It has been a tough year for Louisville football.
The Cardinals are in the middle of a five-game losing streak and are the only team left in the ACC this year without a conference win. It could get worse for Bobby Petrino’s team this Saturday as it visits No. 2 Clemson for a noon kickoff at Death Valley.
The Tigers (8-0, 5-0 ACC) are the last undefeated team in the conference, as well as overall, and are once again in the middle of the College Football Playoff race. They come into the ACC Atlantic Division showdown following a 49-point win at Florida State a week ago.
Clemson has outscored it last three opponents—Wake Forest, NC State and FSU—163-20.
“They’re a really good football team. They’ve got a great defense. Their defensive front, their coverage guys, their linebackers can all run and are very, very active, so we know that’s a great challenge,” Petrino said. “And then offensively, you know, you have to be able to stop or try to stop the two things that they can do really well, and that’s run the ball and throw it. You know, their quarterback has really improved, got a great arm, so we’ve got to come in and try to stop the run and force them to get in third-and-long situations.”
However, it has been hard for Louisville (2-6, 0-5 ACC) to stop anyone this year. The Cardinals rank 13th in the ACC in scoring defense (36.2 pts allowed/game) and 13th in total defense (438 yds allowed/game).
Things are not much better on the offensive end. Louisville has struggled to move the football with any consistency. It ranks last in the league in scoring offense (22.2 pts/game) and 13th in total offense (351.9 yds/game).
The Cardinals also hurt themselves by not taking care of the football. They rank 103rd nationally in turnovers lost with 16, while they’re minus-10 in turnover margin, which ranks 127th nationally out of 130 FBS teams.
Despite all the data to prove otherwise, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney views the Cardinals as the best 2-6 team he has seen.
“I don’t know how else to say it,” he said. “They’re record is not indicative of the players that they have. Sometimes you turn on the tape and you look at the team and it does not take long (to see why they have a losing record), but these guys right here, they have something. They’re physical. This is as well of a coordinator offensive scheme that we have gone against.
“They do a great job schematically. They have big, huge offensive linemen. Probably the biggest offensive line that we have played. They’re massive up front.”
Swinney is correct. The Cardinals are big up front. However, they have allowed an ACC worst 26 sacks this year. They have also given up 59 tackles behind the line of scrimmage which ranks 13th in the ACC.
Those numbers don’t bode well for the Cardinals in a matchup against a Clemson defensive front that ranks second in the ACC in sacks (26) and is second in the conference in tackles for loss (80). Last week, the Tigers had five sacks and 14 tackles for loss against Florida State.
The defensive line has been responsible for the majority of the Tigers’ sacks and tackles for loss.
“We know them real well because we’ve been going against them every year,” Petrino said. “But they have the combination of size, physicalness, speed. They all move really well and change directions. And then they know the game. You know, they’re very well-coached, and they understand the game, so they make it hard on your blocking schemes.”
As the data proves, Clemson has an edge on the other side of the line of scrimmage as well. Louisville ranks last in the ACC in sacks with just 8 and is last in the conference in tackles behind the line with just 30.
The Tigers have allowed just 30 tackles for loss all year, which lead’s the league, while they have given up just 12 sacks. By the way, Clemson ranks second in the ACC at running the football, gaining 237.0 yards per game on the ground.
In other words, the matchups say Saturday could be another tough day for Louisville.