CLEMSON — A Bobby Petrino passing game against a Clemson secondary would have sounded like a mismatch not too many years ago.
Entering No. 11 Clemson’s visit to Louisville on Thursday night, it still is a mismatch. For the opposite reason.
While the Tigers’ pass defense has not missed a beat from last year’s elite success, the Cardinals (0-2) haven’t found a sturdy quarterback through two winnable defeats to Auburn and Houston.
Clemson was No. 2 in the country in pass defense last year, yielding just 157.4 yards a game through the air. This year’s unit has faced run-first attacks in Wofford and Appalachian State, and the passing numbers have been predictable: 15 for 46, 185 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. Going deeper, only seven of the 46 throws have resulted in a first down.
“We’ll come out and play hard, regardless who we’re playing against. Alabama, Florida State, LSU, it doesn’t really matter,” Tigers junior safety Jayron Kearse said. “We don’t have any questions to answer.”
Meanwhile, the stats are similarly ugly for Louisville’s trio of passers: freshman Lamar Jackson and sophomores Reggie Bonnafon and Kyle Bolin.
Jackson gave his team a spark at the end of the Auburn game, picking up 106 rushing yards and a touchdown, but he’s completed 26 of 47 throws for 268 yards and a score with three interceptions.
Bonnafon, the opening day starter, and Bolin haven’t fared much better: 18 for 31 for 224 yards and a score. The Cardinals’ collective passer rating of 110.17 ranks worst in the ACC.
“The biggest thing is they’re not going to change their plan drastically,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Maybe a little bit more spread type of personnel when (Jackson’s) in the game. He’s incredibly athletic, can run around, do some things.
“Primarily, they’ll be heavy 2-tight end personnel. That’s what they want to do, regardless of who’s in at quarterback.”
With two fewer days than usual to get ready for a game, a task exacerbated by the extra time required to travel, Clemson is already on the practice field getting ready for the Cardinals.
Clemson had a long practice Sunday night, and the Tigers plan on a full-pads session Monday before a walkthrough Tuesday. With the flight to Louisville set for Wednesday, there won’t be a true day off between the Tigers’ second and third games this year.
“It’s a different week,” Swinney said, “but that’s why you prepare in the summer and try to get some work in during camp as well.”
Swinney said reserve defensive end Dane Rogers suffered a high ankle sprain in Saturday’s win over Appalachian State and is unlikely to suit up Thursday at Louisville. He should be fine for the following weeks leading up to hosting Notre Dame.
Linebacker B.J. Goodson suffered a stinger, or neck injury, in the game, though it’s expected Goodson should be fine to start at middle linebacker Thursday.