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Momentum builds as the Tigers take on Louisville

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The Watson era is off to a rousing 2 and 0 start and the Tigers look to keep the hammer down versus ACC newbie Louisville.

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

All we can say about last week is this:

It was total domination from start to finish as NCST got regulated back to reality.  As hoped, Venables chewed enough tail off the second half of the UNC game to have the defense breathing fire and showing no mercy.  Now renown offensive guru Bobby Petrino brings his SEC rejects Louisville Cardinals to Death Valley (where apparently it can't get louder than the Carrierdome...we'll see about that!).  Even though Petrino is a retread dirt bag and Louisville has a history of taking some shady characters in the name of good football, I actually welcome them to the ACC because they actually give two rips about football and provide an enticing road trip on the off years.  Charlie Strong resurrected the program after Petrino left it high and dry and the wheels came off.  Strong's success was built on the defensive side of the ball and Louisville remains strong in that area.  The offense has been up and down after the departure of Teddy Bridgewater and has hung its hat more on the run game and three big backs.  One thing has been constant in the Louisville games this year and that is turnovers a plenty on both sides.  Much like the last two games, if Clemson can avoid giving them gifts it should be a very high mountain for the Cards to climb to get a win.

Clemson offense versus Louisville defense:

Clemson faces Todd Grantham after seeing his 3-4 defense last year in the Georgia game.  So far the Cards have posted some very impressive numbers defensively, but the level of offense they have seen has been pretty punchless to say the least.  Only Miami really offered much in the way of playmakers that might compare to what Clemson boasts, but it was a first time start for a true freshman quarterback and the playcalling and execution showed that.  Plus, Miami's offensive line is nothing special and makes ours look like one of the better units out there, so there's that.

There is something to be said for confidence, and the Louisville defense has that right now.  It will be up to Deshaun Watson and company to send a message early like they did the last two games that the guys in orange are a different breed of cat.  From what I've seen from the Cards so far, they really favor man coverage on the outside and get very aggressive with the safeties coming down.  Safety Gerod Holliman has racked up 7 interceptions already, so he's clearly aggressive and needs to be accounted for.  As a result, they are ripe for the picking for the type of big play action and double move plays we've seen from the Tigers the last two weeks.  Mike Williams has emerged as a legitimate #1 on the outside and has just killed man coverage (and in some cases bracketed coverage) lately.  Louisville has racked up an impressive 12 interceptions so far this year, granted against some of the worst quarterbacks in Division 1 football.  They will hope to do their damage up front against the Clemson OL and try to force Watson into long yardage situations.  The danger Watson has presented, as we know, is his ability to run with the football makes a scramble play a real threat on third downs.  Last week, the Tigers showed the pure QB power run with success which should give Louisville something to think about as well.  Wayne (Train) Gallman stepped into the starting role last week and showed some pop that had been missing at the position.  The key for him will be continuing to take care of the football and not bust a blitz pickup.  If the Tiger offense performs anywhere near what it has done the last two weeks against Louisville, I'll be ready to anoint this unit as fully ready.  Watson is tremendous and the skill has stepped up with him, but admittedly the defenses coming from UNC and NCST are not very good and had no hope of matching up with us on the outside.  The Cardinals bring a better level of athlete on that side of the ball for sure, so this is a good test as to the progress of the offense since FSU.

When the Tigers started running the ball last week, I knew NCST had no shot at handling the Tiger offense.  It will be very important to keep that going this week and force the Cardinals to have to worry about both, especially on third downs.  The Tiger OL is beat up and will be missing two key pieces in Jay Guillermo and Joe Gore this week.  We even heard the name Spencer Region in the press conference this week, so that tells you about where the Tigers are depth wise at the moment.  Fans should keep the fingers crossed that the first group can stay strong for this game.  The offense just needs to be efficient and not give Louisville any short field opportunities.

I'm reminded of this classic scene from Miami Vice when I think about the switch to Deshaun Watson at quarterback this year.  We've upgraded to the Testarossa!

Clemson defense versus Louisville offense:

This is Clemson's first test against a true power running team since the Georgia game. Louisville will run I formation pro-style run action at you as well as the zone run game out of the shotgun.  Old Auburn running back Michael Dyer is now a Cardinal, though he's only third team at the moment.  Their top two backs have put up some big games, but Virginia and FIU showed that run game can be stopped.  The Cavs held the Cards to 79 yards rushing, and FIU gave up only 12 on 35 attempts, so it clearly can be done.  The Cards have been using two quarterbacks much like UNC.  Some of this has been because of injury.  Will Gardner, the opening day starter, has been banged up but I expect him to play Saturday.  He's built like your typical Petrino quarterback at 6'5" 226 pounds.  The other quarterback is freshman Reggie Bonnafon who is more of a runner and can bring the quarterback run game into play.  Neither has been particularly accurate as both are under 60% and just over 7 yards an attempt.  Even with star WR DeVante Parker slated to return to the fold, Clemson will look to stop the run game as it has ever since UGA and dare the young Louisville quarterbacks to beat them through the air.

I would expect to see a lot of B.J. Goodson at SAM this week as Clemson looks to handle the Louisville power run game.  Hopefully Tony Steward will be good to go at WILL as his physical presence is needed as well (and he's played better and better as the year has progressed).  Louisville hasn't seen anything like the Clemson defensive line so far this year.  Only UVA even gets in the ballpark in this department and their strength is on the ends more than the middle.  Grady Jarrett has played like a man possessed and has put together the best season at DT I have seen since the immortal Rob Bodine in 1990.  The guy has run down wideouts in the flat in addition to stuffing the middle consistently.

One thing Louisville has done a lot of on offense is turn it over.  The Cardinals have had a whopping 16 fumbles with 10 of them lost to go with 3 interceptions thrown.  The Tiger defense knocked the wolfpeckers around enough to get 3 fumbles last week and will be looking for more on Saturday.  Louisville was unable to overcome their 4 turnovers against UVA (who also turned it over 3 times themselves) and anything close to that on Saturday will lead to a beat down from the Tigers.  The Cards will have to play a clean game.

Special Teams:

I've disparaged this unit the last couple of weeks with clips from Tropic Thunder and Blazing Saddles, but outside of a missed field goal and a penalty on a punt return, the special teams play against NCST was very solid.  Adam Humphries was able to advance the ball some on returns for a change and Bradley Pinion just booted the ball into the endzone every time on kickoffs.  Louisville comes in with the top kick return game in the ACC and one return for a TD on the ledger.  Pinion will need to just eliminate that part of their game with deep kicks.  Punting wise Louisville is middle of the road in average punting and have just a 34.2 net punting number (Clemson's is at 39.2).  There is opportunity there to win the field position game (which is even more important when facing a run oriented offense like Louisville).  Teams just haven't been able to really drive the ball on the Tiger defense this season save for maybe two or three times.  Most of the scoring drives from the opposition have come because of a big play.  When the Tigers eliminate the big plays, the defensive numbers are staggering.  It's once again up to the special teams to just do their jobs and NOT screw up (or as I would put it, cross the streams).

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OVERALL:

There is plenty of motivation out there for the Tigers this week.  Louisville sits above the team in the ACC standings and Petrino popped off about the noise which we all know is going to help get the home crowd even more in a frenzy.  This is a team with more street cred than most ACC foes, so it is a great opportunity to send another message that the Tigers we saw on Labor Day Weekend have grown into a different animal in October.  With the poultry in Cootlumbia melting down, it is a great opportunity to show that their day in the sun has come to an end and a big can of THIS is awaiting them like it is the Cardinals.  I'll be there and ready to rock, so let's go Tigers!

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