CRAWFORD | Cards carry lots of questions into showdown at Clemso - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Cards carry lots of questions into showdown at Clemson

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AP photo by Garry Jones. AP photo by Garry Jones.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- There has been no shortage of smoke and mirrors in Louisville this week. DeVante Parker is back, or is he? Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino did not publicly name a starting quarterback.

As the University of Louisville football team heads into Death Valley to face Clemson Saturday afternoon, it will carry more question marks than the SAT.

An offhanded comment about handling the atmosphere at Clemson has the home fan base riled up. Noting that the Carrier Dome at Syracuse is an indoor stadium and that the noise is amplified, Petrino said at his weekly news conference that he didn't think Clemson -- which expects in excess of 80,000 fans for Saturday's game -- would be much louder.

Clemson fans aim to prove him wrong, and have organized several initiatives to accentuate their noise.

But that may be the least of Petrino's concerns heading into Decibel Valley.

He needs to figure out a way for his offense to move the ball against a fast and athletic Clemson defensive front.

Freshman Reggie Bonnafon has started back-to-back games. The opinion here is that he's getting ready to start a third. It would be a surprise to see Petrino turn away from a young quarterback who is improving and getting results. Sophomore Will Gardner is ready to play, however, and could be in the game quickly if Bonnafon doesn't handle the offense -- or the atmosphere.

Petrino took the unusual step Monday of declaring that Parker, the team's star receiver who set a school-record with 12 TD catches last season, back and ready to play. He said that Parker would be available, but reports after this week's practices have been mixed.

The opinion here is that if Parker were ready to be a major weapon, Petrino would've said nothing about it. Still, his presence on the field could open up passing opportunities elsewhere. I don't expect to see him much.

That leaves much of the burden in today's game on a U of L defense ranked No. 1 in the nation, but it hasn't faced a challenge quite like Clemson's offense, and freshman quarterback  Deshaun Watson, who has thrown for 701 yards and eight touchdowns in the past two games.

Clemson's is a big-play offense under Watson, who leads the Football Bowl Subdivision in 11.1 yards per attempt. He has thrown 12 touchdown passes this season with only one interception.

While Louisville has built its defensive reputation by stopping the run and snagging interceptions, it'll be tested in the secondary like it hasn't been all season against Watson. If the Cardinals can prevent the big play, their red-zone defense could be in position to make a statement. Clemson hasn't been especially dangerous inside the opponent's 20 this season.

"They are starting to create a little bit of an identity," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said of Louisville. "They are very salty, athletic, fast and long guys and do a good job with pressure packages. Keith Kelsey is and outstanding defender and Lorenzo Mauldin is one of the top players in the nation in career sacks along with Vic Beasley. They do a lot with Mauldin. He will come up the edge and up the middle and move him around. They do an excellent job in trying to create some confusion in where their pressure is coming from. They do an excellent job on the back end. This is the most aggressive secondary that we have played. They will attack you downhill. Their safeties really want to be involved. They are very physical. Again, they are number one in the nation defensively for a reason. It shows up on tape when you watch them. They are a big challenge for us."

Petrino, who has been frustrated that his offense hasn't come around as quickly as he'd hoped, said that he's having to adjust himself to having a team whose biggest weapon is its defense.

"It's new for me, it's not something I'm used to, not being able to go out there and just call plays freely and throw the ball deep and do all that, but we're not really there yet," Petrino said. "We're not there in the protection aspect, we're not there in experience at the quarterback. That was the beauty of my first year here with Stefan (LeFors). Stefan knew how to change any play, so you could just call 'em up and then if it wasn't there or there was something that hurt our protection, he could just change it and get you out of a bad call. We're a little less experienced. And we've seen a little more variety of defenses that have made it where you have to be a little more conservative and not hurt our defensive play. I think that's what's new to me, is really making sure we understand our strength is on defense, offensively we've got to drive the ball, wear 'em down, get the ball in the end zone and then win the game in the fourth quarter."


3:30 p.m.

TV: ESPN U (Anish Shroff, Kelly Stouffer, Cara Capuano)

LINE: Clemson by 9 1/2


BIG DOGS: The last time an opponent was favored by as many as 9 1/2 over Louisville in the regular season was West Virginia in the 2012 season, when the Mountaineers were ranked 24th nationally and were a 12-point favorites. Louisville won 38-35 by forcing some big turnovers and getting rushing TDs from three different players.

DEFENSIVE STREAK: Louisville hasn't allowed an offensive touchdown in 13 quarters, since their 23-21 loss at Virginia on Sept. 13.

RED ZONE DEFENSE: In 16 trips into the red zone this season, U of L opponents have scored just five touchdowns.

Louisville sophomore Brandon Radcliff has averaged 119.5 yards per game rushing over the past two games, with four touchdowns.

GRASS AGAIN: Saturday's game will be only the eighth game the Cardinals have played on natural grass in the past three seasons. They are 6-1 in those games, with the only loss being this year's setback at Virginia.

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