College Sports

Five burning questions for Clemson against Louisville — and a prediction

No. 3 Clemson will travel to Louisville to face the Cardinals on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. Clemson has won all five of its meetings against the Cardinals all time, and the Tigers enter this week’s matchup as 24-point favorites.

Here are our top five questions heading into the game:

Will Clemson play better on the road?

The Tigers struggled at North Carolina on their last road trip, narrowly escaping with a 21-20 victory. Clemson got back to playing up to its capabilities this past weekend against Florida State, pounding the Seminoles 45-14 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. After playing well against FSU, Clemson now must take its show on the road. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney is anxious to see if his team can put together a complete performance playing away from Death Valley.

“We’ve played one really good game on the road (at Syracuse), and one we didn’t play very well (at UNC). So let’s create that consistency and what it’s going to take to be able to have the type of season we want to have,” Swinney said. “Because you’ve got to play well on the road if you want to have a great year.

Can Louisville establish the run?

The Cardinals are the third-best rushing team in the ACC, averaging 227 yards per game. But having success on the ground against Clemson will not be easy. The Tigers have held opponents to 104.5 yards per game and less than 3 yards per carry this season. The Cardinals do have a stud at running back in Javian Hawkins, who is No. 15 nationally in rushing yards per game at 103.7.

“They’ve rushed for over 200 yards on everybody they’ve played except Florida State, including Notre Dame,” Swinney said. “Everything they do offensively is built through running the football. I really like their scheme.”

Will Louisville stick with Micale Cunningham at QB?

The sophomore was banged up during last week’s game at Wake Forest and backup Evan Conley came in and led the Cardinals to an upset victory. Conley was named the ACC Quarterback of the Week and ACC Freshman of the Week after passing for 192 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 79 yards and a score. Cunningham, who has passed for 816 yards and seven touchdowns this season, is expected to start. But Conley also could play.

“They’re playing both guys. (Cunningham) got banged up and (Conley) comes in and leads them to victory against Wake Forest. Both of them are very accurate passers,” Swinney said. “Wouldn’t surprise me at all to see both of them. But I’ll tell you, that (Cunningham), he’s Houdini. He constantly escapes.”

Just how much has Scott Satterfield changed Louisville’s culture?

Louisville’s first-year head coach has come in and made a noticeable difference in Year 1. The Cardinals went 2-10 (0-8) last season, losing their final nine games, with eight of those losses being by 18 points or more. Satterfield has already doubled last year’s win total, and the Cardinals beat No. 19 Wake Forest last week. Clemson players and coaches made it clear this week that this Louisville team plays harder than the one coached by Bobby Petrino last season.

“Coaching matters. There’s no question about that. They just kind of were a team is disarray last year. A team that for whatever reason just wasn’t playing hard,” Swinney said. “But I’m gonna tell you, it’s a different deal now. And they’ve got dudes... This group has come in and you can tell that these kids believe in what they’re trying to do and what they’re trying to build.

How will Clemson perform on special teams?

The Cardinals have some dangerous returners on special teams. Hassan Hall leads the country in kickoff returns, averaging nearly 39 yards per return. He has a 100-yard return for a touchdown already this season. Louisville also has a dangerous punt returner in Chatarius Atwell (29 yards per return). Clemson has done a nice job covering kicks and punts this season, but this will be the biggest test yet. Tigers kicker B.T. Potter has recorded touchbacks on 27 of his 32 kickoffs and will need to be at his best Saturday.

“Our guys, to be quite honest with you, they want them to bring it out. That’s kind of the mindset that we have. I like the guys that we’ve got. We’ve got some dudes covering that thing. So we’ll be ready,” Swinney said. “But it’s going to be a huge challenge. They’re unbelievable in their return, on both sides, punt return and kick return.”

Speaking of Potter, it will be interesting to see how he responds after being benched as the placekicker in place of Steven Sawicki last week. Sawicki, who made his first field goal as a Tiger last week against FSU, will handle the short field goals. Potter will be called upon if Clemson needs a long field goal.

Prediction: Louisville should be able to score some points against a Clemson defense that is still one of the best in the nation but that is not as good as last year’s. When the Tigers have had issues this year it has been stopping the run, and Louisville has one of the best rushing offenses in the ACC. But the Cardinals won’t be able to get enough stops against Trevor Lawrence and company to make it a four-quarter game.

The pick: Clemson 56, Louisville 20

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Matt Connolly is the Clemson beat writer and covers recruiting and college sports for The State newspaper and The State.com
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