ESPN's College GameDay won't have to travel far between its Week 2 and Week 3 destinations. After setting up shop in Columbus, Ohio, for Oklahoma's stunning stomping of Ohio State, the crew will ship its setup a shade over 200 miles up I-71 into Kentucky for Saturday's ACC showdown between No. 14 Louisville and No. 3 Clemson.
The last time these two teams met, the Cardinals nearly derailed the Tigers' national title run. The 'Ville took a 36-28 lead in the fourth quarter on an 11-yard run by quarterback Lamar Jackson, the eventual Heisman Trophy winner. Deshaun Watson responded with a pair of touchdown passes to deliver Clemson a 42-36 victory in Death Valley and keep Louisville winless in this head-to-head series (0-3 all time).
With the Tigers losing so many key players to the NFL this past spring, can Dabo Swinney's squad keep the train rolling into Kentucky Derby territory? Or will Louisville fight back while Jackson strikes the pose again?
Either way, the GameDay gang will have an excellent view of the action.
College GameDay Week 3 Info
Date: Saturday, September 16
Time (ET): 9 a.m. to noon; game is at 8 p.m.
Location: Gravemeyer Hall and Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, Louisville
Watch: ESPN; game is on ABC
Live Stream: WatchESPN
College GameDay @CollegeGameDay
This one can't get here soon enough. https://t.co/hmth6oehP42017-9-13 22:45:26
Saturday's marquee matchup all boils down to Jackson—what he's capable of, what Clemson can do to contain him and whether the Tigers' reloaded offense can keep up with him.
The junior from Pompano Beach, Florida, torched the Tigers for 457 yards—295 through the air, 162 on the ground—and three total touchdowns. That performance, even in a loss, vaulted Jackson to the head of a Heisman pack he would lead the rest of the way.
He hasn't slowed down one bit this season. Through Louisville's first two games, he's averaged 505 total yards and piled up eight touchdowns overall without a single turnover. In fact, he's just the second player in FBS history to throw for 300 or more yards and rush for at least 100 yards in consecutive games.
All told, Jackson has thrown 112 consecutive passes without an interception. That still leaves him 333 throws short of the all-time NCAA record for attempts without a pick, but it's an impressive run nonetheless.
Clemson's defense will again have its hands full trying to keep Jackson from having a field day, this time on his home turf.
"He's fun to watch, but he's not fun to prepare for, he's not fun to play against," Swinney said, per STATS LLC. "He makes a lot of people look bad."
One player the Tigers definitely can't afford to have looking like a fool: Austin Bryant. The junior defensive end racked up four of Clemson's 11 sacks—one shy of the school record—during last weekend's 14-6 win over Auburn.
In truth, the task of containing Jackson won't fall entirely on Bryant's shoulders. He has plenty of help up front, with Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins at the tackles inside and Clelin Farrell at the other end.
"They're very good up front," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said, per STATS LLC. "They've got two big, physical, fast defensive tackles and two really good guys on the edge. It's a really good challenge for us."
Together, that group has helped Clemson clamp down on its opponents' offenses. The Tigers rank second in the nation in total defense and sacks, and they have yet to allow a single touchdown this season.
As far as Jackson is concerned, Clemson's pass rush could have a field day against Louisville's signal-caller. According to ESPN's Heather Dinich, the Tigers have the most sacks in FBS (60) since 2016, while Jackson has been the nation's most sacked quarterback (48 times) over that same span.
Unless Clemson completely overwhelms Jackson, it could have its own issues keeping pace. The Tigers have turned over their top quarterback (Watson), wide receiver (Mike Williams) and running back (Wayne Gallman) from last season's matchup.
Their replacements managed just two scores against Auburn after racking up 56 points on Kent State in the season opener. Both of the team's touchdowns against the SEC's Tigers came courtesy of Kelly Bryant's legs. The junior quarterback, taking over under center for Watson this season, has already rushed for 136 yards and thrown for 417 while completing 68.6 percent of his passes.
Bryant is far and away the team leader in rushing yards and attempts (26). He'll be hard-pressed to do everything on his own in the 'Ville, though.
Without the proper support from a revamped pack of receivers and tailbacks, Bryant and the Tigers could be stuck playing catch up against a Cardinals club that knows how to get ahead.
Louisville has never beaten Clemson head-to-head in football, but it has never been far from victory, either. The Tigers' three wins in this still-young series have all come by less than a touchdown.
It just so happens the Cardinals have the country's foremost end-zone expert in Jackson on their side. If he can roast the Tigers on their turf in South Carolina as a sophomore, just imagine what kind of hay he'll be able to make with another year of experience (and a Heisman Trophy) under his belt and a "blackout" crowd at his back.
We're still three weeks away from October on the college football calendar, but this may be where and when Clemson's national title defense meets its end.
That is, unless (or until) the Tigers can revive their hopes later in the schedule. Remember: They narrowly lost to Pitt in mid-November last year before ripping off five straight wins to take home the second national title in school history.
Prediction: Louisville 38, Clemson 34