The reigning national champions and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner square off in a marquee early-season matchup when No. 14 Louisville hosts No. 2 Clemson on Saturday. The defending champion Tigers are facing a second straight top-15 opponent, and their outstanding defense will face a tall task against Heisman Trophy quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Clemson has won all three previous meetings, but each has been decided by six points or fewer, including a 42-36 victory last year in which the Tigers made a fourth-down stop on their own 3-yard line to hold on. “We’ve had three really good battles with them – had our opportunities and have come up short – so this is something that is really important to our players,” Louisville coach Bobby Petrino told reporters. “First of all, we should have confidence that we’re there and that we can play, but it is up to us to win the game.” The Cardinals certainly have the offensive firepower to put the pressure on Clemson’s stout defense, as Jackson and Co. rolled up 705 total yards in last week’s 47-35 win at North Carolina and are averaging 41 points in their first two games. The key for both defenses will be attempting to make the opposing quarterback one-dimensional – Clemson must continue its excellent pass defense, while Louisville needs to limit Kelly Bryant in the running game.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, ABC. LINE: Clemson -3
ABOUT CLEMSON (2-0, 0-0 ACC): The Tigers have leaned on a dominant defense in their first two games, as they have yet to allow a touchdown and have given up only 237 yards of total offense. The anchor of that dominant unit is defensive end Austin Bryant, who was named National Defensive Player of the Week after recording seven tackles and four of the team’s 11 sacks against Auburn. The offense was stymied last week, but Kelly Bryant has been solid in his first two games as the starter, passing for 417 yards with a touchdown and an interception and rushing for a team-high 136 yards and three scores.
ABOUT LOUISVILLE (2-0, 1-0): Jackson has accounted for 1,010 yards of total offense in a stellar start to his bid to become the second two-time Heisman Trophy winner. Maintaining that pace will be tricky against the Tigers, who hope to pressure Jackson and force someone else to beat them such as running backs Reggie Bonnafon and Malik Williams. The Cardinals’ defense has been excellent against the run, allowing just 34 yards per game on the ground, but that is mitigated by a susceptible secondary that has given up a whopping 338.5 yards per game through the air.
1. Clemson has won 10 consecutive games on opponents’ home fields.
2. Louisville is 8-11 against top-25 opponents under Petrino, including a win over No. 2 Florida State last season.
3. The Tigers are 40-1 – and have won 36 straight – under coach Dabo Swinney when they rush for at least 200 yards.
PREDICTION: Clemson 27, Louisville 23