I sit here early this morning wondering, “How in the world is Clemson’s defense going to slow down this Louisville offense?”
Through the first month of the season no one has been able to. Look at these point totals: 70, 62, 63 and 59. The Cardinals are averaging 63.5 points a game. I have not remembered an offense being this explosive in one of the Power 5 Conferences since Barry Switzer’s Oklahoma teams of the 1980s.
They are first in the nation in plays of 20 yards or more with 41. They lead the country in scoring offense, total offense (682.0), third in rushing offense (318.2) and 10th in passing offense (363.8).
At this point, they seem unstoppable, and so does their extremely gifted quarterback, Lamar Jackson.
Jackson has been a human highlight reel through the first month of the season. He seems more like a guy you play with in a video game than a real human being. Through the first four games he has put up PlayStation like numbers.
He has already put up 1,856 yards of total offense (second nationally), including 405 against Charlotte, 610 vs. Syracuse, 362 vs. Florida State and 479 against Marshall.
When it comes to touchdowns, he has scored four in one game twice and has 12 overall – No. 1 in the country. Don’t worry he can throw the ball, too. He has 13 touchdown passes, including six against Charlotte and five this past Saturday against Marshall.
Jackson has thrown for 400 or more yards already twice this season, and has rushed for at least 119 yards in three of the four games. As a quarterback, he ranks eighth in the country in rushing yards (131.5) and 12th in passing yards (332.5).
“He is special. He is definitely an elite guy,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “He has probably been the best player in the country this (first month). I think he leads the nation in rushing touchdowns.
“You are not dealing with just another guy. He is an elite player so we are going to have to play our best game to hold this guy down.”
So how does Clemson hold Jackson down? How does it slow down this Cardinals’ offense? Can it slow it down?
When Swinney took over the Clemson football program in 2008, he said the only way Clemson can become an elite program again is if it plays defense at a championship level with an offense that can complement it. Of course it helps to have a guy like Deshaun Watson playing quarterback as well.
But it is no coincidence the Tigers became an elite level program when it started producing top 10 defenses year in and year out. In 2013, the Tigers ranked seventh nationally. In 2014, they led the country in total defense and in 2015, they finished 10th.
So far, through the first four games of the 2016 season, Clemson ranks third in total defense (218.5), third in passing defense (125.8), fifth in scoring defense (11.0) and 15th in rushing defense (92.5).
“First of all, our staff does a great job of recruiting. To have consistency in your program, you have to recruit well,” Swinney said. “I think it’s about the type of players you have, and when you recruit well and develop well and evaluate well, you have a chance to have some consistency. That’s the lifeline, and our staff has done a great job of evaluating and recruiting and developing those guys.”
Those guys on defense are guys like defensive lineman Christian Wilkins, defensive tackle Carlos Watkins, defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, defensive end Clelin Ferrell, linebacker Ben Boulware, linebacker Kendall Joseph, cornerback Cordrea Tankersley and safety Jadar Johnson to name a few.
“That’s the key, and we’ve got the best D-coordinator in the country,” Swinney said. “Brent (Venables) just does an incredible job, along with Marion (Hobby). Marion’s our co-defensive coordinator, and he does an incredible job. He and Dan Brooks, there’s nobody better. These guys do a great job of coaching that D-line, and the techniques and all the technical aspects of the position.
“And Mike Reed does a fantastic job on the back end with the secondary. So, we’ve got a really good group and a great support staff that helps those guys with their daily work. Just a good staff, a good group and they take a lot of pride in what they do and pride in preparation. There is a lot of intensity in what they do with Brent, and our guys respond to that.”
So let’s see how they respond this week because if Clemson, with its elite defense, can’t slow down Jackson and the Cardinals, then nobody will.