding team and that's a difficult place to play," Swinney said. "But it's exciting and is going to be a lot of fun. To me, that's what you come to Clemson for -- to be part of games like this in great environments.

"We're looking forward to it. This is a fun game to prepare for because you just know that every play is so critical."

Clemson, the defending national champion, is ranked No. 3 and brings a 2-0 record into the game. Louisville, also 2-0, is No. 14.

Each of the three previous games between the teams has been decided by six points or less and gone down to the final play. Clemson has won them all.

"We've had some incredible battles with them," Swinney said. "And don't expect this one to be any different."

Louisville coach Bobby Petrino certainly is hoping for a different outcome.

"We've had three really good battles with them, had our opportunities and come up short," Petrino said. "This is something that is real important to our players -- that first of all we should have confidence that we're there and we can play -- but it is up to us to find a way to win the game."

The key for Clemson will be containing Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Jackson has been impressive in early wins against Purdue and North Carolina, averaging 505 yards per game, including 385.5 yards passing.

Last Saturday, Jackson became only the second player in FBS history to have at least 300 yards passing and 100 yards rushing in consecutive games in a 47-35 win at North Carolina. Jackson's 525 yards of total offense were the most ever allowed by the Tar Heels.

"He's a great player," Petrino said. "You're watching him the other day and you're like, 'Wow, this guy's pretty good,' throwing all over the place, running for touchdowns.

"The best play I liked was when they brought a corner off the edge, we mis-blocked it, and he stepped up, kept two hands on the ball, reset his feet and threw a strike for a 75-yard touchdown."

That ability is precisely what concerns Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables.

"It's one thing to be able to take what's there, but he can make something out of nothing all day," Venables said.

In Louisville's 42-36 loss last year at Clemson, Jackson almost single-handedly lifted Louisville to victory, totaling 457 yards and accounting for four touchdowns in a game that wasn't decided until Louisville came up one yard shy of a first down at the Clemson 3-yard line in the final seconds.

"When he gets to running around, he's a handful and we saw that last year up close," Swinney said. "He's going to make his plays -- that's going to happen -- but we've got to minimize them and do a great job of taking good angles, and when we get our hands on him hang on and tackle.

"He's fun to watch, but he's not fun to prepare for, he's not fun to play against. He makes a lot of people look bad."

Louisville has plenty of other offensive weapons, including wide receiver Jaylen Smith, who ranks among the national leaders with 17 catches for 300 yards and has helped the Cardinals rank fifth in the country in total offense at 614.5 yards per game.

"Offensively, they're crazy good," Swinney said. "It's video (game) numbers. It's unbelievable."

But Clemson's defense isn't bad, either, which should provide for some riveting in-game moments Saturday night.

The Tigers' defensive front, anchored by All-America candidates Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence at tackle, and Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell at end, may be the best in the country. Clemson had 11 sacks, one shy of the school record, against Auburn last Saturday.

The Tigers rank second nationally in total defense and sacks and are in the Top 10 in seven defensive categories. Clemson has not allowed a touchdown this season and held Auburn to 15 second-half yards.

"We have more pieces on defense, more functional guys," Swinney said. "We're creating some depth. After two games, I like where we are."

Push will come to shove Saturday night.

"They're very good up front," Petrino said. "They've got two big, physical, fast defensive tackles and two really good guys on the edge. It's a really good challenge for us."

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