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Going In-depth: Louisville Versus Clemson

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Break it down...

NCAA Football: Louisville at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t know about you, but I was absolutely emotionally drained after Saturday (and its why this is late getting up, but hey—I added some recruiting info at the bottom). Gameday without the pouring rain was an enjoyable experience and people showed up.

The Oculus remains undefeated.

The crowd did an exceptional job early in the game to rattle the Louisville players and disrupt communication, forcing four or five false start penalties. Those early penalties messed with Louisville’s down and distance and helped Clemson get off the field. Death Valley had an undeniable impact on this game.

Defense

Re-watching this game I have even more respect for the Louisville offense. Brent Venables put together a wonderful gameplan, however, and it all started with hitting Lamar Jackson in the mouth. On the first play from scrimmage Christian Wilkins takes the quarterback Jackson on the zone read and although the ball was handed off—he drills him hard, straight into the ground. We tried to be physical with Jackson and get in his head immediately.

I know we can squabble about the overblown Boulware chokehold (I contend that he was initially keeping Jackson from falling forward for more yards and only really held him a couple seconds after the whistle. Remember it is loud and Louisville had been falling forward all night. Clemson needed to play a physical brand of football. Looks worse is super duper slow motion and Boulware immediately releases when Jackson reaches up and pulls at Ben.), but Louisville didn’t seem ready for the physicality Clemson brought to the game at the start. These guys hadn’t been hit like this before and it definitely rattled them. It also made Jackson succumb to a bit of hero syndrome where he should have given the ball to a RB, for example, instead of running it himself (happened on the play after the MMA move where Boulware stays with Jackson who would have produced a TD if he gave the ball to Radcliffe.

Back to the gameplan. BV was dead set on not letting Lamar Jackson beat us with his legs. We consistently attacked the mesh point and the QB. Now Brandon Radcliff is an underrated RB in my mind and did a good job of running hard and moving the pile consistently. But Clemson was going to live with that.

Venables also wanted to keep everything in front of the defense and not give up explosive plays downfield. Get some pressure, attack Jackson, and don’t give up any huge completions in the passing game. It worked beautifully in the first half. On their TD scoring drive you got to see what happens when the DE gets sucked in and Jackson easily broke contain on Chris Register (who played decent on his other snaps but lost Jackson there). Petrino also called a third and two play-action pass on the 30 yard line where Boulware is left to try and defend Hikutini on an island (looked like someone was out of position—not sure if it was Jadar Johnson who was supposed to get the deepest man because he was covering someone or Tre Lamar or Joseph who was supposed to peel off with the TE but it was going to be a matchup problem regardless). Just a great play call against the heavy personnel package we had in the game. We still kept Louisville out of the endzone at the two yard line until a third down punch-in.

But the defense got gassed. That was partly on the offense scoring quickly, turning the ball over, and having too many early three and outs and partly a bit of our contain Jackson defensive philosophy.

In the second half, Petrino did more max protect and with more tired players it got harder for our guys to get home on blitzes. Guys were getting held all night and weren’t getting any calls so it gave Jackson more time in the pocket and he got slippery as the night wore on. Part fatigue, but really Jackson is a phenomenal athlete who runs hard and is elusive with his sidesteps, start/stop ability, and top end speed.

He got in some electric runs towards the end of the game. Gave Van Smith some stiff arms, made K’von Wallace completely whiff in the hole, and ran with ease in the 3rd and 4th quarter. He also avoided some sure sacks from Joseph and Carter/Wilkins on the crucial third down play.

I really don’t understand fans saying if we played again it would be some kind of Clemson blowout. I don’t see Clemson stopping Louisville on offense much of the second half. Heck, in the first half Clemson was the beneficiary of two unforced errors (the first errant center snap broke a nice drive Louisville was putting together). I think you could argue that the play of the game on defense (apart from the Edmond push of Quick OOBs, although I still contend that Quick easily finds that yard if he cuts upfield) was the third down batting down of the ball by Carlos Watkins that got DW the ball back. It wasn’t pretty.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of the defense. We consistently got to third down against this juggernaut of an offense. The defense fought hard and largely won in the trenches.

Scott Pagano had a good game where he grabbed a sack. Albert Huggins played significant snaps, kept his pad level down for the most part and helped keep the interior as fresh as possible after 99 snaps. Huggins had two sacks in the game. Huggins has the talent to be a rotational contributor this year with an expanded role next year. Carlos Watkins was a beast and made himself some money in this game. I felt like he was the most disruptive player on the line. He blocked the extra point, batted down that crucial ball, recovered a fumble, and had some QB hits. Dexter (7 tackles) also had some nice plays apart from the penalty where he slammed Jackson to the ground, but they were told to be physical. Our guys got held some and Radcliff ran hard but generally we stopped the run.

This was a tough assignment for Christian Wilkins, but he kept contain most of the night. He brought that physicality. I liked the burst from Yeargin where he destroyed the mesh, just need more consistency—the talent is present.

Jadar Johnson made an amazing interception. I didn’t know he had that range. The first TD where he blitzed was the only major bust I saw from him in pass protection. Van Smith had 13 tackles and played well in pass pro, as well. The angles for both safeties on run fills got less aggressive and sound as the day continued.

What can you say about Ben Boulware? People say junkyard dog, but to me he is becoming Ragnar Lodbrok before our very eyes. He is bringing that leadership. Sure he is a liability in coverage at times and will have Hikutini nightmares but 18 tackles, a fumble recovery, a sack, 3 TFL? Never taking a play off...

