With Clemson's first major test coming on a short week, we worked hurriedly with the Card Chronicle to get you the scoop on what to expect in Louisville. We give a huge thank you to Mark Ennis for taking the time to answer our questions. Be sure to share your gratitude and thoughts in the comment section below.
STS: Shakin' the Southland
CC: Card Chronicle
STS: Obviously the outlook for this game took a pretty significant turn when Louisville was upset by Houston. I hate to start on a negative note, but since StubHub ticket prices are down to one-third of what I paid, I don't feel too bad asking. How far is this team behind initial expectations? What are the main reasons?
CC: They're definitely not as good as folks had as expected coming into the season, but, I don't think any specific area is just drastically worse than we had expected. I think most expected them to be 1-1 at this point but they're 0-2 because of the cumulative effect of a lot of different things. The uncertainty at quarterback is obviously the biggest part because you just can't hide a rough quarterback and his struggles always bleed over into the other parts of the offense.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the defense has struggled to get off the field on 3rd down. Houston ate Louisville up on 3rd down, especially in the second half. That wasn't a factor at all last year and I think it comes down to mental focus. Maybe it will be better this week against Clemson.
STS: What Louisville weaknesses and/or Clemson strengths have you most concerned?
CC: I suppose I stole my own thunder up above, but, to expand, Louisville's three-headed quarterbacks, whichever they decide to go with, going up against a very good secondary and overall defense has me concerned. Lamar Jackson and Kyle Bolin each have strengths and weakness. It's just a matter of what can Petrino live with and try to build around to beat Clemson.
The other factor that causes me concern is Watson escaping the first pass rusher and then making a play down the field. Louisville's defense, especially against Houston, would get one rusher to Ward but he'd escape and then find huge throws downfield because the back end of the defense was terribly undisciplined. That can't be the case this week.
STS: Conversely, what Louisville strengths and/or Clemson weaknesses give you the most optimism?
CC: I like the way Louisville's front seven matches up against Clemson's offensive line. They held their own against Auburn and Houston on most downs but the third down breakdowns were just killer. Last year they really got after Watson (ultimately knocking him out). Clemson's not going to be able to run wide on Louisville. But can Louisville get heat on Watson and actually finish him off like they did last year (I mean finish him off in a sack, not injure him).
STS: Bobby Petrino has struggled to find a QB since Teddy Bridgewater headed to the Vikings. Which QB do you expect to start on Thursday, and how do you expect the snaps to be distributed? Which option do you think gives Louisville the best chance to win and why?
CC: I believe he'll go back to Lamar Jackson. Jackson didn't play terribly, but he got frustrated just threw some long balls up for grabs and Louisville's receivers just didn't win any of those battles. Jackson allows Louisville to compensate some for having a rough pass-protecting offensive line and he adds an additional option game element to the offense. It's clear Petrino wants that in the offense going forward. So, I think he'll give Jackson another chance to play the whole game, a little more under control.
STS: On behalf of Clemson fans everywhere, let me say that we have been impressed with the Cardinal faithful. You show up for football, basketball, and baseball games and your teams are competitive across the board.
The article the Card Chronicle published about the great experiences Louisville supporters had in Clemson was shared all over Clemson fans' Facebook pages. In general, being both competitive and humble has set Louisville apart from other fan bases, and many Clemson fans are making a special trip to Louisville - even on an inconvenient week night - for our first appearance in Louisville.
Can you give us a primer on what to expect as far as the tailgate scene, the restaurant scene, the fan culture, and the stadium atmosphere (especially given last week's loss)?
CC: Not sure a lot of Clemson folks know that Papa John's Cardinal Stadium is, literally, right down the street from Churchill Downs. So, if fans can get here early enough, it'd be worth the time and money to go take the tour and see the museum if you're interested in that sort of thing. The Louisville Slugger Museum downtown on the river is also pretty cool for folks not from around here. At the game, surprise!, Louisville fans being just a few miles from all the best bourbon on earth, like to drink. It'll be obvious. But it makes for a rather lively (but not at all bad) environment.
I know a great many fans who made the trip to Clemson last year and were absolutely blown away by the experience and the overall hospitality of Clemson fans. Most are very eager to return the favor.
STS: Lastly, is it acceptable for us to refer to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium as "The Pizza Box"?
CC: No. But it's been called worse.