Well, I said I’d have to see a blowout in Tallahassee to believe it, and man did the team ever make a believer out of me! I spent most of the second half thinking back to the 1993 team, the 2000 team, and the 2013 team who all suffered huge beatdowns at the hands of FSU. The 1993 game was particularly painful because it had been a very, very long time since a Clemson team was that outclassed in a football game. I applaud Swinney and the Tigers for exacting some payback for those games.
Saturday was a huge message for recruits in Florida and beyond about the directions of the two programs, and Florida State embarrassed themselves about as much as a team could do it with ejections, penalties, and a sub 70K crowd for a game against a top 2 team in the nation. Clearly Clemson has become fully weaponized as it heads into November, which is extremely bad news for the active dumpster fire that is the Louisville Cardinals.
Clemson defense vs. Louisville offense: Many folks have pointed to Bobby Petrino’s arrogant assertion that his offense would be better without the departed phenom Lamar Jackson prior to the season. While I still have some level of respect for Petrino as an offensive mind, much of that respect has dissipated during this season.
I watched how their game with Florida State went down, and if you missed it, it was perhaps the most mind boggling decision making by a play caller in my memory. It certainly trumped what Oregon did against Stanford just a week before because at least the Ducks tried to run the ball with the lead. Petrino called a pass, up a score, in the redzone, against a team already beginning to use its time outs, on FIRST DOWN! They didn’t even run play action, which you thought a team trying to sneak a score in would have done there (which is about the only semi-logical development I can begin to think of went on with that call). Of course, the aptly named Juwan Pass promptly threw it to a Florida State defender and the ‘Noles promptly took the ball, scored, and won the game.
Much has been made of Petrino’s future at Louisville, and he’s already seen a faux firing spread through social media, and it almost seems he’s trying to have a team so bad the school will have to fire him and pay his massive buyout. Of course, as a Falcons fan and general appreciator of human dignity, any suffering Petrino endures seems like beautiful karma to me.
Clemson’s defense should feast on this disheveled offense in a similar fashion to how it throttled Florida State last week. The Cardinals can only hope to move the ball by passing, and they do have a few good wideouts like Jaylen Smith and Seth Dawkins, but a one dimensional attack stands no chance against this defense. I just wonder if Petrino will actually try to attack throughout the game or just be content to run the ball, run the clock, and try to limit the damage.
Knowing him, he will air it out no matter what which could see the Tigers pile up huge points even with the mass substitutions which we all know will happen. The Cardinals could actually offer some good looks for the secondary that is continuing to grow and make strides, so I view that as a positive for playing this game which otherwise looks like an FCS matchup on paper.
Clemson offense vs. Louisville defense: Well, we’ve written about some serious mismatches over the last few weeks. This mismatch exceeds even the one against the woeful Wake Forest defense. Cardinals defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder has certainly seen a major change in career trajectory over the last decade.
I lived in Athens when he was a star working under Mark Richt at Georgia and I actually taught one of his sons. Since then, he had a disastrous run as head coach of Georgia Southern and a more recent firing at Notre Dame only 4 games in to 2016. He now pilots one of the worst defenses in all of Division 1 football and could very well be looking for a new job with the rest of this staff at year’s end. I’m no Todd Grantham fan, but there is no doubt Petrino has suffered mightily from losing him to Dan Mullen after the 2016 season. Van Gorder’s style is just a hair less aggressive than the blitz happy Grantham, but a much more attacking approach than the one Peter Sirmon used last season.
The biggest issue for Louisville has been the inexperience on defense after losing 9 full or part time starters from the 2017 season. I think back to the worst moments of Reggie Herring’s ill-fated 2001 Clemson defense which had youth everywhere and no difference makers, yet blitzed and attacked anyway. It was ugly a lot of the time and that has been the case for the Cards this year.
Any defense that cannot stop the run is one that is going to get killed. The Cardinals have been ripped on the ground by anyone who has any semblance of a rushing attack. Alabama? 222 yards on the ground. UVA? 204 yards. Then it gets much worse with GT hitting a whopping 542 yards, BC 251 yards, and Wake Forest 368 yards. Clemson has leaned on the passing game the last two weeks against NC State and FSU with great success. The question of what happens if you don’t play 2 high safeties on Trevor Lawrence has been answered.
No matter what Louisville tries to do with its safeties, they just can’t hope to stop the Clemson run game or passing game with the tackling and gap integrity they have displayed in October. This week is a perfect time for the running game to get back to posting well over 200 yards and I will be shocked if that doesn’t happen. I think all Clemson fans should know that there is a generational talent at QB, just a couple of seasons removed from another generational talent. I will forever savor the moments I got to witness Deshaun Watson’s greatness in person, so the same should be said for Trevor Lawrence and even Travis Etienne.
I imagine San Francisco fans felt a little this way when Joe Montana was replaced by Steve Young, giving them an unprecedented back to back Hall of Fame QB starters. I honestly don’t know how you hope to stop this offense for four quarters if you can’t play lockdown man coverage on the outside, provide safety help over the top, and handle the run game with a six man box. Florida State has a good defense, and it could only hold up for about a quarter.
Special Teams: Welcome back Amari Rodgers! After a very quiet stretch after that rough Syracuse game, Rodgers exploded with a couple of great punt returns to go with his career day receiving. Derion Kendrick only got one crack at a kick return but made it exciting running about 70 yards total for a 29 yard return. Greg Huegel had a rough day with a miss before he got plowed and banged up for a roughing the kicker penalty.
The media finally asked Dabo about Spiers and the punting situation after another underwhelming day when his best punts came when the game was in hand, while his terrible shank came early when the outcome was still in doubt. We got the “he’s the best option for now” response, but I am troubled by the lack of clutch characteristic Spiers has continuously demonstrated.
Thankfully the Tigers are so good on offense at the moment that he isn’t a big deal, but when and if the Tigers do run into Alabama or even a team like Oklahoma, the importance of not giving the other offense good field position will be magnified ten fold. It doesn’t look like any change is on the horizon, so fans will have to hope that Spiers will produce when he really needs to.
As for Louisville, they have been getting some serious work in kick return here lately. After giving up 38 points to Boston College playing without A.J. Dillon, they got ripped by Wake Forest for 56 points. Now they play at Clemson and at Syracuse who sport the best two offenses in the ACC. B.T. Potter is going to need some ice for that leg when this one is over.
Overall: There isn’t much to say about a game when the spread is nearly 40 points as of this writing. The Cardinals are a bad football team with an embattled coach who may only be saved by a contract which rivals the deal Paul Hewitt got at Georgia Tech (which probably delayed his firing two years). If the Cardinals athletic department wasn’t already strapped with the fallout from the Rick Pitino scandal and the firing of former A.D. Tom Jurich, not to mention the fall from grace of top booster “Papa” John, the end of the Petrino era at Louisville would probably be a forgone conclusion.
Petrino has already shown he is willing to cut and run when things go south, as we saw in Atlanta years ago, so we will see how this plays out. As much as I enjoy throttling the ACC opponents by 40, it is a little sad to see teams with some passionate fans like FSU and Louisville be nominal threats on Saturday. Part of 2016’s magic was those two epic battles with the Seminoles and Cardinals in prime time. Now these games are played at noon!
Clemson 70 Louisville 14