Over the past four weeks, the Louisville Cardinals have had the most dominant offense in college football, averaging 63 points a game, including 63 against the mighty Florida State Seminoles. The Clemson Tigers, over the past four weeks, have had the same success on defense, holding opponents to an average of 11 points per contest, including taming the Auburn Tigers at Auburn Week one of this season. Saturday night, these two titans face off against each other, in perhaps the most-anticipated ACC match-up of this season, in what may very well decide who will go on to win the ACC Championship; and may decide who will go to the College Football Playoff.
Breaking down this game, both teams are equally good at their respected strengths. Starting with the home team, the Clemson Tigers have done things with their defense that are just wicked. They’ve held opponents to 11 points per game and only 218 yards per game. The Tigers have limited the opposing teams rushing offense to 92.8 yards, and held pass attacks to only 125.8 yards per game. That is also against decent competition, notably Auburn and Georgia Tech.
If football was only played on defense alone, there wouldn’t be any doubt on Clemson’s ability to win against Louisville, but Clemson’s offense dropped off a little bit from last season, coming to the surprise of most. The Tigers rank 85th overall in rushing yards, with 159.5, and 27th in passing yards with 293.0. Those numbers are also against teams that are all unranked, with the toughest team being Auburn, which limited the Tigers to 19 points. The week after, Clemson beat Troy at home, but only mustered 30 points, which should have been much greater. It’s no secret that Clemson is running down the hill with something to prove, looking for that one statement win against a top five team.
Their opponent, on the other hand, have clearly had the most dominant offense in College Football this season, behind sophomore sensation Lamar Jackson, who has done things that most people thought only possible in EA Sports NCAA Football 2014. Jackson had led the Cardinals to victories with a capital V in every single game played, including the destruction of the Florida State Seminoles in week three of this season in front of a national audience. Jackson by himself ranks third in the entire NCAA in total TDs with 25, with only Louisville and Michigan above him. He’s the reason that ESPN is sending College GameDay to Death Valley, and why Louisville is now favored to win the ACC and go on to the College Football Playoff.
As for the rest of the offense, Louisville also enjoys stellar performances from RB Brandon Radcliff, as well as the WR Tandem of Jamari Staples and James Quick, whom both average over 22 yards per catch, and have over 300 yards each on this season. The TE corps. Also has to be mentioned after last week, as two of Lamar Jackson’s TD's were passes to senior Cole Hikutini, making it three on the season.
Louisville’s defense has also been good this season, holding opponents to an average of 22.5 points per contest, and have kept opponents third down percentage at 21.8 percent, even greater considering some of the competition. It may not be as good as Clemson’s, but it may be enough to contain Deshaun Watson.
This game, if played on a neutral game site, would be easier to predict, but Death Valley is called Death Valley for a reason: it’s one of the five toughest places to play in college football. Memorial Stadium will perhaps be the toughest environment that the Cards will play in this season, as the twelfth man will be prevalent in this game.
I also believe that this game will be a test for both teams. Clemson, of course, is looking for a statement win to put itself back as the ACC favorites, and to go to another Playoff. Louisville is looking to silence critics that still have some reservations about them being a team that can in fact win the ACC. Both teams will have to play hard, and this will come down to who wants the win more.
This game will not see 40 points for either side, or will likely come down to a single score on who will win this match-up. As for my predictions, I will go with the line (Louisville -2) due to the fact that Clemson really hasn’t been tested yet, and has struggled scoring this season against unranked teams that should have given up more points to the Tigers than what they did. This Louisville team is definitely the toughest that Clemson had faced so far, and will give the Tiger defense all that it can handle.