CLEMSON, S.C. — No. 3 Louisville and quarterback Lamar Jackson have done the improbable — turned Clemson passer Deshaun Watson into an afterthought this weekend.
Tigers linebacker Ben Boulware feels it and believes Watson will be more than ready when the Cardinals (4-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) face No. 5 Clemson (4-0, 1-0) on Saturday night.
“Everyone loves talking about Lamar (Jackson) and Deshaun’s kind of been in the background,” Boulware said. “But I’m like, ‘Hey, we’ve got a pretty good quarterback here, too.’”
Watson, a Gainesville High graduate, was considered college football’s best, the reigning ACC player of the year and the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman Trophy this season when the year began. But Watson has largely been left in the dust by Jackson’s amazing start.
Jackson, a sophomore , has passed for 1,330 yards and 13 touchdowns and run for 526 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s the first Football Bowl Subdivision player in 10 years to put up two seven-TD games in one season. Those numbers, along with Jackson’s breakaway runs, have vaulted him into the Heisman favorite a third of the way through the season.
That’s OK with Watson, who’s focused on keeping the Tigers perfect this week.
“We just have to continue to do what we do and focus on the task at hand,” Watson said. “We can’t worry about what the future brings or anything like that. At the end of the day, we still have to go out there and play our best.”
Watson understands he’s yet to achieve that this season. The 6-foot-3 junior has passed for 996 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s also thrown four interceptions and has yet to rush for a TD after running for 12 scores a season ago.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Watson is rounding into form for the most important time of the year. “He has led us to four wins, critical drives, critical wins,” Swinney said. “We’re going to need him to play a great game Saturday.”
Some things to watch when No. 3 Louisville plays No. 5 Clemson.
ACC SHOW: For the second time in three weeks, the ACC will have a pair of top 10 schools facing each other. Louisville, then ranked No. 10, dominated third-ranked Florida State 63-20 on Sept. 17. It is the 15th time in league history that two top 10 teams have matched up. It is just the fifth top five match in ACC history, the last one coming in 2013 at Death Valley when No. 5 Florida State took apart third-ranked Clemson 51-14.
HOME SWEET HOME: Clemson does not lose often at Death Valley, currently having won 18 straight at home since its loss to Florida State three seasons ago. The Tigers are 46-6 at home since Dabo Swinney took over as coach for Tommy Bowden in the middle of the 2008 season.
RARE DOUBLE: Louisville is seeking a rare double in the Atlantic Coast Conference. A win by the Cardinals on Saturday night would be the first time a league opponent has defeated both Florida State and Clemson in the same season since North Carolina in 2010. The Cardinals could also go a long way to breaking the stronghold Florida State and Clemson have had on the ACC Atlantic Division. The Seminoles and Tigers have combined to represent the division in the past seven championship games.
REACHING A MILESTONE: Louisville is seeking its 500th victory in program history when it takes on Clemson. The Cardinals are 499-450-17 in 98 seasons.
OFFENSE VS. DEFENSE: True test between the proverbial unstoppable force in Louisville against immovable object in Clemson. Cardinals attack ranks first nationally in overall offense and scoring offense, third in rushing and 10th in passing. Tigers stand third in overall defense and passing defense, fifth in scoring defense and 15th in rushing defense.