The Final Breakdown

Clemson and Louisville will tangle for the first time Saturday afternoon in Death Valley. Here's a complete breakdown of the game and our game prediction in another edition of "The Final Breakdown."

WHAT: Louisville at No. 25 Clemson
WHERE: Memorial Stadium - Clemson, S.C. (81,500)
WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 11 (3:30 p.m.)
SPREAD: Clemson by 12
TV: ESPNU (Anish Shroff, Kelly Stouffer, Cara Capuano

LOUISVILLE RUN GAME VS CLEMSON FRONT SEVEN
Brandon Radcliff has 63 carries for 362 yards and six touchdowns. (Getty)
The Cardinals’ running game has been solid, but it hasn’t really been a strength of the offense. Brandon Radcliff has 63 carries for 362 yards and six touchdowns, and Dominique Brown has 78 carries for 327 yards and three touchdowns as the Cardinals have rushed for 939 yards on 251 carries. They are averaging 156.5 yards per game (ninth in the ACC) and 3.7 yards per carry. Those aren’t exactly numbers that scare a Clemson defense that has been stout against the run. Clemson is allowing just 110.6 rushing yards per game, which is fourth in the ACC, and it has allowed just 223 yards in the past four games. The defensive line, especially Grady Jarrett in the middle, has been dominant, and the Clemson linebackers, led by Stephone Anthony, have been tremendous.

Advantage:

LOUISVILLE PASS ATTACK VS CLEMSON PASS RUSH/SECONDARY
Like the running game, the Cardinals’ passing game has been solid but not spectacular, which is a bit surprising because of head coach Bobby Petrino’s offensive background. Louisville uses two quarterbacks – sophomore Will Gardner and freshman Reggie Bonnafon – and both have been, yes, solid. Gardner has completed 63-of-112 passes for 798 yards and eight touchdowns with two interceptions, while Bonnafon has completed 42-of-74 passes for 531 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. The Cardinals have balance with their pass catchers, led by James Quick with 23 catches for 348 yards and three touchdowns.
James Quick leads Louisville with 23 catches for 348 yards and three touchdowns. (Getty)
Eli Rogers has added 24 catches for 259 yards, and they get help from tight end Gerald Christian (17-220) and Kai De La Cruz (12-132). Outside of one half against North Carolina and one big play against Florida State, Clemson’s secondary has been strong. Coverage, obviously, needs help from the pass rush, and Clemson certainly has gotten plenty of that, led by Vic Beasley, who is first in the conference with seven sacks. Louisville is in the middle of the conference in passing offense (seventh at 231.8 yards per game) while Clemson is fourth in pass defense (180.2 yards per game), and those numbers, again, are a little inflated because of a lack of focus in the second half against North Carolina. The combination of the pass rush and the strong secondary play has lifted this defense to another level, and that’s what is awaiting the Cardinals’ offense.

Advantage:

CLEMSON RUN GAME VS. LOUISVILLE FRONT SEVEN
As strong as Clemson’s rushing defense has been, Louisville’s has been even better, allowing just 58.3 yards per game, which leads the ACC.
Wayne Gallman makes his second straight start Saturday. (John Bolton/CUTigers)
The Cardinals have surrendered just 2.0 yards per carry (350 yards on 174 attempts) with a long run of 26 yards. There has only been one rushing touchdown scored against the Louisville defense. Senior linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin is second in the ACC in tackles for loss with nine, and there is plenty of talent and experience around him up front and in the linebacker corps. Clemson’s running game bounced back with 226 yards on 50 carries against N.C. State after back-to-back rough outings, and that offered much-needed balance for the passing attack. Still, there is a lot of room for improvement for a running game that is averaging only 155 yards and 3.4 yards per carry. C.J. Davidson is the leading rusher with 40 carries for 151 yards, but Wayne Gallman had his best game against N.C. State and is up to 150 yards on 29 carries. Adam Choice and D.J. Howard are still in the mix, and quarterback Deshaun Watson offers another element to the running game that will be needed.

Advantage:

CLEMSON PASS ATTACK VS. LOUISVILLE PASS RUSH/SECONDARY
There is plenty of experience and talent in the Louisville secondary, as well, and that has forged a strong group on the back end (the Cardinals are third in the conference in pass defense at 171.8 yards per game). There are two seniors (cornerback Andrew Johnson and safety Terell Floyd) and two juniors (Gerod Holliman or James Sample at safety and cornerback Charles Gaines) in the starting group. Holliman is tied for second in the conference in passes defended (1.5 per game) and leads the conference with seven interceptions as the Cardinals have picked off 12 passes to lead the nation.
Deshaun Watson continues his assault of the ACC. (John Bolton/CUTigers)
That group will offer a stiff test for a Clemson passing attack that has found its rhythm with Watson at quarterback. The Tigers lead the conference in passing offense (335.8 per game), and Watson has come out hot the past two games and set the tone for the offense. He has completed 73-of-106 passes (68.9 percent) for 1,181 yards and 12 touchdowns with just one interception. His yardage and touchdown numbers already have set a freshman standard at Clemson, and he has built a nice chemistry with his receivers, especially sophomore Mike Williams. Williams leads the team with 21 catches for 520 yards (an average of 24.8 yards per catch) with four touchdowns. Artavis Scott (18-305, three touchdowns), Germone Hopper (8-233, two touchdowns), Adam Humphries (15-99) and Demarre Kitt (4-51) give Watson plenty of weapons from which to choose. Also, he has done a good job of not forcing things and instead checking down to the backs and tight ends. Among the backs, Gallman has nine catches, while Choice has eight and Davidson has seven. That kind of patience will be important Saturday.

Advantage:

Ammon Lakip has missed just one field goal at home this season. (Getty)
SPECIAL TEAMS
John Wallace is a tremendous weapon for the Cardinals’ special teams. He hasn’t missed an extra point (25-of-25), and he has made seven of his nine field goal tries. His longest is 51 yards, so that’s an added layer for Louisville to help its case. Ammon Lakip seems to have gotten himself on the right track for Clemson, but he has to keep making kicks, while Bradley Pinion continues to be strong with his punting duties.

Advantage:

OVERALL
Louisville and Clemson face off for the first time Saturday, and it looks like it should be a tough test for the Tigers. Louisville is averaging 33.3 points per game, while allowing just 12.7 in its 5-1 start, including 3-1 in the ACC. And the Cardinals have allowed 19 points total to Florida International, Wake Forest and Syracuse. But again, that’s Florida International, Wake Forest and Syracuse.
Clemson faces Todd Grantham for the second straight year. (Getty)
Clemson is a different level, and this game will be on the road (where Louisville’s lone loss came against Virginia), and the Tigers have been strong at home in recent seasons. Since the start of the 2010 season, Clemson is 27-4 at home, with two losses to South Carolina and one to Florida State. The last time Clemson lost a home game to someone other than the Gamecocks or Seminoles was Oct. 2, 2010 against Miami. The Tigers have scored 91 points the past two games and are averaging 40.4 per game, tops in the ACC. The Clemson defense, despite a couple of hiccups here and there, has allowed just 22 points per game and is coming off a shutout. Petrino is a terrific head coach and offensive mind, but it has been the Louisville defense, coached by Todd Grantham, that has led the way so far. Clemson’s offense moved up and down the field last year against Grantham when he was at Georgia. He has better players now than he did then, but it won’t be enough.

PREDICTION: Clemson 38, Louisville 20

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM. Follow him on Twitter at @DM_Shirley and read his blog at macon.com/peachsports.

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