One of the questions heading into Saturday’s ACC Atlantic Division clash between No. 2 Clemson at No. 14 Louisville is how will the Cardinals’ youthful offensive line handle Clemson’s talented and experienced defensive front?
Last year, Louisville’s line struggled to protect quarterback Lamar Jackson, especially against talented defensive lines. Clemson had five sacks, Houston had 11 and LSU had six in the Citrus Bowl. In all, Louisville allowed 47 sacks in 2016 and finished the year ranked 126 out of 130 FBS schools in sacks allowed.
Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino tried to fix those issues in the off-season. He first brought in a new line coach, Mike Summers, and brought in three true freshmen who are all listed on the Cardinals’ two-deep depth chart. Mekhi Becton (6-7, 340), a former three-star prospect that was ranked as the No. 43 offensive tackle by 247, starts at right tackle, while Caleb Chandler (6-4, 290) is the backup left guard and Cole Bentley (6-3, 316) is the backup right guard.
Redshirt freshman Robbie Bell (6-6, 319) is also the starter at center.
“It’s something that you work on every week is being able to make sure you work your technique and your protection, and your schemes and your protection,” Petrino said during Wednesday’s ACC Coaches Teleconference.
Through the first two games, so far so good, as Louisville’s O-line has allowed just two sacks—one in each game—against Purdue and North Carolina. However, Clemson’s defensive front is a whole different beast and this will be the first time the Cardinals’ offensive line has truly been tested.
In last week’s win over Auburn, the Tigers recorded 11 sacks, including four from defensive end Austin Bryant who became the first Clemson player to be named National Defensive Player of the Week by the Football Writers Association, by the Chuck Bednarik Award and the Walter Camp Association in the same week.
Of course the Tigers also have Fiesta Bowl MVP Clelin Ferrell at the other defensive end spot as well as All-American Christian Wilkins and 2016 ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year Dexter Lawrence in the middle.
“They’ve got a great front. We’re familiar with a lot of the guys,” Petrino said. “They do a great job of mixing up what they do. They’re probably as multiple as anybody that we play all year, so it’s going to be about recognition and technique and playing hard.”
It’s not just Clemson’s offensive line Petrino is worried about. He is also worried about the Tigers’ linebackers, led by Kendall Joseph and Dorian O’Daniel, as well of a secondary that smothered Auburn’s receivers last week.
“They’re a great group,” Petrino said. “They’re big and fast and physical. Obviously they’ve got a great defensive front and linebackers that can really run. They do a good job in the secondary. They’re very solid across the board.”
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