Oct. 19 NCAA Football Picks and Preview — No. 3 Clemson (6-0) at Louisville (4-2)

(Dabo Swinney photo courtesy Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY Sports)

This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.

When and Where: Friday, Oct. 18, Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, Ky., Noon EDT

After looking and playing the part of reigning College Football Playoff champion, third-ranked Clemson puts its school-record 21-game winning streak on the line Saturday in a critical intradivision ACC clash at Louisville.

Even with the Tigers’ impressive 45-14 waxing of Florida State on Saturday, voters took more of a shine to LSU, which vaulted to second in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll on the strength of its win over Florida.

Dabo Swinney’s team, tough, looked refreshed coming off their bye week. Clemson (6-0, 3-0 ACC Atlantic) scored on two of its first three possessions, and Trevor Lawrence threw three first-half touchdown passes. The Tigers scored the first 42 points of the game and rolled up 553 yards of total offense, more than doubling the Seminoles’ total of 253.

Clemson also recorded three interceptions, with Derion Kendrick returning his 38 yards for a touchdown. The Tigers have held their last four opponents to fewer than 175 passing yards and added another three sacks, giving them 22 on the season.

First-year Louisville coach Scott Satterfield is coming off his biggest win, knocking then-No. 19 Wake Forest from the unbeatens with a wild 62-59 road victory last Saturday. The Cardinals (4-2, 2-1) never trailed as freshman quarterback Evan Conley threw two touchdown passes while Malik Cunningham had two of his own before suffering an injury in the second quarter.

Louisville’s defense recorded three takeaways, which helped offset the 668 yards the Demon Deacons rolled up in constantly trying to rally. Three of Wake Forest’s five touchdown passes were on scoring plays of 20 or more yards.

The Cardinals, who snapped a 10-game losing streak to AP Top 25 teams, will now try to beat their first top-five opponent since beating then-No. 4 Florida 33-23 in the 2013 Sugar Bowl.

Clemson has won all five games between the teams since Louisville joined the ACC in 2014, outscoring the Cardinals 209-107. The Tigers embarrassed the Cardinals 77-16 in last year’s meeting, rolling up 492 rushing yards and 661 overall.

Swinney thinks Tigers have regained swagger

Clemson came out aggressively against Florida State, something Swinney admitted to purposefully setting out to do with having Lawrence throw deep on the first play from scrimmage and calling for running back Travis Etienne to throw a halfback option pass on the second.

He felt that went a long way in restoring the swagger to his team before quickly turning his attention to Louisville and its distinctive style offensively.

“I really like their scheme. They’re primarily a pistol team but lots of option principals and play-action built off it,” Swinney explained at his weekly media availability. “A lot of pressure on the safeties. Safeties have a lot of conflict because they’ve got to be part of the fit, so they have to read the play-action off that, and that’s a real challenge for them.

“D-lineman have to stay on their feet, especially backside guys if they’re running that stretch. Corners have to tackle well. And eye discipline because they’re all over the place. Not staring the backfield and really doing your job. Just lots of option principals even though they’re a speed offense.”

It does, however, feel like a strength on strength matchup for Clemson, which ranks second in the country in passing yards allowed at 150.3 per game. The Tigers are also tied for 10th with 22 sacks, with Isaiah Simmons leading the way with four.

Swinney also said he will be going with two kickers this week after B.T. Potter missed a 26-yard field goal at the end of the first half. Scott Sawicki made a 26-yarder to close out the scoring versus the Seminioles, and Potter has gone 5 of 9 on his attempts.

“B.T. Potter is 55 percent on short-yardage field goals and he’s way better than that. I haven’t lost any confidence in him,” the coach noted. “He’s going to kick in the NFL. He’s probably the most talented kicker I’ve ever had. He’s just got to grow up a little bit and get the type of mental toughness and focus it takes to be special at that position. And he will, he’s got a long career ahead of him.”

Louisville ranks fourth in the country in kickoff returns, averaging 30.46 yards, and 33rd in punt returns (11.82). Hassan Hall’s 100-yard kickoff return proved critical to the Cardinals staying ahead of the Demon Deacons, and another big play could go a long way in keeping Satterfield’s team in contention for a huge upset.

“Coach Holt does a great job with that with the special teams and they’re a big part of what we what we want to do,” Satterfield said during his weekly press conference. “I want to be a complete football team and we are in three different phases the other night. We’re really good special teams and offense and we get to the point where all three phases are clicking on all cylinders, we will be hard to beat. We want to be that football team.”

