NOTES: Tigers clash with Cardinals

Notes previewing No. 25 Clemson's matchup with Louisville.

First of three first-time opponents visit Clemson
Each of the next three Clemson opponents in Memorial Stadium will be making their first trip to Clemson for a football game. Louisville is Saturday’s opponent and this will be the first meeting anywhere between the two schools.

Clemson and Louisville were members of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association between 1914-22, but never faced each other.

In two weeks Syracuse will come to Clemson for the first time. The Tigers and Orange have played twice on the gridiron, once in the 1996 Gator Bowl and last year at Syracuse, but never at Clemson. Then, on November 22, Georgia State and Clemson will play for the first time.

Louisville is the 54th different team to come to Memorial Stadium and the Tigers are 39-13-1 against those teams when the visitor is making its first appearance. But, it has been especially difficult to beat Clemson in that first meeting since 1978. In the last 37 years Clemson is 23-2 against teams making their first appearance in Memorial Stadium.

The only teams to win their first game here since 1998 are Marshall (13-10 winners over Clemson in 1999 in Tommy Bowden’s first game as Clemson coach) and Miami (FL) (36-30 wins over Clemson in 2005 in triple overtime, the longest game in Clemson history.

Louisville Update
Louisville lost seven starters on defense from last year’s team that finished with a 12-1 record and number-15 final national ranking. But the Cardinals are even better than they were last year on defense and hold a number of top 10 national rankings in defensive categories.

So far this year Louisville leads the nation in total defense, allowing just 230 yards per game. They are also first in rushing defense, allowing just 58.3 yards per game, and total interceptions with 12. They are second in yards per play allowed with a 3.75 figure and second in yards per rush allowed at 2.01. The leader of the defense has been safety Gerod Holliman, who has an astounding seven interceptions for 122 return yards in just six games. He not only leads the nation in interceptions, he has three more than any other player. Holliman moved from cornerback to safety this year and the results are a big reason Louisville has allowed just 12.7 points per game, sixth in the nation.

On offense, Louisville has played two quarterbacks this year. Senior Will Gardner has thrown for 798 yards and eight touchdowns in four games and has completed 56 percent of his passes. True freshman Reggie Bonnafon went the distance at Syracuse and has played the last two games while Gardner recovers from a knee injury. Bonnafon has thrown for 531 yards and two scores. He has completed 57 percent of his passes. So, we could see a matchup of true freshmen as Clemson will start true freshman Deshaun Watson, who is 2-0 as a starter this year.

Eli Rogers is the top receiver for Louisville with 24 receptions for 259 yards. He has 155 career receptions for 1654 yards. The X-factor in Saturday’s game is DeVante Parker, a senior who has not played this year due to a broken foot. Through his junior year he had 113 receptions for 1,920 yards and 28 touchdowns. Last year he had 12 touchdown receptions to set a school record. That was the same number of touchdown receptions Sammy Watkins had for Clemson last season.

Clemson Now Faces One of Nation’s Toughest Defenses
Entering the NC State game on October 4, Head Coach Dabo Swinney challenged his defense because the Wolfpack were entering the game as the ACC’s best in terms of total offense and near the top in scoring. NC State was scoring 40 points per game and gaining 505 yards per game. The defense responded by holding the Pack to zero points and 154 yards of total offense.

Now it is the offense’s turn to answer the challenge as Louisville comes into the game leading the nation in total defense and rushing defense and sixth in scoring defense. Louisville gives up just 230 yards per game in total offense, 58 rushing yards and 12.7 points per game. Clemson has averaged 491 yards and 40.4 points per game so far this year, so it will be a challenge against Louisville’s strong defense. Below is a chart that compares some of the important statistical categories.

