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Game 10 Preview: Clemson Hosts Louisville for Military Appreciation Day

It’s time for a rebound.

NCAA Football: Connecticut at Clemson Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

I’m done licking wounds from last week’s egg laying in South Bend and ready for the next game. I’m more than a little aggravated about the piling on we have seen, such as being listed in the Bottom 10 on ESPN for (checks notes) the first loss in 14 games to a historic program on the road.
Overreactions are the norm in the current world, and it is easy to get swept into the sky is falling mindset if you allow it. Hopefully, this team won’t do that any more than they did back in 2012 after the WVU embarrassment or even 2020 after what was a similar physical beating at the hands of Ohio State. While Clemson didn’t beat UGA in game one last year, they certainly didn’t play soft and met the Bulldogs’ physicality as well as really anyone else they played last year.
This team has its warts, particularly on offense, but it isn’t nearly the train wreck a lot of talking heads are working hard to portray.

Louisville has flipped with Miami in terms of what you might have thought would be a really hard game back in early September. The Hurricanes ARE a train wreck, but the Cardinals have rebounded from a rough start to play their best football in recent weeks and come in riding a four-game winning streak. Clemson faced a similar streaking opponent last week and didn’t meet their focus and desire, so I’d be extremely shocked and disappointed if they fell short in that regard again.
The Tigers need to play well and play up to their standard or Louisville could break the nation’s longest home winning streak.

Clemson offense vs. Louisville defense: I wouldn’t rank Louisville on the tier with Notre Dame defensively, but they have some good pieces and have become increasingly aggressive (as discussed in the Q&A). This has led them to produce turnovers at a terrific clip. Their win over Wake Forest was a turnover highlight reel fueled by their pass rush.
Clemson needs to embrace the running game like they did down the stretch in 2021 and hope DJU and the WR can make some plays when the time comes to do it. They allowed ND to coerce the staff and DJU on RPO calls to not feed Shipley the ball yet again. This resulted in a season-high of third and long situations that just couldn’t be overcome.

This offense is not explosive (Wake game notwithstanding) so staying on schedule has been the key to the majority of the success up until last week’s disaster. A two-yard run by Shipley or Mafah is better than a sack, throwaway, or holding penalty, and it is most certainly better than an interception getting run back for a score.
I love the passing game and lighting folks up. I was often frustrated with the old days of three yards and a cloud of dust, but until Clemson’s perimeter guys can consistently take the top of a defense again, this is way.

Notre Dame was good in the right places to hurt Clemson, and I was very worried about that matchup. When I saw how well they contained Ohio State’s explosive WR corps, it didn’t matter to me that they lost to Marshall and Stanford. It was going to take the defense handling the Irish and the offense doing enough to stake a lead to make it happen.
I held out hope that DJ would rebound and there would be enough from the WR, but I was obviously wrong. Clemson matches up better with the Cardinals who are not as able to deter us from running the football. The Cardinals, however, are in their wheelhouse if they can get Clemson into obvious passing situations. Thankfully Clemson has Jordan McFadden at left tackle and not the turnstile Wake put out there due to injury.
Either way, Clemson needs to be more intentional with the run game, feature more two back or two tight end sets, and go right at their defense.

Dabo has talked about the turnover margin and with good reason. This offense isn’t able to recover from turnovers like some of the past units who could create explosive plays. The Syracuse game was an outlier because Clemson’s front could overmatch the Cuse defensive front enough to just run the ball.
Turnovers usually happen in cycles so hopefully that bad cycle is over. It better be or this could very well be another loss. The 2006 and 2011 teams didn’t recover very well from games similar to what we saw Clemson suffer through last week. You have to hope this team will be made of much tougher stuff.

Clemson defense vs. Louisville offense: Clemson has already faced some high level and/or veteran quarterbacks this season and survived. Ironically, it was the team that didn’t crack 100 yards passing that took them down. Say what you will about Notre Dame, but the Irish routinely have one of the top 2-4 offensive lines in the nation and that unit’s ability to offset Clemson’s defensive line strength was the ultimate difference in the game last week.
Louisville has a solid line but not on ND’s level, so I would think Clemson’s DL can get back to moving the line of scrimmage backwards and creating havoc like we have been accustomed to seeing.

Louisville has a dangerous quarterback who had Clemson’s excellent 2021 defense in trouble for stretches of last year’s game. Malik Cunningham has been there seemingly as long as Sam Hartman at Wake, and he’s able to do what Jordan Travis can do with his legs and hit a homerun pass. Clemson’s edge discipline has got to take a big step up after several breakdowns a week ago. Wes Goodwin needs to put linebackers on the field who will consistently do their job even if they aren’t the most talented or hyped guys in the room. Trenton Simpson must play better, period. We all know he has the tools.
The Tiger secondary has to elevate their physicality in the run game and attack/get off perimeter blocks. The inside tackles are by in large doing their jobs well, but breakdowns on the edges have really hurt the defense.

Louisville’s staple stretch zone play has to be at the top of the list of things to stop considering how much is built off its success with their bootlegs and play actions. The Cardinals will also use a healthy dose of zone read similar to how Florida State does it. Clemson had mixed success against this last year, and Cunningham nearly pulled the rabbit out of his hat on their final drive to win the game.
The Tigers can’t allow this game to be close in the fourth quarter where Cunningham’s athleticism could pop a game defining play. Hopefully the Death Valley crowd and an angry defense will get the Cardinals turning it over as they have done at times when they struggle.

Louisville doesn’t have the bruising backs like ND, but their guys are very fast and can bust a long run on you if you don’t fit things up correctly. Clemson must prevent these types of “cheap” touchdowns and make the Cardinals execute multiple play drives to score.

Special Teams: Clemson couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start last week when a total protection breakdown led to a blocked punt returned for a TD. The most disappointing thing was ND had already blocked several punts in previous games so you would THINK that would have had our group on high alert to the details. ND got the lead they needed to start putting pressure on Clemson and patiently lean on its running game thanks to a game changing play on Special Teams.
Opponents have seen something in Clemson’s punt protection because a lot of teams have come hard looking for blocks. The rugby punt counter has been a mixed bag of either very good or very below average. They need to take a close look at what folks are seeing before this leads to more potential disaster.

B.T. Potter is great, as we know, but he had no chance to impact things last week. This is what made that pick six so painful because the Tigers had at least 3 points in the bag on that drive if they just don’t turn it over or go backwards 20 yards. 21-3 wouldn’t have been great but it was a lot better than the 28-0 margin that effectively ended all hope.

It goes without saying Clemson needs to tighten things back up in this phase and get back to making the positive game changing plays versus being on the bad end of them.

Overall: Sometimes you are the hammer, sometimes you are the nail. I think Clemson was a victim of a bit of complacency last week heading into ND. I don’t think the defense believed anyone could line up and just pound the run on them and didn’t bring the right mentality.

A similar thing happened in 2020 when the defense allowed Ohio State to do whatever it wanted to them most of the night. That was a good defense, but a hungry OSU squad took it to the Tigers that day. Brent Venables said “burn the tape” and that is hopefully what Goodwin did from last week. It isn’t rocket science: want it more than they want it and attack.
Do that and the Tigers will win this game and get things moving back in the right direction. Play with doubt and/or a sense of entitlement, and they will earn another defeat and REALLY get the negative narrative heaped on them.

Call me foolish but I will believe in these guys bouncing back: Clemson 30-Louisville 21