ACC Atlantic, Heisman on the Line: Preview, Prediction for Louisville vs. Clemson

The No. 3 Louisville Cardinals (4-0) and No. 5 Clemson Tigers (4-0) will clash under the lights on Saturday night, and the winner will have the inside track in the ACC Atlantic. With the Florida State Seminoles having one loss, one of these teams will make a big step towards a division title with a win. The Heisman Trophy is also up for grabs, and the winning quarterback could make a big leap with the voters. Let’s break down the matchup.

ACC Atlantic on the Line

The Tigers have won a school-record 18 straight games at home, but Louisville will put that record to test on Saturday night. The Cardinals enter with the nation’s top offense at 63.5 points per game. And this Lamar Jackson cat is really, really good.

His 25 touchdowns through four games (and just 11 quarters I might add) is the most in college football since 2000, and the sophomore is currently on track to score around 75 touchdowns this season. So how do the Tigers go about stopping him?

Clemson’s defense has thrived despite dealing with several new starters, and that consistency is something that makes Brent Venables one of the best coordinators in the country. The Tigers are coming off an extraordinary defensive effort in which it held Georgia Tech to just 124 total yards.

The front seven is deep, and rotating guys in will help challenge Jackson. The area Louisville must attack is the Tigers secondary, which has three first-time starters. Through four games, Clemson hasn’t really faced a great passing team. Wins over Auburn and Georgia Tech are noteworthy, but neither presented a passing attack like the Tigers will see from Louisville.

This game will come down to whichever defense can force turnovers. Both offenses have the potential to put up 40-plus, so a big key to victory will be getting pressure on the quarterback. The team that can get pressure on the other quarterback and force turnovers will likely win this game.

If the winner is Louisville, the Cardinals will control their own destiny in the Atlantic. Clemson and Florida State would need Louisville to lose twice, and with its remaining schedule, that isn’t highly probable.

Clemson still has Florida State at the end of October, but a win Saturday would be a great first step. This division could also end in a 3-way tie, if Clemson beats Louisville but loses to Florida State. If that is the case, the ACC recently announced that a private third party would decide the winner, according to ESPN. The easiest route is to win the conference outright without a third party, and that’s something both teams will have in mind come Saturday night.

Heisman Trophy on the Line Too?

It’s still a little early to be discussing the Heisman Trophy, considering the way last season ended for Leonard Fournette. But this game could give us a clear frontrunner after five weeks. Lamar Jackson has stole the show early on, but Deshaun Watson could take over the top spot if he plays well and wins.

The only big game left for Louisville is against Houston, so Saturday night could be one of Jackson’s last opportunities to perform on the big stage. If he leads Louisville to a win and puts up big numbers, he will begin to distance himself from the rest of the crowd.

While Watson’s Heisman hopes took a bit of a dip in September, a big performance against Louisville could make people forget about those early struggles. Clemson’s offense has rolled in consecutive weeks, and Watson is starting to look like the All-American he was last season. He completed 32 of his 48 passes against Georgia Tech, and he is getting all of his receivers involved. Seven Tigers receivers have five or more catches this season, so Watson will have a strong supporting cast in this game.

Keys for Clemson

  • Have to find ways to keep Jackson in the pocket
  • Secondary has to win more than it loses on 50/50 balls down the field
  • The run game has to get going after a slow start, because that will open things up for Watson.

Keys for Louisville

  • Take shots and challenge Clemson’s secondary
  • Keep the run game going, and control the clock with first downs in a tough road environment
  • Take away Clemson’s run game and force Watson to throw down the field, where he has not been as accurate this season

Prediction

This matchup will come down to whichever defense can force a big turnover. At home, I think the Tigers have the ability to put a lot of pressure on Jackson. It’s a tough place to play, and you don’t get to 18 consecutive home wins by luck. Clemson played on the big stage multiple times last year, and a lot of those guys are back. And oh yeah, by the way, Watson is 22-2 as the starting quarterback at Clemson. He can beat you with his arm or his legs, and he will find a way to win this game. The Tigers were underdogs against Notre Dame, Florida State and Oklahoma a year ago, and they won all three of those games. Swinney and his staff know how to play the underdog card, and they will get the best of their players on Saturday night.

Clemson 33, Louisville 30

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About Zach Gilliland

Contributor for All Sports Talk, Bleacher Report, and Saturday Edge. Senior at the University of South Carolina-Upstate, where I hope to graduate with a degree in Education and a minor in Journalism in 2017. If it's Saturday, I'm 100 percent likely to be sitting in front of a television watching college football. Follow me on Twitter @ZachGilliland93