We still need to figure out the secondary and Nickel position. Wiggins didn’t have a great game with multiple penalties and some missed arm tackles. He is still not completely recovered, but we need him (I remember talking about how crucial this position was going to be). Wallace is making strides and will be the player here in the future. O’Daniel does some great things, but is still really shaky in coverage. Carter and Edmond held up in coverage but you don’t love either one on an island. This is the best that Edmond has played, but he still isn’t physical enough to my liking. Fields is falling down the depth chart. Hope to see more of Mullen in the coming weeks.

Hikutini?? I knew he would be a problem coming in, but that guy is the best TE in the country in my book. Good blocker, pass catcher, just a matchup nightmare. Petrino abused our LBs in coverage and Safeties with short passes, underneath routes, and RBs out of the backfield. It will be the same problem against elite teams we face. LJ Smith got lost for some big gains, Hikutini largely had his way in the second half, and their slot WR had some underneath stuff. This is the area of concern for the defense going forward.

We bent two times in the redzone in the second half where the defense dug in and forced field goals. That was the difference in the game(among many others in a game like this).

Offense

First I want to give credit to Ray-Ray McCloud and Maverick Morris for their hustle. Ray-Ray tackled the man after the two point conversion and Morris got the tackle after interception against a dangerous returner. I saw Hearn, Guillermo and Morris all chasing down Alexander. Those are the kind of determination plays that add up over the course of a season. Awareness and effort.

We started slow and came out and gave up a lazy interception on a ball right off of McCloud’s hands. That can’t happen. Guys need to remain focused, even when you have a lead.

Wayne Gallman just ran hard. He ran with a purpose with a few more holes opened up against a quality Louisville front. I thought we needed to run the ball a little more and work in a bit more horizontal action. Could have used a few more misdirection plays that seemed to work really well the few times we used them.

In four games Deon Cain had 70 yards, but last night he exploded for 98 yards and 2 touchdowns on 4 catches. The TDs were amazing grabs where Cain got behind the defense and the second one was a shoestring beauty that showed the strength of his hands. But, you know, his catch at the 3:49 mark in the 4th Q may have been his best. That was an elite throw and catch.

Trevion Thompson has a key fourth quarter grab on the same winning drive for a first down.

I didn’t love all of the play calling. The third-and-one stop in the third quarter (after a poor spot) was predictable. And we didn’t adjust to Louisville bringing a mesh side extra man overload blitz consistently (kind of the same thing we were doing to Louisville in the first half before they adjusted). But when we needed it, the play calling was just fine.

I won’t say much on the offensive line. They played with a lot more effort than the previous games. Hearn got blown up on a key third down that left a bad taste in my mouth, but they played better than I thought upon review. We aren’t blowing anyone off the ball but guys were in better position this game and weren’t whiffing often.

Deshaun Watson is still not stepping into some throws and overthrew Williams a couple of times. But, man, when we needed him to step up he absolutely did. He fumbled, threw two interceptions but he was also brilliant at times. The thirty second drive to end the first half was the best football of the season on offense. Louisville has a legit defense and Watson hung in the pocket and delivered, and ran for some tough yards. It’s almost easy to forget he threw for 306 yards, with 5 TDs, and ran for 92 yards.

I loved how he pumped up the crowd before the game. He was vocal today and a leader.

Special Teams

Scott’s return was huge. Quick score and we regained a bit of slipping momentum. Coverage teams were solid against good returners who torched FSU. I want to see Feaster hitting the hole faster on returns (he didn’t do badly though and deserves to be back there). Ray-Ray fair caught some balls where there were yards to gain (one he had a good 10-15 yards easily). We blocked an extra point and didn’t miss any.

I have started the Seth Ryan fan club.

Penalties/Refs

Somehow the narrative out there is that Louisville got robbed because of the refs? Yes, Tank did grab the jersey in the 2nd quarter that was missed. Yes, the Hikutini no call in the end was close. But Mike Williams had an arm bar, no call and Washington was grabbing the jersey of Williams all night. Jackson on a 3rd and 10 scramble with 2 minutes left in the 2nd Q was spotted short of the line by the side judge and then got the first down. Clemson was called for about 4 or 5 defensive holds or PI’s in the game. I think it is hard to say that one team was systematically favored during the game (also it was a home game—you just aren’t going to get that call in the end if it isn’t blatant).

Recruiting

Roswell, GA Safety Xavier McKinney was the lone uncommitted 2017 recruit of note at the game. Nothing has changed in his recruitment. Clemson has a bunch of chips in their corner. They have some of his friends and teammates with LeAnthony Williams and Tre Lamar, they have proximity, and he has a good relationship with the coaches.

To me Ohio State is the real wildcard threat. Auburn made a push but their season has stamped them out of the picture. Florida will make a push as well, but Ohio State is the real competition. This is contingent on Ohio State not filling up at the position. They are making a hard push for Jeffrey Okudah, who they have all but wrapped up, and they won’t lose CB Shaun Wade. It just depends on Meyer.

Clemson hosted a bevy of 2018 talent, though. In the same picture they had the top QB, DE and RB in the nation. Don’t think that has ever happened before. I know there are things working against us with DE Xavier Thomas, but we are definitely a factor. RB Zamir White likes Clemson, like a lot. Has for awhile now (don’t listen to your feathered friends), but has kept things a bit below the radar. The fact that he came speaks volumes. Trevor Lawrence is still down to Clemson and Georgia. Their season isn’t helping them and Clemson did everything right on this visit. I had people report to me that they saw Lawrence and his family enjoying themselves. The entire family got the full tour of the facilities, etc. etc. But no one is saying anything at this point and the family is taking the process at their own speed (and rightly so...). He will attend a Georgia game and then probably make a decision after his season.

As I’ve said before, its just a matter of time with Justin Foster.