Following Clemson’s dramatic 42-36 victory over Louisville last year, Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware told us he was glad he did not have to play Lamar Jackson again. It was the only time in his four-year career Boulware said that about an opposing player.
The good news for Boulware is that he will not have to play against the Heisman Trophy winner unless they meet up again on Sundays. The bad news for Boulware’s alma mater is that No. 2 Clemson visits Lamar Jackson and the 14th-ranked Cardinals this Saturday at Papa John’s Stadium in Louisville, Ky.
And the thing is Jackson might be even better this year than he was last year.
In Louisville’s 47-35 win over North Carolina this past Saturday, Jackson totaled 525 yards of offense, including 393 yards passing and three touchdowns and no interceptions on 25 of 39 pass attempts. He is just the second player in FBS history to throw for 300 yards and run for 100 in back-to-back games.
No surprise, Jackson leads the FBS in total offense (505.0), is fifth in passing (385.0), is 24th in rushing (119.5) and has 8 total touchdowns (5 passing and 3 rushing). He is also completing 64.7 percent of his passes (55-for-85) and most importantly has not thrown an interception or turned the ball over.
“I’m not deep enough into the tape just yet other than I did get to see a good bit of the game (on Saturday),” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “He is just very confident. He is very poised. You can tell that he is very sure of himself in the offense so that part has jumped out just from watching him (on Saturday).”
Jackson was all of those things last when he played the Tigers in Death Valley. He rallied the Cardinals from a 28-10 deficit with 26-unanswered points before Deshaun Watson led Clemson on two fourth-quarter touchdown drives to win the game.
Though Clemson shut Jackson down in the first half, he went off on a tired Brent Venables defense in the second half as five turnovers allowed Louisville to run 99 plays overall. Jackson finished the night with 457 total yards and three total touchdowns (1 passing and 2 rushing).
“That’s why he won the Heisman and a lot of people think he is the best player in the country,” Swinney said. “It is just hard to have answers. You do a great job in coverage and you got him stopped as far as on paper, but he just most of the time is better than your guy that is trying to tackle him.
“Once he gets out into space, he has the speed to break it. He is a huge challenge and will be for everybody he plays there is no question about it. We look forward to competing against him. We know what we are in for. He is going to make his plays so we just have to make a few more than they do.”
With that said, Clemson’s defense will be the best test of the year for Jackson as well. Purdue and North Carolina do not even come close to presenting the same kinds of challenges the Tigers will at all three levels.
Clemson’s defense is coming off a game in which it put up video-game like numbers, too, with its 11 sacks of Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham.
In two games this season, the Tigers have allowed just 118.5 yards per game, second in the country, and lead the nation in passing defense.
But Stidham is not Lamar Jackson.
“Well you have to tackle him when you get a chance,” Swinney said. “He is just hard to tackle. You have to be very disciplined with your rush lanes. Everybody has to play their gaps properly. You have to have your eyes on the right things. You have to mix your coverages.
“When he gets to running around he is a handful. We saw that last year up close. He is going to make his plays. That is going to happen. You just have to minimize them and do a great job of taking good angles.”
In other words, Clemson is not looking forward to playing Lamar Jackson.