CLEMSON – Dabo Swinney has been behind the controls of a video game, so he’s well aware of the potential for high-scoring affairs in that format.
He’s also well aware of similar potential Saturday night on the grass at Memorial Stadium when the Tigers roll out the welcome mat for unbeaten Louisville.
“It’s really kind of freaky when you look at the numbers they’ve put up,” Swinney said. “It’d be hard to have these type of numbers in a video game.”
At its core, Saturday night’s match-up pits the most prolific offense in the nation against the third-stingiest defense in the country, which should provide enough entertainment and storylines in itself.
But wait, there’s plenty more:
• With Clemson ranked No. 3 in the latest Amway Coaches Poll and Louisville No. 4, the game features the two highest-ranked teams ever to meet at Memorial Stadium;
• At stake is an inside track to the Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division title and enhanced prospects for wearing an ACC crown and earning a berth in the College Football Playoff;
• Throw in two of the country’s top defensive units, the big-play potential of both teams and the presence of two Heisman Trophy-contending quarterbacks and you’ve got a recipe for memorable night in Death Valley.
“A lot of explosive athletes will be on the field Saturday night,” Swinney said. “This will be one to enjoy, that’s for sure, because they’ve got some cats and so do we.”
A sold-out crowd of more than 81,500 will be on hand to get an up-close and personal look at these “cats” and the clawing that will ensue. For those fans not pre-ticketed, good luck, although there appeared to be a healthy smattering of tickets available on the secondary market on Friday for fans willing to pay anywhere from $150 to $500 per ticket.
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Despite the fact that Clemson has won 48 of 54 home games under Swinney over the past eight-plus seasons, Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said his team – as well as many faithful Louisville followers – are looking forward to playing the Tigers on what promises to be an evening with perfect football weather and atmosphere.
“You could make a strong argument that Clemson is one of the best places to spend a Saturday in the fall,” said Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN College GameDay co-host and color analyst for Saturday night’s nationally televised game on ABC.
Apparently, Petrino concurs.
“It’s a loud place, it’s a good environment. It’s exciting, it’s fun,” Petrino said. “College GameDay will be there, so it’ll be exciting for everybody.
“After we played them (in 2014), at the end of the season that year, anytime I talked to a fan that traveled to the game they were very complimentary of how the people treated them and how nice people were to our fans who traveled to the game. That was one of the things that stuck out to me a lot.”
While the offenses are generating much of the pre-game hype, the game could come down to the defenses, both of which rank among the Top 13 nationally. It’s also worth noting that the two previous games between Clemson and Louisville have gone down to the wire; in 2014, Clemson’s defense held the Cardinals at the 2-yard line in a 23-17 win and withstood a late missed field goal to prevail, 20-17, last season at Louisville.
This game could play out in similar fashion. Clemson opened as a 3½-point favorite last Sunday, but that line has since swung the other direction, with Louisville entering the game as a two-point favorite.
“Obviously when you looked at our schedule you see what gives you a chance to win the division,” Petrino said. “It goes through Florida State and Clemson.”
From Louisville’s perspective, it’s one down, one to go.
“This is what we tell our players what they come to the University of Louisville for – to play in games like this,” Petrino said.
From Clemson’s perspective, it’s all about continuing to ride a wave of success that has seen the Tigers win 18 consecutive home games dating back to 2013.
Perched atop the hill Saturday night, Swinney said his team will embrace the moment.
“It’s awesome, it’s exhilarating, I really can’t describe it,” he said. “It’s just a blessing to be able to experience something like that, to have a fan base that gives us the environment we have is incredible.
“But what I always tell our guys is that the environment doesn’t win, it’s what happens on that field. It ignites what’s around you. We’ve got to do our part as a team. I know our fans are going to do their part.”
Scott Keepfer, USA Today