Jaylen Smith has never played at Clemson’s Death Valley, but he knows its reputation. That is why Louisville’s sophomore more wide receiver says the fourth-ranked Cardinals have to get off to a good start on Saturday when they play No. 3 Clemson.
“It is really important to get off to a good start because playing away (game) and in a place like Clemson, in Death Valley, it’s good to steal the momentum early so you can get the crowd out of it early and you can just play the game, instead of having to focus on the crowd,” Smith said.
Saturday’s 8 p.m. game on ABC, as expected, is sold out, meaning more than 82,000 fans will be packed into what is considered the loudest and most intimidating venue by opposing players, coaches and the media in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“Whoo, it is loud,” Louisville wide receiver Reggie Bonnafon said in an interview on TheCrunchZone.com.
Bonnafon knows as well as anyone. He started the game at quarterback for the Cardinals when they made the trip to Death Valley in 2014. It wasn’t a good experience for the junior. He completed just 5-of-13 passes for 62 yards and was sacked four times.
“We had a lot of guys that were able to go there two years ago so we will be prepared for it and we are excited for the opportunity,” Bonnafon said.
The Tigers’ 23-17 victory that afternoon was their sixth straight win at home, which has since grown to 18 straight victories in Death Valley, the second longest home-winning streak in college football.
However, Bonnafon knows they can’t worry about the crowd, the noise or Clemson’s 18-game home winning streak. He says they are focused on just accomplishing one of their season goals … beating Clemson.
“It’s always a goal of ours going into each season,” he said. “We have already accomplished one of those (beating Florida State) and this week we are working hard on the practice fields to try and take care of business. When Saturday presents itself, we are going to go out there and have some fun.”
No one has had as much fun as Louisville has had in the first month of the season. The Cardinals are averaging 63.5 points and 682 yards per game. However, they did struggle for a little while against Marshall before turning on the switch and scoring 28 second quarter points in a 59-28 win.
Bonnafon says they can’t afford to start slow against a Clemson team which ranks third nationally in total defense.
“A lot of their guys are experienced and they just play fast,” the wide receiver said “Clemson has always been known for having good defenses so we have looked at film on them. We respect them and we are just going to go out there and play our game.”
More than anything, the Cardinals will need quarterback Lamar Jackson to play his game. Jackson struggled early in the Marshall game, missing on six of his first 10 passes, while throwing an interception.
“Honestly, the whole offense did not feel like we played well at all,” Smith said.
Jackson, who threw for a career-high 417 yards and five touchdowns in the win, gave his performance an “F” after the game.
“He knows he can’t play like that against Clemson,” Smith said.
Smith, who had a 100-yard kick return against the Tigers last year, says they can’t allow Clemson’s defense to dictate the game like they allowed Marshall to do in the first quarter.
“We just have to execute what we know how to do, instead of doing like we did at Marshall and playing into their defense,” he said.
However, he also understands Clemson’s defense, isn’t Marshall.
“They will be a little bit more athletic than we have seen earlier in the year. It’s about the same athleticism we saw against Florida State,” Smith said. “They have big guys. They have a few guys coming back in the secondary and a few linebackers coming back so they have the experience factor. I feel like they will be a little bit tougher to play against, especially down in Death Valley. They have the home field advantage so it will be rocking down there.”
—Photo courtesy Clemson Athletic Communications