In the week leading up to the Florida State game, all everyone wanted to know was if Lamar Jackson could continue his breakneck pace against a program like the Seminoles. People wondered if he and Louisville could pass this litmus test.
They passed with flying colors. Jackson rushed for 146 yards and four touchdowns on 17 carries, while throwing for another 216 and another score as the Cardinals routed then No. 2 FSU, 63-20, at Papa John’s Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky.
Now comes the second test? Can he do it against No. 3 Clemson? Can the fourth-ranked Cardinals come into Death Valley on Saturday night and beat the defending ACC Champions, a team that played for the national championship nine months ago?
It’s just two of the many unknowns when looking at this Louisville team, who has surprised everyone with its 4-0 start in the first month of the season.
On the other side of the field, no one is surprised to see the Tigers where they are. They are 4-0, but the four wins did not come as easy, or mainly as pretty, as some figured they would. Quarterback Deshaun Watson, the preseason favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, has not put up the numbers everyone expected, and some question whether Clemson is as good as advertised.
However, when looking at this battle between the upstart Jackson and the now savvy veteran in Watson, there is one thing we do know. While some wonder if Jackson can handle the pressure of being front and center, everyone knows Watson can.
This is becoming an old hat for Watson, who came off the bench in his first college game at Georgia, and on his second pass threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Charone Peake. He then came off the bench at Florida State two weeks later and completed 19 of 28 passes for 266 yards in an overtime loss to the top-ranked Seminoles.
He ended the Tigers’ five-game losing streak to rival South Carolina by throwing for 269 yards and two touchdowns on 14 of 19 passing, while also running for two scores. By the way, he did it while playing with a torn ACL.
Then of course there is last season where he shined every time on the big stage, earning ACC and Orange Bowl MVP honors, while capping the season with his 478 total yards and four touchdowns against Alabama in the national championship game.
“There is nothing like having the old savvy veteran,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “He is not going to panic on you if he makes a mistake. He is not going to go crazy if he comes out and throws three touchdown passes right out of the gate and you are up 21-0. He is going to have some poise to him and understand that you have to play four quarters.”
Swinney says having Watson playing in big games like in Saturday’s ACC Atlantic Division Showdown against Louisville, just gives the entire team confidence they can beat anyone they are playing. Watson is 22-2 as a starter, including 21-1 in games he starts and finishes.
“He is not just a veteran guy, but a great player,” Swinney said.
And that is something we all already know.