It did not take Ben Boulware long to shift his attention to Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, who No. 3 Clemson will face this Saturday night in Death Valley.
The Clemson linebacker started watching tape of Jackson and the Cardinals’ win over Florida State on the bus ride back from Atlanta last Thursday night.
Instead of taking the weekend off to relax, Boulware watched Louisville’s games against Charlotte and Syracuse on Saturday as well as the Tigers’ win over the Cardinals last year. On Sunday, he turned on and watched the Marshall game.
It was a good thing Boulware got his extra studying in because right now no one has been able to stop the Cardinals, especially Jackson. The sophomore leads the nation in rushing touchdowns (12) and total touchdowns (25), and is second in total offense with more than 1,800 yards.
Jackson also ranks eighth in the country in rushing yards (131.5) and 12th in passing yards (332.5).
“He is a freak athlete and he can fly,” Boulware said.
And because of Jackson, Louisville’s offense is as freaky and as difficult to stop. The Cardinals are averaging 63.5 points a game to lead the country. They are first in the nation in plays of 20 yards or more with 41. They also lead the country in total offense (682.0), third in rushing offense (318.2) and 10th in passing offense (363.8).
“They do a bunch of funky formations to try and mess with your eyes,” Boulware said.
Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino also likes to get Jackson involved in the running game as much as he can.
“You have to have an extra hat to the ball now to defend him,” Boulware said. “Usually, the quarterback hands the ball off and he just sits there. Now that he is running the ball, they use the running back as another blocker so we have to have an extra hat. Defenses have had a difficult time adapting to that. I know Coach V will cook something up for us.”
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables is known for taking away what the opponent likes to do most. With No. 4 Louisville, it wants to run the football with Jackson and running back Brandon Ratcliff, who is averaging 106.8 yards per game.
“He has played well on film. Everyone is always talking about Lamar Jackson, but they have some playmakers with their tight ends, and their receivers. I think James Quick is one of their receivers. They have a lot of playmakers to help (Jackson) out. They have a great supporting cast for him,” Boulware said.
Last week, the Tigers limited Georgia Tech to 124 total yards of offense as they shut down the Yellow Jackets’ triple-option attack. However, because of Jackson’s ability to improvise, it will not be as simple for the Clemson defense this week.
“It is difficult because you have one mindset of a certain offense and it is completely opposite (this week), but we are up for the task.” Boulware said.
Boulware did pick up a couple of things from watching game tape this past weekend, especially in the Marshall game where the Thundering Herd did the best job of anyone in making Jackson stay in the pocket and deliver the football.
He rushed for a season-low 62 yards on 12 carries and was sacked a couple of times.
“Their D-line played pretty good. They had a couple of sacks in that game and they just kind of closed the pocket on him with blitzes and won some one-on-one matchups with their defensive ends and defensive tackles against their offensive line.
“I think their D-line played really well in that game.”
However, Jackson sill threw for a career-high 417 yards and five touchdowns while completing 24 of 44 passes in the 59-28 victory.
“They are a talented team. That’s why they are ranked number three in the nation,” Boulware said.