With so much talk about Lamar Jackson and the Louisville offense, people forget about the Cardinals defense, which ranks 13th nationally. But don’t think No. 3 Clemson hasn’t noticed.
The Tigers, who will host No. 4 Louisville on Saturday at 8 p.m. in Death Valley, know all too well how good the Cardinals are on the defensive side of the ball. Two years ago, they came to Clemson and limited the Tigers to 229 total yards. Last year, the Cardinals held them to 20 points – the lowest point total for Clemson all season.
Though Jackson and the Louisville offense have caught everyone off guard, the defense has been just as good and as solid as it always has been.
“I think it is the best defense we have seen,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “They are built similar to us. Structurally and schematically they do some different things, but they are built similarly.”
Those similarities are big, thick, strong guys inside, and long, athletic guys on the edge that can get after the quarterback. Their linebackers are good football players, and are very athletic. Middle linebacker Keith Kelsey, a senior, is the quarterback of the defense.
And then there is the secondary, led by safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, who is 6-foot-5, 228 pounds.
“They have some big starters back on defense, and everyone is back on their secondary. A 6-foot-5 guy back there at safety, so it is a complete team in every aspect,” Swinney said. “We are going to have to play our best football to this point to have a chance to move the ball effectively on these guys, there’s no question about that.”
The Cardinals (4-0, 2-0 ACC) are yielding just 278 yards per game. They rank 16th against the pass, as they give up just 156.3 yards per game through the air. They rank eighth nationally in sacks with 15 and 12th in tackles for loss with 34.
“I’m happy where we’re at right now. We’ve been able to really play good defense and tackling very well, doing a good job stopping the run and hitting the other team’s quarterback, so that always helps you win games,” Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino said.
But Petrino well tell anyone, what the Cardinals have seen the first four weeks from his opponents will be totally different this week in Clemson. The Tigers (4-0, 1-0 ACC) are clearly the best offense Louisville has faced to this point and considering the fact they have played a redshirt freshman and a sophomore the last two weeks with limited experience, Deshaun Watson is without a doubt the best quarterback they have seen.
“I think we’re playing good defense, and I’m excited about the way our front and linebackers and secondary are playing together. I think we’re a smart defensive team, so we’re able to do a lot of different things,” Petrino said. “Deshaun is a great football player. He can throw the deep ball. He can be very accurate in the medium and short-range passes. He can run with the ball, so he causes you a lot of issues. We’re going to really have to play well to slow him down.”
—Photo Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports