It was a perfect fall evening on October 1, 2016 in Clemson, South Carolina. One of those nights where you could smell college football in the air with the feeling that something big was coming. All of college football nation didn’t know what to expect when #3 Louisville travelled down to South Carolina to battle #5 Clemson. All we knew was that Louisville QB Lamar Jackson had put up video game like numbers, scoring a total of 25 Touchdowns in the first four games. This did not scare the Clemson defense or QB Deshaun Watson.
The Tigers won this matchup, one that was a complete heartbreaker for all of #CardNation. If you recall, Lamar Jackson and the Cardinal offense had the ball on the Clemson 14 yard line with about 40 seconds left to play. It was 4th and 12, when Lamar Jackson threw the ball to receiver James Quick who was just a yard shy of extending the game. 42-36 Clemson, just like that. For a fan that is indifferent about either team, it was undoubtedly one of the best games of the entire season and will go down in the history books as Clemson went on to beat Alabama in the National title game.
Revenge. That word has been looming inside of not just Lamar Jackson’s head, but every Cardinal player and fan that got their heart’s broken that night. It was right there in front of them, and they weren’t able to capitalize. The 2016 Heisman winner has certainly had this game circled, likely since October 2nd, 2016. This Saturday at 8PM ET, is redemption time for Lamar Jackson.
The Clemson defense is as tough as ever with Jr Christian Wilkins leading the front lines who will likely be one of the top picks in NFL draft if and when he declares. The Tiger defense sacked Jackson 5 times last season, 2 of those sacks coming from defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell, who is now a junior and another leader on the Tiger defense. Although their defense was incredible last year, they are more of a sure-tackling team this season. Jackson has a knack for breaking loose for long runs, but he will have trouble doing so come Saturday.
Although he has extremely big shoes to fill, Clemson QB Kelly Bryant has done a great job in replacing now Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson. Bryant has the athleticism to break loose on big plays himself and the nation will absolutely see this in action this weekend. Last week we saw flashes of his brilliance against a tough Auburn defense, as he scored both of the Tiger’s TDs on the ground. Dabo Swinney seemed to run a very vanilla offense in order to avoid turnovers, and it worked out in Clemson’s favor. Look for them to switch things up this week, as they will certainly have to score more than 14 points in order to keep up with the Louisville offense. Luckily for Bryant he has play makers all over the field such as receivers, Ray Ray McCloud and Deon Cain, who tend to make their QB look good.
Speaking of making a QB look good, it seems that Lamar Jackson doesn’t really need to look any better than he already has. Believe it or not, last year’s Heisman winner has actually improved since the 2016 season. His downfield passing looks to be more efficient, as he no longer stares down receivers and does a better job in keeping the defense guessing. Clemson safety Vann Smith and corner Ryan Carter played in the matchup last season, but this may just be a new and improved Louisville QB. Last week against North Carolina, Jackson threw for 393 yards and 3 TDs and added 132 rushing yards and another 3 scores on the ground. A total of 525 yards and 6 TDs against a Carolina defense that is supposed to be much improved from last season.
The Cardinals may have found their man in the running game as well as in senior RB Malik Williams. Williams carried the ball just 13 times against the Tar Heels last weeks for a total of 149 yards. That is just over 11 yards per carry. While head coach Bobby Petrino will be searching for ways to get the ball in this kid’s hands as well, we see the Tiger defense having an answer for it.
While we think the Louisville offense will be a tough out for the Tigers, we predict another heartbreak for the Cardinals this season. Lamar Jackson will have excellent numbers and have some flashy plays that might end up on SportsCenter on Sunday morning, but the Louisville defense seems to be lagging far behind. Either way, this is shaping up to be a great game and will most certainly be one to remember.
Our prediction: Clemson 34 Louisville 28.