Posted on September 14, 2017, by Travis Pulver
One of the hardest things to do in college football is repeat. There have been very few back-to-back national champions and only one back-to-back Heisman Trophy winner. But the No. 3 Clemson Tigers are hoping to buck one of those trends. To do so, they will need to make it much harder for Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson to buck the other.
When the season began, there were not many who expected Jackson to have a shot at repeating. But after racking up 1002 total yards and eight touchdowns against Purdue and North Carolina he has become the favorite.
However, the Boilermakers and Tar Heels are not known for having tough defenses. It took a Herculean effort by Jackson in the second half with the help of three Purdue interceptions (including a pick-6) to help the Cardinals pull off the win.
North Carolina hung with Louisville through three-quarters and even led heading into the fourth quarter, 28-27. Once again, it was a Herculean effort by Jackson that saved the day.
While the college football-loving free world is looking upon Jackson as the Heisman frontrunner now, Cardinals fans want to believe their team can be more than just the team behind the Heisman frontrunner. They want a national championship contender and think they have one.
The best way for the No. 14 Cardinals to prove they do have what it takes would be to take down the defending champs.
Clemson isn’t exactly the same team that beat Jackson and his Cardinals 42-36 last year. If anything—it may be better.
Kelly Bryant isn’t in the same class as Deshaun Watson, but he has proven to be a talented and resilient player with a world of potential. He had a very efficient day against a vastly inferior Kent State team in his first start (16-22 for 236 yards, one touchdown, and one interception; seven carries for 77 yards and a touchdown).
He wasn’t as effective against a very tough Auburn team last week (19-29 for 181 yards; 19 carries for 59 yards and two touchdowns. But he proved he could lead the team through tougher, more challenging games. He also showed he can make the big, clutch plays when the team needs him to.
It’s hard to say how effective Clemson’s secondary will be against Louisville’s passing attack since they haven’t faced one this season that was any good. However, if the defense rushes Lamar Jackson like they did Jarrett Stidham, it could be a long day for Louisville fans.
Of course, the hard part will be actually tackling him when they get close enough to try. If they don’t, Jackson’s passing number may suffer, but his rushing numbers may skyrocket. He had five games with 150+ rushing yards last season including a 162-yard, two touchdown day against Clemson.
“When he gets to running around, he’s a handful and we saw that last year up close,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said (ESPN). “He’s going to make his plays — that’s going to happen — but we’ve got to minimize them and do a great job of taking good angles, and when we get our hands on him hang on and tackle.
“He’s fun to watch, but he’s not fun to prepare for, he’s not fun to play against. He makes a lot of people look bad.”
Lamar Jackson is a tremendous talent as is his top running back, Malik Williams, and receiver, Jaylen Smith. They will have a much better time against the Clemson defense than Jarret Stidham and his Auburn teammates did—but not much better. Don’t be shocked if defensive lineman Austin Bryant has another banner day (like last week).
Jackson will lead the offense to at least a couple touchdowns. But the Cardinals defense is going to give up much, much more to Kelly Bryant and the Clemson offense. With the whole college football-loving nation watching this one in prime time, it could very well end up being Kelly Bryant’s coming out party.
Odds makers are only making Clemson a three-point favorite, but the Tigers will win by at least a touchdown.