Clemson Football: 3 things that could impact matchup with Louisville

The No. 5 Clemson football team is facing a huge challenge with red hot No. 3 Louisville coming to Death Valley. Here’s how this game may be impacted.

With so much talk about the top 5 matchup, quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson, and coaches Dabo Swinney and Bobby Petrino, let’s not forget about the importance of the running game, turnovers, and special teams.

Let’s talk about these three key parts of the game by looking back at some stats from the two prior meetings. Clemson has won both games. In 2014, the Tigers defeated Louisville 23-17 in Death Valley and last season 20-17 at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

Running game. Louisville has struggled running the ball against Clemson and the stats from both games are glaring. Clemson has held them to 71 yards on 66 attempts. That’s right, they barely averaged over a yard per rush(1.07).

So far this season, the Cardinals are currently averaging 318 yards per game. Running back Brandon Radcliff(106.75) and quarterback Lamar Jackson(131.50) lead the way with a combined 238.25. In the past meetings, Radcliff has rushed 30 times for 68 yards, while Jackson has rushed once for 8 yards in his one contest versus the Tigers.

In the two games, Clemson has fared better with 274 yards on 72 attempts and a 3.8 average. That 3.8 per rush is bolstered by Wayne Gallman‘s 139 yards on 24 carries from last season’s game.

However in 2016, the “Wayne Train” has been stuck in the station through four games. After rushing for 123 yards against Auburn, Gallman has only mustered a total of 133 yards in wins over Troy, S.C. State, and Georgia Tech.

Turnovers. Both teams have turned the ball over 4 times in the head to head matchups. Louisville had two fumbles and two interceptions and Clemson had 4 interceptions. Only one of the turnovers resulted in a defensive touchdown, and it was the 2014 endzone fumble recovery by current Atlanta Falcons nose guard Grady Jarrett.

This season, Louisville has 10 turnovers on offense, and they have forced seven. On the other hand, Clemson has 6 turnovers on offense and have forced nine.

Special teams. Each game has featured a touchdown return. In 2014, Adam Humphries returned a punt for 72 yards and Traveon Samuel had a 100 yard kickoff return last season. Humphries is now a receiver for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the sophomore Samuel will be in Death Valley tonight.

Besides Samuels, the special team players to watch tonight are Ray Ray McCloud from Clemson and Jaire Alexander from the Cards. McCloud is 8th in the nation on punt returns with an 18.8 average, and Alexander is 9th with a 17.3 average. Alexander has a touchdown against Florida State and McCloud should have had one against Troy. He dropped the ball before crossing the goal line which negated a 75 yard score.

Can Radcliffe or Gallman reach 100 yards?

Will turnovers determine the winner?

Which punt returner will impact the game?

Those questions will be answered tonight and a leader will emerge for the ACC Atlantic division crown.