CRAWFORD | ESPN's Howard, Herbstreit expect Louisville to face a - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | ESPN's Howard, Herbstreit expect Louisville to face adversity at Clemson

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WDRB photo by Eric Crawford. WDRB photo by Eric Crawford.

CLEMSON, S.C. (WDRB) -- The problem with the kind of numbers that Lamar Jackson and the University of Louisville offense are putting up is that sometimes they’re too good to be believed.

That’s why one of the national narratives heading into Saturday’s 8 p.m. game at No. 5-ranked Clemson is that the third-ranked Cardinals, once again, still have something to prove.

Louisville has rolled over all-comers in jumping to a 4-0 start and vaulting 16 spots in the Associated Press Top 25. Included in that has been a blowout of No. 2-ranked Florida State at home two weeks ago. The Cardinals have the No. 1 Heisman Trophy candidate in Lamar Jackson, lead the nation in total offense and have an average victory margin of 41 points.

But Clemson will be a different kind of test. The Tigers have won 18 in a row in Death Valley. After a long climb to ACC supremacy, they aren’t ready to hand it over just yet. And there’s no reason they should. Their quarterback, Deshaun Watson, led them to the NCAA Playoff Championship game a year ago and himself is a top candidate for the Heisman.

Clemson has the nation’s No. 3 ranked defense and is ranked No. 4 in scoring defense.

While the Cardinals, and especially Jackson, are in the words of ESPN analyst Desmond Howard, “the flavor of the month,” some around college football see this game as yet another threshold for the program to cross. Count fellow ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit among that number.

“This Louisville team has never faced adversity yet,” Herbstreit said yesterday in an interview on Clemson’s campus. “That’s the thing I’m most anxious to see, is how they respond to Death Valley, at night, if they get down. How will they overcome that? Will they be able to overcome that? If they pass this test in this environment against this team, then I think you go from, ‘They’re off to a good start,’ to, ‘Wow, that’s the team to beat.’ So we’re going to learn a lot more about both teams.”

Both Howard and Herbstreit said the game could come down to the defenses. Clemson’s has been good all season, but the two Power 5 conference opponents it has faced, Auburn and Georgia Tech, have offenses ranked No. 99 and No. 100 nationally. The best offensive team it played, Troy, averages 42.5 points per game but managed only 24 against Clemson.

“Dexter Lawrence. Christian Wilkins, these guys are as good as there are in the country,” Herbstreit said. “They’ve got to win up front. If they don’t win up front, it’s going to be really hard to stop them.”

Because of that, Herbstreit said when he attended Clemson’s practice on Thursday, he did something a little different.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever come to a Clemson Thursday practice and immediately gone to the defensive side of the field to watch (coordinator) Brent (Venables) and the defense to see their plan,” he said. “I’m anxious to see if there’s a defense schematically that’s designed to stop Lamar Jackson. If there’s a coordinator you would give credence to it would be Brent based on his success, and I can’t wait to see the plan that he comes up with and how he takes away Lamar Jackson, or if he’s able to, because Lamar Jackson is like watching a video game right now.”

At the same time, Howard said he wants to see Jackson and the Louisville offense against a defense of Clemson’s caliber. He gave credit to Louisville for beating Florida State soundly, but is far from sold on the Seminoles’ defense. The other defenses Louisville has faced are ranked No. 111, 114 and 117 in the country, and only one of them was a Power 5 team. Having been hit hard by injuries, Florida State’s defense is an uncharacteristic 85th in the nation.

“I don’t know if Florida State’s defense is that good,” Howard said. “The way I look at Florida State is this: Florida State played two meaningful games, Ole Miss and Louisville. They only played, if you break those games into halves, four halves. They’ve only played one good half of football. The other three halves they were hot garbage. So I don’t know if you would put that defense up there as a defense that you’re going to measure an offense against, just because they’ve got that spear on the side of the helmet.”

At the same time, Herbstreit warned that the Louisville offense is more than Lamar Jackson. It’s the play-calling of Bobby Petrino.

“I think that’s why Michael Vick tweeted out what he tweeted out in saying that Lamar Jackson is five times the player that I was at Virginia Tech,” he said. “When I heard that, I thought, it’s a combination of how athletic and explosive Lamar Jackson is, but it’s combined with Bobby Petrino. Bobby Petrino is a mastermind of how to attack defenses. You have to get ready for how sophisticated he can be in passing the ball, but you also have to worry about, my gosh, zone read, quarterback run. Most teams that run that kind of offense don’t quite have the passing game to complement it. Louisville does. That’s really what makes it so challenging to stop them.”

Neither was ready to make a pick.

“Stay tuned for GameDay,” Howard said.

But Herbstreit, while he acknowledged how high the stakes are, also said it won’t be the end for the loser -- or the end of its quarterback’s Heisman hopes.

“No matter what happens in this game, whoever loses, as long as they compete, they’re not out of the race,” Herbstreit said. “Just like whoever loses this game, they’re not out of the playoff race. Lets just say that the quarterback, whoever loses, competes and they win out and he plays really well, he’s going to still be right in the discussion. If Louisville loses this game, or Clemson loses this game, and they win out and miss the ACC championship game but they keep playing the way they look right now, you can make a pretty strong case that they’re one of the top four teams. As much as I want to say everything is at stake on Saturday, I still think there’s a chance for the losing team and the losing quarterback to have a magical year.”

But first, maybe these teams and their QBs can give us a magical game.

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