LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – It wasn't the low point of Louisville football’s precipitous fall, but it was, let’s call it, the first circle around the toilet bowl when Clemson lit up Louisville 77-16 last season.
It almost seemed, around the eighth or ninth Clemson touchdown, like even piling on Bobby Petrino wasn't fun anymore. One game later, after a 56-35 debacle of a loss at Syracuse, Petrino was sent packing.
A year later, Louisville enters a home matchup against Clemson with a 4-2 record, having just knocked off an unbeaten Wake Forest team on the road. It hasn't been enough to erase the memory of how far the program fell last season, but it is enough to fan some flames of hope in Louisville.
Asked about the Cardinals team he coached against last year versus the Scott Satterfield-coached team he expects to encounter at noon Saturday in Cardinal Stadium, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney used some pretty frank language at his news conference on Tuesday.
"I can’t say enough about the job that Scott (Satterfand) his staff have done," Swinney said. "It's incredibly obvious to watch the difference in where they are right now and what I saw last year in getting ready for Louisville. It's polar opposite. It's a lot of the same guys, but they've just got them playing with belief. Their effort is tremendous. They have an excellent scheme on both sides and it’s just a different deal. They've rushed for over 200 yards on everybody they've played except Florida State – including Notre Dame. They're one of the best in the country at plays of 10 yards or more. They've been explosive. They're a team that I think is playing really well and a team that you can just see improving."
And Swinney credits Satterfield for that improvement. The two know each other, mainly through trips Satterfield made to Clemson while he was a coach at Appalachian State, studying the Tigers' culture as well as schemes and coaching philosophies.
Satterfield said those trips have stuck with him as Clemson has risen to the top of the college football world, and he was unabashed that he has taken some pages from the Tiger playbook in terms of developing players – and off-the-field culture.
"I've seen it grow," Satterfield said of Clemson’s program back in July. "And I think we can do that at Louisville. I 100 percent think we can do that at Louisville. And I've kind of compared, and told our staff, what Clemson did over the last eight years. We can do that here. They were a team that was flirting around .500, and all of a sudden, now you win a few games, get a couple of big-time recruits, and it gets going to what it is now. Dabo has done a great job. Phenomenal ... Their culture is very similar to what we had at App and what we'll have at Louisville. Very similar. That's where we want to be. There's no hiding that. They just won the whole thing, and that's where we want to be."
Swinney said that Louisville presents some challenges offensively and in the return game. But nobody is going to seriously buy that the Tigers are threatened as a 24-point favorite.
Still, the Clemson coach said that he thinks Louisville will get it going under Satterfield.
"Coaching matters. No question about that," Swinney said. "I have no idea, I know they had a coaching change, I think not long after our game, maybe a game after. But they just were a team in disarray last year. They were a team that, for whatever reason, just wasn't playing hard. But let me tell you, it's a different deal now. And they've got dudes. It's not like they’re playing freshmen. . . . So they’ve come in, again, coaching matters, and this group has come in and you can tell that these kids believe in what they’re trying to do, and they really connected with the team and are doing the things you need to do in terms of developing leadership. . . . This is a team that's not going to quit. This is a team that you're going to have to go win the game. So I'm excited about the challenge, looking forward to it. I've got a lot of respect for Scott and the way they do things, and no doubt he’s going to build something special there in Louisville."
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