No. 2 Clemson prepares for Louisville, stretch run

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence leads FBS freshmen with 16 touchdown passes.Photo Credit: Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney likes where his team is as it heads into what he calls “the championship phase” of the season

The Tigers occupy a position to which theyve grown accustomed.

Clemson is bidding for a fourth consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference title and a fourth straight berth into the College Football Playoff.

The Tigers will put their unbeaten record (8-0, 5-0 ACC) and No. 2 position in the CFP ranking on the line Saturday against Louisville (2-6, 0-5) at Clemson’s Memorial Stadium.

“Here we are and we’re rolling into November,” Swinney said.

No question there. Swinney’s team has dismantled its last three opponents — Wake Forest, N.C. State and Florida State — by a combined 163-20 margin.

“I challenged our team a few weeks ago and they’ve really responded,” Swinney said. “This is three games in a row that we’ve played complete games and we’re really starting to build that momentum. There’s not a lot of panic in these guys. They know the type of focus that it takes.”

Clemson, the only team in the country to rank in the Top 10 in both total offense and defense, is attempting to improve to 9-0 for the fifth time in program history and third time in the last four years.

Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, whose team has lost five in a row and opened as a 37-point underdog against Clemson, knows his team faces a monumental challenge, particularly against a veteran defense that ranks among the nation’s best in almost every statistical category.

“They’re as good of a defense as there is out there,” Petrino said. “Defensive front, linebackers are big and physical and fast. Lot of the same guys we’ve played against for the last couple of years, so we do know them well.”

Clemson’s defense, led by four potential first-round NFL Draft picks on the defensive front, is tied for No. 1 nationally in scoring defense, allowing only 13.0 points per game, and ranks second in total tackles for loss (80) and third in total defense (263.9).

Louisville challenged Clemson for three consecutive years from 2014 to 2016, losing by a touchdown or less in each instance. Clemson won 47-21 last year in Louisville, dropping the Cardinals to 0-5 all time in the series.

But Swinney is convinced that the Cardinals possess the talent to keep things interesting once again.

“Louisville is 2-6, but they’re the best 2-6 team I’ve seen,” Swinney said. “Their record is not indicative of the players they have.

“They’ve had some tough breaks and I’m sure their coaches are frustrated, but they’re very capable of playing with anybody.”

Freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence has emerged as a big-time threat for Clemson and is coming off back-to-back 300-yard passing games. He leads all FBS freshmen in touchdown passes (16) and passing efficiency (164.2).

“Their quarterback is doing a really nice job for them,” Petrino said. “He can really zip it. He can spin the ball. He’s got a really good wrist and can get the ball down the field to his targets, so it’s a great challenge for us.”

Louisville hopes to get a solid performance from sophomore Jawon Pass, a big, rangy quarterback who has struggled with consistency. The Cardinals had two receivers with 100-yard games last week in a loss against Wake Forest as Tutu Atwell and Jaylen Smith had eight receptions each for 132 and 107 yards, respectively.

“They have as good a group of receivers as we’ve played,” Swinney said. “The quarterback is a young guy they’re committed to. He runs very well and he’s big, he’s just not been as consistent as they want him to be. We expect a challenge and a big-time battle.”

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