The Tigers (3-2, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) and Swinney have seen their season revived with Watson's ascension to starting quarterback. He has run and passed for 1,088 yards and 11 touchdowns the past three games, the past two victories over North Carolina and North Carolina State following the team's 1-2 start.
The Cardinals (5-1, 3-1) will try to slow him down when they make their first trip to Death Valley on Saturday. Louisville leads the country yards allowed, permitting just 230 yards and one touchdown a game — about 130 yards and two TDs fewer than Watson's averaged the past three contests.
Swinney understands the challenge ahead for Watson with Louisville's aggressive defense. But Watson has shown a poise at the position many newcomers need time to develop. The coach raved about Watson's ability to hang in amid pressure, work through his progressions when opponents cut off the primary routes and making positive yards.
"Those are the things that he has demonstrated," Swinney said. "If he continues to prepare in the right way, we will be all right."
Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham schemed for the Tigers last year as Georgia's defensive leader. He thinks Clemson is reaching that level of efficiency with Watson in control.
"They've gotten their groove now over the last little bit with him," Grantham said. "They certainly present a challenge to us and we understand that we have to play well."
The Cardinals have certainly done that on defense. Defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin is second in the ACC with nine tackles for loss this season. He's tied with teammate, linebacker Keith Kelsey, at ninth in the league with four sacks.
Mauldin said the Cardinals want to keep Watson bottled up and force him to throw into Louisville's secondary, which leads the conference with 12 interceptions.
"So if we can keep the outside contained and keep our middle contained and make him pass the ball, we should be alight," Mauldin said.
Louisville defense presents huge challenge
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