Let’s empty the notebook from the games I watched on Saturday in Week 3 of college football. My main screen was on Clemson’s 47-21 win at Louisville. Clemson coming off an emotional game against Auburn and going into Louisville and dominating was impressive.
1. Clemson’s offensive line is good. Louisville’s defensive front is not as good as last year.
In Week 2, we saw Clemson’s offensive line struggle to do much of anything against the defensive line of Auburn. Auburn has the type of defensive line common of many teams that reach the College Football Playoff.
But against Louisville, it was a different story.
The Tigers opened with a 10-play, 79-yard drive for a touchdown, shoving it down the throat of the cards. Against Auburn, Clemson’s running backs had just 40 yards on 17 carries. Against Louisville, they had 271 on 30 carries, including runs of 81, 39, 26, 16, 12, and 10 yards. Some of that came when the game was well in hand, but Clemson did build the lead using a consistent run game.
So is Clemson’s offensive line good? Or is Louisville’s defensive line lacking?
It’s likely a bit of both. Louisville misses lineman DeAngelo Brown, who is now in the NFL. And the Cards’ line was clearly a bit gassed after the Tigers ran 52 plays in the first half. But even before they got gassed, the Cards were being pushed around by Clemson’s front. That’s important in an ACC with a lot of strong defensive lines.
2. Louisville needed Lamar Jackson to be Superman. He wasn’t close.
Three times in the first two drives, Jackson failed to connect with open receivers on plays that would have resulted in first downs or long gains. This struck me as important, because his offensive line protected him on these throws against a Clemson front that might be the best in the country.
He did not get better when the game was in the balance. He started just 6-of-18 for 61 yards. When Jackson threw a pick-six to seal the game at 26-7 with 24 minutes left, he was 11-of-24 for just 113 yards.
It was a bad game from Jackson, and it came at the worst possible time. For all the talk of Jackson being a better passer, he didn’t show it. His receivers also did not make any special plays for him. This receiving corps is not as scary as the 2016 unit that featured Jamari Staples and James Quick.
The final numbers are deceiving. Once Louisville got down three scores, Jackson went 10-of-18 for 204 yards, padding his stats. But the damage of the early inaccuracy was done. Louisville’s offense could not stay on the field, and Clemson ran a million plays, tiring out the Cards.
Much has been made about Jackson throwing more from the pocket this season in preparation from the NFL, but his legs are still his most dangerous weapon, and in a big game, it just makes sense to break them out. I thought Louisville should have featured Jackson as a runner more.
Lville just 5-of-11 for 42 yards targeting WRs, while avg 9.8 yards per designed run. The play selection though: 22 pass plays, 9 runs.— #DaHale (@DavidHaleESPN) September 17, 2017
I anticipate this game will be used by the talking heads to ding Jackson come draft time. But while this data point cannot be ignored, I hope that Jackson’s entire resume is considered, because he is still really good. One bad game should not define a player, especially when he is facing a more talented team and has little help around him.
3. Kelly Bryant spread the ball around
Louisville’s secondary is not great, and especially not without corner Jaire Alexander, who was out with injury. But Louisville did do a good job to take away Clemson receiver Deon Cain. Cain is by far Clemson’s best receiver, so this makes sense.
So Bryant looked elsewhere. On his first 19 attempts, only three were thrown at Cain. The other 16 went to eight different targets. Clemson’s coaching staff has done a good job of designing a lot of short throws and a mix of shot plays for Bryant, as he feels his way into the offense.
He also deserves credit for hitting a number of open deep passes the Tigers schemed up, including a 40-yarder to Hunter Renfrow and a 79-yarder to Ray-Ray McCloud. He did have a bad miss to Cain deep, when the star receiver had left his man in the dust, only to have to come back for the ball and give the defender time to catch up. But it was mostly good.
Bryant is clearly a step down from Deshaun Watson. But he’s been good enough through the first month to believe Clemson should be the favorite for the ACC, particularly with Florida State having to travel to Death Valley with a true freshman QB after losing Deondre Francois.
These are some other quick things I saw in Week 3.
- Florida beat Tennessee on a beautiful throw and catch of 63 yards by Feleipe Franks to Tyrie Cleveland. Cleveland is one of the best receiving talents in college football. Franks has one of the strongest arms in college football. As second-year players, both of their games are works in progress, but there are some very encouraging signs.
- 71 carries for 411 yards. That is the production Michigan and Tennessee combined to get out of their running backs against Florida’s defense. Will other teams on Florida’s schedule be able to exploit what might be emerging as a weakness? Can Florida fix it? Opposing coordinators are going to take notice of how much better Florida’s pass defense is than its run defense.
- I am a fan of three of Florida’s freshman defenders: corners Marco Wilson and C.J. Henderson and defensive tackle T.J. Slaton.
- As a Floridian, I hear a lot of Florida fans complaining about Jim McElwain. I get it; many of Florida’s games don’t look pretty. Florida has scored nine offensive touchdowns in its last eight games. But he is still 14-3 in regular season SEC play. Yes, it is the SEC East. But still, 14-3. I understand that AD Scott Stricklin did not hire him, but unless things go really far south, I have to believe McElwain’s job is safe this year.
- Nebraska lost to Northern Illinois at home. Nebraska has six four-star commitments for the 2018 recruiting class. If the Cornhuskers don’t make a bowl, will the recruiting momentum go away?