If 14th-ranked Louisville is to have a chance at home against No. 3 Clemson on Saturday, it likely will boil down to protecting quarterback Lamar Jackson.
In last year’s wild, turnover-filled game at Death Valley in Clemson, both teams topped 500 yards in total offense and they combined for eight turnovers (five by Clemson, with three of them interceptions by Deshaun Watson).
But Watson wasn’t sacked once, while Clemson got to Jackson five times. In a game that was nearly equal in all other aspects, that was one difference in Clemson’s 42-36 victory.
The two teams are 2-0, the second season they met undefeated. They were both 4-0 when they played last year.
Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino sees the same type of Clemson defense — which had 11 sacks last week in a 14-6 victory over Auburn.
“They’re big and fast and physical,” he said on Wednesday during the ACC coaches teleconference. “Obviously they’ve got a great defensive front and linebackers that can really run. They seem very similar.”
Petrino said Clemson is “as multiple as anybody that we play all year,” in terms of stunts and scheme.
“They do a great job of mixing up what they do,” he said. “It’s going to be about recognition and technique and playing hard.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said he sees a better version of Lamar Jackson on film. Jackson has compiled 1,010 total yards and thrown for five touchdowns and run for three in Louisville’s first two games.
“He’s definitely a more mature player … he’s bigger, stronger [and] just like all players as they gain experience, they gain confidence as well,” Swinney said.
Title defenses on the line
One storyline about the Louisville vs. Clemson game is that it’s the fourth time in history that the defending national champion has faced the defending Heisman Trophy winner — and it’s a fairly recent occurrence.
And in two of the first three times, the team winning the previous season’s national championship won the game.
The last time it happened was in 2013, when Alabama was coming off the national championship and faced Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel. The Crimson Tide won 49-42.
The only time the defending Heisman winner got the best of the defending national champion was in 2008 when Tim Tebow led the Florida Gators over LSU 51-21.
The first time it ever happened was in the 2005 BCS National Championship when Southern California dominated Oklahoma and Heisman winner Jason White 55-19.
N.C. State (1-1) plays Furman (0-2) on Saturday for the first time since 1985. Furman won its second consecutive game in the rivalry, 42-20, and went on to make the NCAA Division 1-AA national championship game.
The Paladins coach that day was Dick Sheridan. After the season ended and N.C. State finished 3-8, the school fired coach Tom Reed and hired Sheridan — who went on to post a 52-29-3 record in Raleigh, making six bowl appearances in seven years.
Furman’s coach on Saturday is Clay Hendrix, who played for Sheridan at Furman and was later a graduate assistant coach for the Wolfpack in 1986 and 1987.
The Paladins have lost their two games by a combined four points, 24-23 to Wofford and 34-31 to Elon.
“Furman’s played in two very close games and runs a difficult offense with [its] triple option,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said. “Difficult preparation.”
Clemson’s 11 sacks against Auburn last week tied three other schools for the most sacks against a ranked team since the NCAA began keeping the statistic in 2000. TCU did it against No. 17 Louisville in 2001, Auburn against No. 8 Alabama in 2005 and Houston against No. 5 Louisville last season.
Tigers’ defensive end Austin Bryant tied the school record with four sacks against Auburn.