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Clemson, Lousiville Take Center Stage

By Carlos Pineda
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This Saturday evening, Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium will take center stage in arguably the biggest contest held in Louisville’s home field.

When you think about the ACC’s marquee rivalry, you immediately gravitate to Clemson-Florida State.

The two alpha dogs have proven to be the perennial powers in the Greensboro-based league. With Jimbo Fisher and Dabo Swinney at the helm, the bitter rivalry has without question elevated the perception of the conference across the country over the last few years. The winner of the past six meetings has gone on to win the ACC, and has produced two of the past four national champions.

But this Saturday evening, with the Florida State-Miami game postponed until October 7 due to Hurricane Irma, Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium will take center stage in arguably the biggest contest held in Louisville’s home field. Despite having played only three times, the Clemson-Louisville matchup has created intrigue and excitement in the Atlantic Division. The last two matchups in particular have seen the Tigers escape with close victories over the Cardinals on the road to the national championship game in 2015 and 2016.

Last year, proved to be one of college football’s best games of 2016, as eventual Heisman winner Lamar Jackson sparred it out with the unyielding veteran Deshaun Watson in an epic battle of top five teams under the lights of Death Valley. Despite passing for 295 yards and rushing for 162 yards, and helping erase an 18-point halftime deficit, Jackson and Louisville came up one yard short in a frustrating 42-36 loss.

Jackson, the junior quarterback, enters Saturday night’s home opener as the second player in FBS history to record at least 300 passing yards and 100 rushing yards in consecutive games. Against North Carolina last week, he had 525 yards of total offense six touchdowns as No. 14 Louisville manufactured over 700 yards of total offense for the third time under head coach Bobby Petrino.

With the prestigious individual honor in tow, Jackson and company appear poised to make a serious run at playing in Charlotte in early December. Louisville came close last year, but had to settle for co-division champions.

In facing Clemson, this marks the fourth time that the Cardinals face a defending national champion. They lost to Miami in 1984 and twice to Florida State (2000 and 2014).

One factor that will certainly be missing from Saturday’s super showdown is the noticeable absence of Watson. What we will see is the ACC’s best offense going up against its top defense. Louisville, which is averaging over 600 yards of total offense (614.5), faces a ferocious Clemson defense that is allowing 118.5 yards. The third-ranked Tigers have yet to give up a touchdown thus far this season, and are coming off their fourth consecutive win against Auburn. In the win, Clemson sacked Auburn’s quarterback 11 times. Defensive end Austin Bryant had four sacks, while linebacker Dorian O’Daniel led the defense with a career-best 14 tackles. Junior quarterback Kelly Bryant had a resourceful performance as he threw for 181 yards and rushed for 59.

The defending champions go on the road for the first time this season, and have won a school-record 10 consecutive games on the road dating back to the 2014 season.

Carlos Pineda - Carlos Pineda is a featured writer for Southern Pigskin. He covered the UCF Knights football team for Florida Today in 2010. Carlos' work has been published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel and Orlando Business Journal. He attended the University of Central Florida. Follow Carlos on Twitter @CarlosFPineda.