Watson Second in Nation in Passing Efficiency
As stated above, we could have a battle of true freshman quarterbacks in Saturday’s game. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson has started just two games in his young career, but both have been memorable, a 50-35 win over North Carolina when he threw for a record six touchdowns, and last week’s 41-0 win over NC State when he had 329 yards of total offense and four more touchdowns rushing and passing. Over the last two games he has thrown for 702 yards and eight touchdowns.

That is the most passing yards in the first two games of a Clemson quarterback’s career as a starter. Charlie Whitehurst, now with the Tennessee Titans, had the previous mark with 692 yards. Watson has tied Whitehurst’s record for touchdown passes in a quarterback’s first two starts. Whitehurst had four against Duke and North Carolina, both on the road, in his first two starts.

For the year, Watson has completed 76-106 passes for 1,181 yards and 12 touchdowns with just one interception. That competes to an efficiency rating of 197.9, second best in the nation behind Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, who is at 205. Watson does lead the nation in yards per pass attempt with an 11.1 figure and is fourth in touchdown/interception ratio and 10th in completion percentage (.689). In terms of total offense yards/play, Watson is 11th with an 8.56 figure.

Tigers Register Shutout against Wolfpack
Clemson is coming off one of its best all-around performances in recent years in the 41-0 win over NC State. It was the largest margin of victory for the Tigers against the Wolfpack and the first time Clemson had registered a shutout against any ACC team since 1998 against Maryland. It was the first shutout in any game since Dabo Swinney became Clemson head coach. It was Clemson’s first shutout against anyone since Dabo Swinney became head coach.

Clemson’s defense held NC State to 35 yards passing and 154 yards of total offense, the best figures for the Tigers against an ACC foe since a victory over Boston College in 2009. NC State came into the game averaging 40 points and 505 yards per game and had scored at least 40 points in four consecutive games, a first in NC State history. NC State had just four yards total offense in the first half and had just 79 yards through three quarters.

Swinney Eighth in Winning Percentage in ACC Games
Head Coach Dabo Swinney is eighth in ACC history in winning percentage in ACC games. He has won 36 of his 50 league games so far for a .720 winning percentage. Leading the list is Jimbo Fisher of Florida State, who has a 31-7 mark for a .816 percentage. Frank Beamer of Virginia Tech is fifth at .756 off a 66- 21 mark. So three of the top eight ACC coaches in history in terms of winning percentage in league games are active coaches.

Swinney 21-3 in Home ACC Games
Dabo Swinney is 21-3 in ACC home games in his career as Clemson head coach, a .875 winning percentage. Given a minimum of four years, that is the third best home ACC winning percentage in league history. The leader is former Clemson head coach Ken Hatfield, who was 12-1-1 at home in ACC games from 1990-93. Jimbo Fisher is second with a 16-2 mark and a .889 percentage. Former Clemson Head Coach Danny Ford is eighth with a .821 percentage off a 32-7 record. Frank Howard was 30-10 in home ACC games for a .750 percentage.

Beasley Ties Clemson Career Sack Record in Grand Style
Vic Beasley tied the Clemson career sack record in grand style last Saturday when he had a sack, forced a fumble, recovered fumble and scored a touchdown all on the same play in the win over NC State. That was Beasley’s 28th career sack, tied for the most in Clemson history with Michael Dean Perry (1984-87) and Gaines Adams (2003-06). So his next sack will break the record.

Beasley has had a remarkable run to the record when you consider he has started just 18 games in his career. All 28 of his sacks have come in his last 31 games. It is amazing to think that in 2010 he was the scout team quarterback as the Tigers prepared to play Georgia Tech. And what is really remarkable is the negative yardage he accounts for when he makes those big plays. His 28 sacks at Clemson have accounted for 218 lost yards for the opponent, the most in school history. It is also the most by an active FBS player....by 84 yards. Andre Monroe of Maryland has the second most negative yards on sacks with 134.

The same goes for Beasley’s tackle for loss totals. The Clemson graduate has 39 tackles for loss in his career for 257 yards. No other FBS player has more than 175 lost yards on his tackles for loss.

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