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Behind Enemy Bylines: Louisville

Tiger Sports (TS): Since Louisville lost last year’s clash with Clemson in heartbreaking fashion, do you think that there will be added motivation for the Cardinals this time around?

Dalton Ray (DR): Louisville lost by six on the road to the national champions, I’d say U of L is likely motivated by that.

TS: Despite winning the Heisman Trophy last year, it seemed like Lamar Jackson never quite received as much national attention as Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. With that being said, could Jackson possibly be on a mission to prove that he is indeed the nation’s best quarterback this season? What separates him from other top-tier quarterbacks around the nation?

DR: Jackson, in my eyes, got a lot of attention last year. But I suppose it’s based on what region one is. Watson was one of the nation’s top quarterbacks on the top team. That combination will always garner media hype. 

Jackson said that he’s been listening to the media talk this off-season and he can’t wait to prove doubters wrong. His start-stop ability is simply unreal. Mix that with his quick release in the pocket, Jackson is the most dangerous player in the nation. 

TS: With the exception of Jackson, most of the top playmakers from Louisville’s 2016 offense have since departed. Who stepped up in their place to fill those voids? Is Louisville’s 2017 offense just as electrifying as it was last year?

DR: Receivers Jaylen Smith, Seth Dawkins and Dez Fitzpatrick all step into the scene this year. Their big play ability will cause problems for opposing teams. As long as Jackson is on the field, the Cardinal offense will be electrifying. 

TS: The ACC Atlantic, just like it was last season, is essentially a three-team race between Clemson, Florida State and Louisville this fall. Therefore, with Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois out for the season, if the Cardinals were to beat the Tigers, would the Atlantic Division essentially be Louisville’s to lose?

DR: I don’t see Louisville being the team to beat in the Atlantic even If they beat Clemson. I’m simply not sold on U of L. I don’t see them winning in Tallahassee against FSU and they can easily drop another conference game. 

TS: The Clemson Tigers will battle the Louisville Cardinals at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium on Saturday, September 16, in a contest featuring two ACC Atlantic foes. What is your score prediction for that game? Why do you think that?

DR: I’ll take Clemson 31-21. A four-win team in Purdue took Louisville into the last minute of a game that U of L was favored by 24. Clemson’s defensive line will likely dominate and shut down the running game. Louisville will have to rely on making explosive plays against a quality defense — not a good thing. Louisville’s defensive depth in the front seven will also likely be exploited.

Dalton Ray (DR): Quarterback Deshaun Watson replaced Clemson great Tajh Boyd and took the Tigers to a new level. What are thoughts around Kelly Bryant replacing Watson?

Tiger Sports (TS): Kelly Bryant has proven thus far to be a highly effective quarterback. No, he doesn’t boast the same level of natural talent in the passing game as Deshaun Watson, but he is definitely very talented. Mobile, heady and poised, Bryant is the perfect quarterback to lead this young Clemson offense.

DR: Clemson’s defensive line is one of the nation’s best. What makes them so special?

TS: Clemson’s defensive line is ridiculously talented. From generational talents in Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins to versatile pass rushers in Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell, the defensive line is stacked with freak athletes who are capable of impacting the game in a significant way. Serving as the backbone of the defense for the past three years now, the Clemson defensive line has quietly been the most impactful area of the depth chart for the Tigers in their recent run of success.

DR: Dabo Swinney has stocked his team with talent since taking over. Which position group could be better in 2017 after the national championship?

TS: Clemson’s offensive line is actually improved this season, even though it was great last year, too. Despite losing key cog Jay Guillermo at center, Justin Falcinelli has stepped up to fare well on an offensive line that has benefited from being more experienced and deeper this season as compared to last. Sporting Tyrone Crowder and Mitch Hyatt, two of the ACC’s best offensive linemen, Clemson’s O-line is excellent.

DR: Ben Boulware was the heart of the Tiger defense last season. Is there anyone who is taking on the level of his leadership role?

TS: Ben Boulware was definitely quite the player while at Clemson. Proving to be the undisputed leader of the Clemson defense during his junior and senior seasons, Boulware left a void that needed filling when he departed for the NFL. But All-American defensive tackle Christian Wilkins has done an excellent job of taking on that leadership role. Vocal, talented and charismatic, Wilkins does not necessarily boast the same ultra-intense personality of Boulware, but he has certainly proved to be the leading force for the Tiger defense so far this season.

DR: Who are two names Louisville fans need to look out for?

TS: When Clemson and Louisville met last season, wide receiver Deon Cain was simply a role player, forced to wait his turn behind stellar wideouts Mike Williams and Artavis Scott. Now, Cain, who is as prominent a downfield threat as any receiver in the ACC, is quickly proving to be the next superstar in the making at “Wide Receiver U.” 

On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Dorian O’Daniel has been playing like a man possessed to start the season, recently collecting 14 tackles in a game. Often overshadowed by the likes of freak talents, such as the aforementioned Lawrence and Wilkins, O’Daniel is actually one of the most NFL-ready defenders that Clemson sports on its roster.

DR:  Who wins and why?

TS: Clemson’s defense has been nearly perfect at the start of the season, and Louisville’s definitely has not. Although Lamar Jackson should play well, the Tiger defense will likely keep him in check just enough to allow Clemson to steal a road win. Expect Bryant to shine brightly in his first road test, leading the Tigers to a hard-fought 27-24 victory.

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