Clemson opponent preview No. 3: Louisville

Louisville quarterback Reggie Bonnafon (7) options to Lamar Atkins. ¬ The Clemson Tigers played host to the Louisville Cardinals at Memorial Stadium in Clemson Saturday, October 11, 2014. Gwinn Davis / Special to the Post and Courier

CLEMSON – Remember when Bobby Petrino ticked off 81,500 Clemson fans?

“To be real honest with you, it’s gonna be very similar to last week,” Petrino said one day in October, quite innocuously – except for the part where ‘last week’ meant the relatively sleepy Carrier Dome in Syracuse, and ‘it’s’ referred to nationally-renowned Death Valley.

“You know, that was a loud place. I don’t know if it can get any louder, even though the crowd wasn’t that big.”

Consider the bear poked. It couldn’t get any louder when Adam Humphries hustled in for a punt return touchdown or Tavaris Barnes and Grady Jarrett co-signed a fumble-six – or especially when DeShawn Williams poked away Will Gardner’s desperation throw on the goal line to clinch Clemson’s 23-17 victory despite the lack of, you know, an offensive touchdown.

Here’s the rub: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium isn’t exactly a cemetery. Especially at night, and especially when top-flight competition comes calling to Louisville. We saw that last year when the Cards gave Florida State a game, and took apart Miami on Labor Day night.

Since Clemson has a couple of underrated challenges in weeks one and two, followed by five quick days to prepare for Louisville, the seventeenth night of September shall go a long way toward telling the total tale of the Tigers’ 2015 campaign.

Opponent preview No. 1: Wofford

Opponent preview No. 2: Appalachian State

*Phil Steele’s Projected Preseason AP Top 25, posted April 27

Louisville coach: Bobby Petrino (50-13, 6th season)

Returning starters: 11 (5 offense, 6 defense)

2014 record: 9-4, 5-3 Atlantic Coast Conference

Scoring offense: 31.2 points per game (53rd in FBS)

Scoring defense: 21.8 points allowed (24th)

Series: Clemson leads 1-0

Last meeting: Clemson 23, Louisville 17 (Oct. 11, 2014 in Clemson)

Opposing beat writer to follow: Jeff Greer, Louisville Courier Journal (@JeffGreer_CJ)

1. Jayron to the rescue: Good thing Robert Smith’s earning a steady per diem up in Indianapolis, because that guy owes his former safety mate a steak dinner. Brian Quick broke open the seam in the final minute and Smith slipped, nearly letting Clemson’s tenuous 23-17 lead slip away in an instant. However, the 6-4 Kearse used those long, long legs to race down and catch Quick inside the Tigers’ 10-yard-line, and Louisville couldn’t quite score that next series (even though Louisville’s red-zone TD percentage, 67.2, was 5 th-best in the ACC and top-30 nationally.)

2. Who’s the man? It would seem Reggie Bonnafon will be ready to take his place as Petrino’s hand-picked leader of the offense, even though Bonnafon struggled mightily early in his freshman year – particularly at Clemson (5-for-13, 62 yards, four sacks before getting benched). Gardner, who went 10-of-16 with a touchdown and 150 yards (73 coming on the Quick gain) has a tad more experience, but it’ll be important for whoever wins the job to greatly improve an uncharacteristically poor Petrino offense (72nd in total offense). If the Cardinals’ defense is anywhere near as effective as its sixth-rated total D in 2014, the quarterback’s job will be much easier.

3. Quick turnaround: Louisville’s actually accustomed to having less than a week to prepare for a game, whereas Clemson hasn’t done this since 2012. Louisville beat Murray State 66-21 last year, Cincinnati 34-31 three years ago, and Rutgers in 2012 and 2013 with less than a full week to get ready. Louisville opens with Auburn (in Atlanta) and Houston, so it’s a monstrous set of opponents in its first quarter of the schedule. But that only means the Cardinals should be that much more ready out of fall camp, so Clemson beware.

Week before: Appalachian State

Next week: bye week, Notre Dame

On the horizon: Georgia Tech

-AB