Satterfield’s offense, regardless of who is under center, has shown a knack for big plays. Louisville ranks third in the nation with 15 plays of 40 or more yards and sixth with nine of at least 50 yards. Receiver Dez Fitzpatrick has a streak of three straight 100-yard games and has caught a touchdown pass in four consecutive contests.

“It’s a combination of his size and he does have speed,” Satterfield said of the 6-foot-2, 204-pound junior. “That combination is hard to defend. For a corner out there, he can kind of overmatch some of those corners with his size and then his speed to get away from them and that’s two things that have helped him in a great run here.

“We’re going to try to find ways to get him the football more in space where he can make some moves and use his strength to break tackles.”

Satterfield has not settled on a starter between Cunningham and Conley, though his original starting quarterback for the season — Jawon Pass — is scheduled to undergo season-ending toe surgery after missing the last four games. Cunningham and Conley have both been effective, throwing for 1,242 yards and 11 TDs with only two interceptions.

“Whenever Malik has been out there, he’s played great the last two weeks. He’s gotten dinged up a couple times and had to come out and Evan’s come in and played great as well,” Satterfield said. “I’ll say what I’ve always said, that whoever’s the healthiest and gives us the best chance, that’s who we’ll play.”

Notable Trends

Louisville is:

  • 1-8 ATS in its last nine games vs. ACC teams.
  • 5-14 ATS in its last 19 home games.
  • 1-6 ATS in its last seven games after allowing 40 or more points in its previous game.

Clemson is:

  • 9-2 ATS in its last 11 games vs. ACC teams.
  • 7-1 ATS in its last eight road games.
  • 7-2 ATS in its last nine games.

*****5-Star Pick*****

Clemson OVER 43 points (-110)

This is a full-on confidence pick in Lawrence, Etienne, and the rest of the Tigers offense to run rampant on Louisville. Clemson looked like the defending national champion last week and looked like a team that owns a 21-game winning streak. And there is little trust in a Cardinals defense that has yielded 1,109 passing yards and 11 touchdowns through the air in conference play.

****4-Star Picks****

Clemson -24 (-110)

All this talk about Louisville’s offense is intriguing, up to a point. The real issue is the Cardinals’ defense, or lack thereof. Louisville is yielding 439.3 yards per game on the season, and that number climbs to 492.8 per contest when facing FBS teams.

The shortcomings have been more glaring in conference play as all three opponents have racked up 520 or more yards and piled up 133 points. Even if Lawrence has been taken off a Heisman odds board, Clemson’s offense is still plenty proficient enough to pick apart the Cardinals and hang a half-hundred or more on them.

OVER 33.5 points 1st half (-115)

This is a surprisingly low first-half number given Louisville’s shaky defense and struggles containing opponents in conference games. The feeling is the Cardinals need to score only one touchdown to help the over deliver here, and Louisville games have averaged 43.3 points in the first two quarters. Again, Clemson’s offense should be able to have its way in this game early and often.

***3-Star Picks***

OVER 60.5 points (-110)

While the under is 6-1 in Clemson’s last seven ACC games, the feeling is the Tigers are going to be too much offensively for Louisville to handle and do a good portion of the heavy lifting to carry this number. After all, Clemson did run up 77 points on the Cardinals last year, and Satterfield knows his team’s best chance to win this game is to try and run with them offensively.

The over has gone 8-2 in Louisville’s last 10 conference games and 10-4 overall. Additionally, the total in the Cardinals’ three ACC games this season has been 86.7 points. Louisville scoring even 17 points in this game should be enough to see the over through in this contest.

Clemson -14 first half (-105)

There is more confidence in Clemson being able to roll through Louisville defensively than there is for the Cardinals to keep within touching distance in the first half. Satterfield’s team has yielded 21 or more points in the first half of all three ACC tilts, and after the Tigers got back on track in the first two quarters versus Florida State last week, that should be 4 for 4 after 30 minutes in Louisville.

Published by:

Chris Altruda

Currently a freelance sportswriter on the hunt for full-time work. If you like my work or have constructive criticism, please share it and/or contact me at chris.altruda@hotmail.com or via Twitter at @AlTruda73 My portfolio of clippings can be viewed at http://www.clippings.me/caltruda And thank you for taking time out of your day to read my posts.

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