LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Lamar Jackson is piling up yardage and points again, helping Louisville get off to an unbeaten start while sparking discussion of possibly winning the Heisman Trophy — again.
The No. 14 Cardinals have needed the junior quarterback's impressive totals of 1,010 yards and eight touchdowns to offset their defensive generosity.
Louisville (2-0, 1-0 ACC) has yielded 63 points and 745 yards through two games and trailed against both Purdue and North Carolina. While Jackson's arm and feet seized control of both contests for the Cardinals, they can't be so giving against defending national champion and third-ranked Clemson in Saturday night's Atlantic Coast Conference showdown.
"We just need to continue getting better technique-wise," senior linebacker Trevon Young said. "Our coaches have a good game plan, we just have keep doing a better job of executing."
Though both schools still have to face 11th-ranked Florida State, the winner can take early control of the Atlantic Division. Louisville coach Bobby Petrino believes his defense must become stingier to finally beat the Tigers after losing the three previous meetings by a total of 15 points.
"It's going to be really important for us to stop the run," Petrino said this week. "They've always done a good job of running the football.
"Then they've got three really good receivers that we know well coming back (and) are deep threats. ... It's a good challenge. We're looking forward to it."
Opponents have rushed for just 68 yards against Louisville but are averaging 338.5 yards per game through the air. Junior cornerback Jaire Alexander's absence with a knee injury against Purdue hasn't helped and is uncertain for Clemson, though Petrino said he's progressing.
Ball protection and pass rushing will also be critical with both teams capable of taking advantage. Clemson overcame turnovers to rally past Louisville 42-36 last year, and head coach Dabo Swinney doesn't want to give Jackson easy chances with the stakes high again.
"We've had some incredible battles with them and I don't expect this one to be any different," Swinney said, noting Louisville's 614.5-yard offensive average.
Of Jackson, the coach added, "He's fun to watch. He's not fun to prepare for. He's not fun to play."
Swinney is not about big numbers, just wins. Clemson's offense has come under fire because of its performance in a 14-6 win over Auburn last week. The Tigers finished with just two touchdowns and 281 yards of offense, far from the nearly 40 points and more than 500 yards it averaged in winning the national title. Swinney said he'd be happy leaving Louisville this week with a 3-2 decision. "We're not trying to win any points show. We're not trying to win the stats war," he said. "We just want to win the game."
Senior running back Malik Williams stepped up for injured Jeremy Smith and now he needs to consistently perform as the Cardinals' main back. Smith out for the year after suffering a season-ending fractured foot. Williams' career-best 149 yards on 13 carries at UNC were 17 more than Jackson, an important stat for a ground game looking to succeed beyond Jackson. "There's a lot of opportunities. I have to step up and play big," said the 6-foot-1, 221-pound Williams, who had 145 yards rushing last season. "I know I can do a lot better."
Clemson defensive end Austin Bryant always believed he'd make a mark with the Tigers. Bryant was a rising sophomore last season ready for a starting spot when a foot injury in the summer sidelined him for six games in 2016. He played a spot role when he returned and was not the player projected from the spring. This year, Bryant's healthy and showing his skills. He tied a Clemson single-game record with four sacks against Auburn.
BACK TO BACK
Louisville junior receiver Jaylen Smith had career highs of nine catches for 183 yards at UNC and has consecutive 100-yard receiving games. His 300 total yards are just over half of last season's total (599) and given Jackson the go-to guy he has sought.
MEN IN BLACK
Louisville will wear all-black alternate uniforms for their prime-time appearance. The color scheme popular with players was last worn on Oct. 14 in an ACC win over Duke.
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