STS: I remember everyone at Card Chronicle being pretty excited when the move to the ACC was announced, now that we are a few games in how are ya'll enjoying the new conference?
CC: Oh, it's fantastic, and we haven't even gotten into the loaded second half of our season.
This Saturday will be the first time since the 2013 Sugar Bowl and just the second time since the start of the 2012 season that Louisville will be the underdog in a game, and that's kind of what Cardinal fans have been waiting for. This feels like the first time in forever that U of L has gone into a game with more to gain than to lose, and that's so much fun for a program and a fan base that spent all of last season sort of bored. Going through the motions and beating the likes of Temple and Memphis can only keep your focus for so long. They may not all go the way Louisville fans are hoping, but taking your shots against the likes of Clemson, Florida State and Notre Dame is still way more fun than the alternative.
We also enjoy the quick turnaround on the ACC Digital Network highlight videos. That's first class work.
STS: While Clemson fans have been familiar with Bobby Petrino thanks to his Atlanta Falcons debacle, how would you describe what he is trying to do with his second stint at Louisville?
CC: Well at the moment what he's trying to do is adapt, because this is the first time in his coaching career that he's been in charge of a team that is basically being carried by its defense. U of L has not been able to do much damage through the air, partly because of its offensive line and partly because of its inexperience at quarterback, and that's something which is foreign to Petrino. As a result, he's having to adjust his philosophy so that his team can try and win games with its defense and rushing attack. That being said, he's never going to completely abandon the passing game. I'd be shocked if he doesn't let Reggie Bonnafon (or Will Gardner) take their fair share of shots downfield on Saturday.
STS: Louisville's defense has been extremely impressive in allowing only 12.7 points per game. Is this a function of talent, a terrible schedule, or a bit of both?
CC: Definitely a little bit of both, but I think the defense is legitimate. It's almost certainly not as legitimate as it appears on paper, but there's a great deal of talent on that side of the ball. That being said, you could make the case that all six teams Louisville will face in the second half of the season have offenses that are better than all six of the teams they've faced so far.
I think the biggest challenge for Louisville is going to be facing a slew of competent quarterbacks, because I'm not sure they've gone up against a single one yet. The Cardinal secondary has produced 12 interceptions, but a handful of those were underthrown balls where the receiver actually had a step or a couple of steps on his man. If U of L's safeties and corners get overly greedy on Saturday, then I don't think there's any question that DeShaun Watson is going to make them pay until they start showing more respect.
Still, Lorenzo Mauldin is receiving legitimate first round draft pick hype for a reason, and guys like Sheldon Rankins and Keith Kelsey have been dominating the middle of the field. It's a very good defense, but Saturday will be the first indication we get of whether or not it's actually a great defense.
STS: You guys are also only allowing 58.33 rushing yards per game while also having 12 interceptions on defense. What is the general defensive game plan from Louisville most weeks?
CC: As you all are probably aware, Todd Grantham runs a 3-4 and brings a lot of pressure. Both Mauldin and Deiontrez Mount have had a lot of success coming off the edge so far this year, so I can't imagine you won't see them try to get to DeShaun Watson and company in that fashion early on. The attention that opposing lines have been forced to give those guys has allowed players like Kelsey and Rankins and Burgess to plug holes and keep running backs from getting out into the open field. Those three have played the biggest role in U of L's ridiculous statistics against the run.
Obviously, Louisville hasn't faced a quarterback yet who can do the types of things DeShaun Watson can. They faced a guy in a similar mold last week with Syracuse's Terrel Hunt, but Hunt isn't nearly as good with his feet or his arm as Watson is. Still, I don't think you're going to see Grantham change anything unless it becomes painfully obvious in the 2nd or 3rd quarter that what the Cards are doing isn't working.
STS: Clemson has shown a real ability to complete the deep ball with 3 outstanding receivers. How does Louisville stop the deep ball while also preventing the run so effectively?
CC: U of L lists only two starting safeties but more times than not they play three, with James Sample, Gerod Holliman and converted cornerback Terrell Floyd. Charles Gaines is widely regarded as one of the best corners in the ACC, but he doesn't have the stats to back that up this year since no one has seemed willing to throw in his direction. Part of that is because Gaines is really good, the other part is that the corner on the opposite side of the field, Andrew Johnson, has been a liability at times. I would be shocked if Clemson doesn't follow the lead of the rest of the conference so far and try to pick on Johnson with a bigger and more athletic receiver. The good news is that the other four guys -- including Holliman, who leads the country with seven interceptions -- are all really solid. But again, they haven't faced a test as stiff as this one yet.
STS: News broke on Monday that Louisville receiver DeVante Parker might play on Saturday. What should Clemson fans be worried about with him on the field?
CC: Well, he's the big play threat that U of L's passing game has been desperately needing so far this season; the guy who can take a poorly thrown pass or a jump ball and turn it into a 60-yard touchdown. There's already plenty of debate over where DeVante fits into the conversation about greatest Louisville receivers ever, but I don't think there's any question he's the most lethal deep threat the program has ever seen.
In my life as a Cardinal fan, I haven't seen a pass catcher with his combination of size, speed, athleticism and hands. There's a reason why he's missed the first half of this season and still needs just six touchdown catches to become Louisville's all-time leader. If he's actually 100 percent healthy (which I find a little hard to believe), then that's definitely a bit of a game-changer.
STS: From a Louisville perspective what is going to determine success or failure in this game for y'all?
CC: I think a lot of things have to fall into place for U of L to have a shot on Saturday, but No. 1 is cutting out the turnovers and drive-killing penalties. For all the struggles the offense has had, there have been so many promising drives this season that have been killed solely because of awful penalties at awful times. With the exception of the Virginia game, they've been able to overcome that so far because they've had superior players. That's not necessarily going to be the case going forward.
If I had to point to two other things, I'd say run the ball effectively and stay in the game early. The running game point is painfully obvious, but that doesn't make it any less important. If Brandon Radcliff and company aren't picking up decent chunks of yardage on most of their carries, then I don't think there's any way this offense can win the game on Reggie Bonnafon's arm and the front five's blocking. This is also an environment the likes of which most of these guys have never seen (Have you all heard about some sort of Carrier Dome controversy? No? Cool.). Clemson is a quick strike team, and if they're able to do what they did to NC State last week and jump out to a multi-touchdown lead in the first quarter, I fear that U of L may panic and wind up in a hole with only the slightest hint of light.
I'm not sure if this Louisville team is ready for this type of moment, but regardless, I'm extremely excited for both the game and the trip down. It definitely beats the hell out of game weeks and weekends in Connecticut.
Best of luck to you all.