Last week, North Carolina linebacker Andre Smith was confident Louisville quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson was not going to beat the Tar Heels because they were going to make him throw the football to do it.
Jackson obliged them. The junior lit the UNC secondary up for 393 yards and three touchdowns on 25-of-39 passing in No. 14 Louisville’s 47-35 victory in Chapel Hill, N.C. By the way, Jackson also ran for 132 yards and two more scores against Smith and the North Carolina defense.
There will be no chatter coming from anyone on Clemson’s nationally ranked defense this week. The second-ranked Tigers have seen firsthand what Jackson can do and they have nothing but respect for the Louisville quarterback’s talent.
“He can do so much. He’s so dynamic with what he does,” defensive end Clelin Ferrell said on Monday. “People say he’s not a good passer and they’re crazy because I don’t know too many guys who put zip on the ball like he can… a guy that can throw with that type of velocity and with big-play ability like he does.
“He can throw it. He can put that thing on a rope 60 yards down the field. You can see that just from the UNC game this past weekend. Obviously we know what he can do with his feet.”
Jackson ran and threw all over the Tigers’ defense last year. He totaled 457 yards and three touchdowns in the classic played in Death Valley last year. Clemson kept him bottled in the first half, but then he exploded in the second half in rallying the Cardinals from an 18-point halftime deficit to an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter.
“You saw how he played against us,” Ferrell said. “He fought all night and that was really a good thing to see. He had his ups and downs but he never stopped fighting and that’s what I liked about him. He is truly a really, really good player and he’s one of the best players I’ve played against in college so you can’t take that away from him. He got everything he deserved last year.”
However, if there is any group that can slow down Jackson and the Cardinals’ offense, its Clemson’s defense. The Tigers are coming off a game in which they sacked Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham 11 times while holding the Cardinals to 117 total yards.
“They aren’t hearing any of that,” Ferrell said. “Knowing the coach they have over there they are going to come out and try to dominate us so we just have to be ready and just realize nobody is going to give us anything. We have to go out there and work for it.”
Clemson has not allowed a touchdown in its first two games, the first time that has happened since 1950, and ranks second in total defense, giving up just 118.5 yards per game.
However, slowing down Jackson is a whole different challenge.
“He is as dynamic of a runner as they come,” Ferrell said. “He is very athletic, quick-twist guy that can make any move. That whole offense goes off of him and they’ve given him the key and it’s his third year so that just makes it even harder.
“He just knows the system well, how well he knows his guys, and those guys love him. They play for him hard, too. The offensive lines blocks really hard for him. They have a good group up front. So it’s just a whole other level this year trying to stop that offense.”