The best case for Lamar Jackson winning the Heisman was not his performance in 2016 or 2017, but instead it is Louisville’s performance without him in 2018.
While fans and media tend to exaggerate lopsided matchups using hyperboles, the matchup between Clemson and Louisville is not just as bad as it looks – it is worse than it looks.
In most lopsided games, there at least is something redeemable about the occasion: a star player, interesting scheme, its a lower division team (ex FCS vs FBS), or a once-in-a-century type upset happens (think Kansas over Texas). It is hard to forecast anything of the like for this game.
The positives for Louisville are as follows: they have made all six of their field goals, and have a red zone scoring percentage of 87 percent. Coach Swinney described their receivers and offensive linemen as “huge”. Senior WR Jaylen Smith is a good player whom is struggling this year. Louisville defeated FCS foe Indiana State 31-7 in a five and a half hour affair, and they barely defeated CUSA foes Western Kentucky – both victories were in early September. The players have continued to play hard and with pride despite the tumultuous season. Those are the positives.
Discussing the negatives could take over a thousand words – so here is a short summary of the Cardinals’ issues. They are one of the worst teams in the nation in almost every conceivable statistic, and their best statistical areas are just average. The one bright spot is their 25th ranked passing defense, but this is because teams can run the ball on Louisville regardless and are usually in the lead, causing teams to not pass. Their offensive line is horrendous, the defense is continually out of place, and they are ranked 127th in the turnover margin.
Even in a 2-6 season, drama always seems to find Louisville and more specifically Bobby Petrino. Each new storyline is more absurd than the last, and that is impressive considering Petrino’s checkered coaching history (fired from Arkansas, leaves the Falcons with a note in the locker room, etc). Bobby Petrino has multiple family members on staff – and this is notable due to the fact that no one wants to work with Bobby Petrino. That explains the revolving door of coaches which perpetuate their problems.
Here are three of the most interesting stories from this year’s Cardinals which explain why Louisville is struggling in 2018:
Last week, Wake Forest running back Matt Colburn ran for over 200 yards against the Cardinals. What made this extraordinary is that he was a Louisville commit before his scholarship was pulled for a grey-shirt offer just a few days away from National Signing Day.
Speaking of new coaches, Louisville’s DC Brian Van Gorder was a head coach where Paul Johnson once coached: Georgia Southern. He wanted to bring them modernize the team and eliminate Paul Johnson’s cherished offense. Paul Johnson aimed to schedule a game against him in order to “beat the (heck) out of Brian Van Gorder”, but he failed to schedule him until Van Gorder’s arrival at Louisville. Georgia Tech proceeded to score 66 points against Van Gordrer’s defense.
Bobby Petrino also stated over the summer he expected Louisville’s offense to be better in 2018 than in 2017. Let that sink in.
Clemson is favored by 39 points, and almost two-thirds of the bets have Clemson covering the spread. The Over/Under is 61, with over 70 percent of players betting the over. Oddshark’s predicted score is 52.1 Clemson to 5.2 Louisville.
If Clemson plays up to their previous performances, the Tigers should cover the spread at the minimum. Even the most anxious of fans should be calm for tomorrow’s matchup – it is probably the last time Clemson will face a Petrino-led Louisville team. The 2014 and 2015 editions of the Cardinals were full of Charlie Strong recruits, while the 2016 and 2017 Cardinals were led by generational talent Lamar Jackson. The 2018 Cardinals are the true representation of the state of the program, and it isn’t pretty.
Disclaimer: This is the only time I have predicted a score with this margin of victory, and I will probably never do so again.
Prediction: Clemson 70 Louisville 0