Network Notebook: Clemson in Danger at Louisville
IT'S CLEMSON'S GREAT DEFENSE FACING LOUISVILLE'S GREAT OFFENSE SATURDAY NIGHT
This past Saturday night, the Clemson Tigers stuffed highly respected Auburn thanks to a stingy defense that just wouldn't allow any big plays. So much for Jarrett Stidham's Heisman Trophy campaign! This coming Saturday night, the Tigers have to go on the road to face another highly regarded opponent...one that gained 705 yards last week at North Carolina!
It's going to be one of the best defenses college football trying to contain one of the most dynamic offensive forces the sport has ever seen when #3 Clemson visits #14 Louisville in prime time on ABC. Will the Tigers derail the 2017 Lamar Jackson Heisman Trophy campaign this week?
Clemson is currently a 3-point favorite on the road because the most important influences in the betting market respect defense more than offense. But, the Tigers are obviously in a letdown spot after that war with the War Eagle of Auburn. And, this is the first road game for their young skill position talent.
Let's start our NETWORK NOTEBOOK analysis with host Louisville. They've struggled so badly on defense that they've had to sweat their first two games against seemingly outmatched Purdue and North Carolina.
*Louisville (-25) only beat Purdue 35-28
*Louisville (-11) surged late to beat North Carolina 47-35
Yes, those were road games...and you have to be very solid to lay those kinds of prices on the road. And, yes, Purdue might have taken a big leap forward this year based on early results. But, still...if your quarterback is a SUPERSTAR, you're not supposed to trail Purdue 28-25 early in the fourth quarter, or trail North Carolina 28-27 entering the fourth quarter. Clemson is a lot better than those teams!
The problem with a high-octane, high energy offense like Louisville's are:
*They can be penalty prone (16 for 110 yards at Purdue), so their high yardage marks are partly a reflection of having to regain the same yards over and over again after those yellow hankies hit the turf.
*They can be turnover prone vs. aggressive defenses. That's not much of an issue yet, but could easily be against Clemson.
*They don't run clock with a lead.
*They have a way of moving in fits and starts that doesn't maximize scoreboard output. A 50-yard pass play from one 20-yard line to the other 30-yard line might be followed by a penalty, a sack, and an incomplete pass.
*And, possibly worst of all, they have stretches where they don't give their own defense enough rest. Remember how Indiana hung with Ohio State on the first night of the season before its own defense ran out of gas in the second half. The last thing you want against Clemson's smart, efficient offense is to hand them large chunks of yardage from defensive fatigue.
Now, don't get us wrong. Louisville could definitely spring this small upset and create some of what used to be called "BCS Chaos" by taking out the #3 team in the first month of the season. Ohio State already fell to #8 after last week's shocker in Columbus against Oklahoma. It's very easy to imagine this scenario:
Clemson is flat off the big survival game against Auburn
Louisville has been flat looking ahead to this one against Clemson
Louisville jumps to a big early lead at home
Clemson is forced out of its comfort zone, and becomes mistake-prone
Louisville can run away and hide from people when everything clicks. Saturday night home dog spots on national networks are often where everything clicks for college football teams!
The pro-Clemson scenario is as follows:
Clemson plays ball control to deny Louisville's offense any rhythm
Louisville remains mistake-prone with a high-risk offense
Clemson is STILL a lot better than the market realizes, and should be more like -6 here
Clemson covered its Final Four games last season by 32 and 10.5 points when winning the National Championship...proving the markets had greatly underrated their true status as a superpower. They've already covered by 15 and 2 this season with a new quarterback, but a defense that just won't let offenses get near the end zone. You already know Louisville has trailed outright in both of its 2017 games...despite being double digit favorites in each.
JIM HURLEY still has a few days to pin down his thinking in this one, as well as in other marquee matchups like Tennessee/Florida, Oklahoma State/Pittsburgh, Wisconsin/BYU and Texas/USC. He and his full TEAM of experts will be crunching all the numbers, reviewing all the game film, and checking in with friends "behind the line" to monitor the smart money. Come game day, this could very easily be a "Game of the Month" caliber selection because there's so much volatility in either direction.
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