Saturday night is setting up to be a thriller at Papa John’s Stadium in Louisville, Ky., as No. 2 Clemson travels to face the 14th-ranked Cardinals in a primetime showdown on ABC.
Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and the Tigers are no strangers to big games and are more than familiar with former Heisman Trophy winner and Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. Last season the two teams capped off a classic as Clemson beat the Cardinals thanks to a last-second stop on fourth down.
This year, both teams march into the game undefeated with something to prove. Jackson and the Cardinals look to prove they can win big games. The Tigers seek to validate their ranking and show their defense can stop anybody.
Wilkins is not shying away from Jackson’s ability or status.
“He is the best player in the college football,” the junior said. “He is a talented and dynamic player that is going to make plays… there is a reason he is the Heisman Trophy winner and it’s going to be good.”
Last season Jackson ventured into Death Valley for a top 5 matchup. He got flustered at times in the first half by Clemson’s defensive pressure.
In that first half the Tigers applied a heavy pass rush on the then sophomore quarterback, forcing him to make quick decisions and limiting his ability to make plays with his legs.
In the second half the Cardinals took advantage of a tired Tigers’ defense by running over 99 plays. By the time the game finished Jackson tallied 295 yards through the air with a touchdown and 162 yards on the ground and two more scores.
The Clemson defense did rack up five sacks and 10 tackles-for-loss. This season Wilkins and the defense knows what it is going to take to stop Jackson and they are eager for the opportunity.
“We are really excited for the challenge,” said the junior defensive tackle.
The Connecticut native is not underestimating the task at hand.
“He is going to make plays but hopefully we can make more as a defense,” Wilkins said.
Wilkins attributes last season’s early success against Jackson to preparation, and for the Tigers to see similar results this year, preparation has to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
As for the environment on College Gameday in Papa John’s Stadium on the road with everybody against the Tigers, Wilkins feeds off of it.
“I enjoy it,” he said. “Playing in the hostility… you have to stay locked in.”
Saturday’s game will be the 10th time in the last 30 games, Clemson has played in a top 15 matchup so the Tigers know what it takes to win big games, and for Wilkins and many of the Tigers, this week will be no different.
“If we are better than them we can beat them anywhere and anytime,” said Wilkins. “Let’s spot the ball and play.”