LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney expects Micale Cunningham to start at quarterback for Louisville when the Cardinals host the second-ranked Tigers today at noon from Cardinal Stadium.
Cunningham left last week’s game due to an injury, but backup Evan Conley came in and led Louisville to a 62-59 victory over Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C. Swinney also expects to see Conley in the game and for the Cardinals to do what they do … run the football.
Louisville (4-2, 2-1 ACC) is ranked third in the ACC in rushing yards per game, averaging 227.0.
“They are still going to run their offense,” Swinney said. “It does not matter who is in there (at quarterback). They are going to do what they do, and they are very committed to it and both of them can throw the football.”
The Cardinals also average 262 yards per game throwing the football, which ranks fifth in the conference.
Who has the edge?
Clemson’s run defense vs. Louisville’s rushing attack: The Cardinals are led by running back Javian Hawkins, who ranks second in the ACC in rushing, averaging 103.7 yards per game on the ground. He is averaging 5.6 yards per carry, and his 622 yards also rank second in the conference. He has scored 3 rushing touchdowns this year. As a team, the Cardinals are averaging 227.0 yards. At times this year, the Tigers have had issues stopping the run, especially against heavy run teams like Louisville. Clemson is yielding 104.5 yards per game on the ground. However, opponents are averaging just 2.9 yards per carry overall. Clemson has allowed just four rushing touchdowns all season, which leads the ACC. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s B.T. Potter vs. Louisville return specialist Hassan Hall: Hall returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown—the second one of his career—in the first quarter in last week’s win at Wake Forest. The Atlanta, Ga., native totaled 220 yards on kickoff returns in the win, averaging 55.0 yards a return. He had a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Clemson last year and set a school record with 247 return yards. B.T. Potter may have lost his job as the Tigers’ field goal kicker, but his leg is still one of their biggest weapons as the kickoff specialist. The sophomore has kicked off 32 times this year and 27 of those have gone for touchbacks, most of which just sail through the end zone. That means 84.4 percent of the time his kicks are not returned. What better way to neutralize the ACC’s best kick returner than by kicking the ball through the end zone? Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s offense vs. Louisville’s defense: Last year, Clemson put up near record numbers against the Cardinals’ defense. And though Louisville’s defense this year is better than last year’s unit, it’s not that much better. The Cardinals are yielding 31.5 points and 434.7 yards per game. In last week’s win over Wake Forest, they allowed 40 first downs, 668 yards and 59 points. Though the national media wants to criticize Clemson’s offense, the Tigers are ahead of last year’s pace and are averaging 39.2 points and 497.0 yards per game. They are averaging 238.8 on the ground and 258.2 through the air. It’s hard to imagine Louisville slowing down quarterback Trevor Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne and wide receivers Tee Higgins, Amari Rodgers and Justyn Ross for four quarters. Advantage: Clemson
Bottom line: Louisville is a much better team this year and it is obvious when watching them play that they play hard for him. The offense is lightyears better, while the defense is improving. They still have a long way to go to compete consistently with the Tigers, but they are closer than they were. Louisville will score some points on the Tigers’ this afternoon, but in the end, Clemson will have too much firepower for the Cardinals.
Prediction: Clemson 45, Louisville 20
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