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Behind enemy bylines: Louisville

Tiger Sports (TS): Louisville is fairly new to the ACC and didn’t necessarily get the respect that it deserved coming into this season. Therefore, do you feel like defeating Clemson on the road would establish the Cardinals as a true football power of the ACC?
Dalton Ray (DR): I don’t think Louisville deserved respect going into the season, everything was built on potential. Louisville dominated middle and lower tier teams but didn’t beat the top dogs in FSU and Clemson. Personally, I believe to be a true conference-power, the team needs multiple years of success to be registered in that realm. If U of L walks away with the win, it’ll be a giant step for the program.
TS: Lamar Jackson has gotten off to one of the best starts of any quarterback in history this season. He still has at least one more season at Louisville, so do you think that he could establish himself as one college football’s all-time greats before he takes his talents to the NFL?
DR: We’ll have to see if his success is a flash in the pan or is the real deal. This is Jackson’s first year in the spotlight and he’s only had four games. We’ll have to see what he can do after teams get a lot of film on him.
TS: The Cardinals have dominated every game in which they have played so far, but is there any specific facet of the team that has room for improvement?
DR: The team has had little things that have popped up in the first three games. The Charlotte game was a glorified spring game, but the line let up early pressure early on when the 49ers brought multiple linebackers. Against Syracuse, Louisville had a lot of dropped balls, an alarmingly large amount. Also, Todd Grantham’s defenses are known to struggle against fast-pace and no huddle offenses, such as Houston and Syracuse. In the FSU game, Jackson missed on early, easy passes. There are little things right now but glaring.
TS: Bobby Petrino has produced some great coaching jobs over the years, but if Louisville wins the ACC and earns a spot in the College Football Playoff, do you think that will be his best coaching job yet?
DR: Yes and no. Yes because it’s hard to argue with the results of finishing within the top four teams in the nation. No, because this team has so much talent. Away from Jackson, the offense is loaded at running backs, wide receivers and tight ends. Defensively, the Cardinals have at least five NFL draft picks. The 2006-2007 team was rated No. 3 in the country before dropping the game against Rutgers and were likely to play in the national championship if they won-out.
TS: Clemson’s offense is laden with veteran talent. What can the Cardinals do defensively to keep that talent in check and garner a pivotal road victory over the Tigers?
DR: Louisville’s defense has been extremely impressive through three weeks, they just have to keep it up. They’re among the nation’s leaders in sacks, yards per carry and and third down percentage. Top-notch talent at all three levels is huge for the Cardinals. Continuing short yardage and negative plays on the first two down is critical. They’ve only allowed 12 conversions on 49 attempts.
TS: The Louisville Cardinals will battle the Clemson Tigers in Death Valley on Saturday, October 1 at 8:00 PM. What is your score prediction, and why?
DR: I picked against the Cardinals against Florida State and that burned me. I’ll ride the momentum and go Louisville- 42, Clemson- 20.
Offensively, Clemson struggled against both Auburn and Troy and U of L has the best of the three. I think Louisville’s defense will continue their high play. Multiple players on the defense shine under the big lights and with GameDay potentially coming, the stage will be set. Right now, I think Jackson is the only person that can stop Jackson. Even if he has a bad game, the offense has enough firepower to go through a bad outing. If Louisville’s defense shows up, I think the Cardinals have a great chance.
Clemson has a shot to show the country they’re still one of the nation’s best and won’t go down without a fight. It has game of the year potential for sure.
DR: Clemson hasn’t had the most electric start to 2016, are there any concerns surrounding fans?
TS: There was a little concern after the Troy game, in which Clemson only scored 13 points through the first three quarters. However, last week, the elite offense that this year’s team was expected to feature showed up and quieted some of the criticism.
DR: What was the problem in weeks one and two?
TS: The running game was slow to take shape at the start of the season. Also, I cannot help but feel that the high level of expectations and the immense hype surrounding this team throughout the offseason contributed to the slow start. These are college athletes, after all, and coming into the season, the Tigers were as hyped as they have ever been. That assuredly brought a lot of pressure with it.
DR: Is there any fear that Louisville win the ACC this year over the favorites in Clemson?
TS: There is no fear, simply because it is a definite reality that the Cardinals could win the conference championship. Louisville is incredible on both sides of the ball, so Tiger Nation has come to accept that, with Louisville, Florida State and North Carolina all serving as serious threats, it is going to be a challenge to claim the ACC title.
DR: What about Dabo Swinney makes him such a fan favorite and players coach?
TS: Coach Swinney is definitely teeming with charisma. He is the perfect combination of “old school” and “new school,” and that seems to resonate with his players and fans.
DR: Do you think there’s an offense in the nation that has more explosive capability or play makers than the Tigers?
TS: Clemson, in my opinion, boasts the most offensive talent of any team in the country. With a plethora of veteran playmakers with bright NFL futures on the roster, the Tigers are loaded. With a stable of stellar wideouts at Deshaun Watson’s disposal (and, not to mention, the Wayne Train in the backfield), Clemson’s offense is something special.
DR: What’s your score prediction and why?
TS: This could very well be the best game on the ACC slate this season. Expect offensive fireworks and a quarterback duel for the ages between Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson. Clemson’s talented defensive line could pose some problems for Jackson, but I predict that he will still have a solid game. In the end, propelled by the rowdy Death Valley crowd, I foresee the Tigers coming away with a 34-31 victory.

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