CLEMSON — As the No. 2 Clemson Tigers prepare to take their show on the road to the commonwealth of Kentucky to take on the No. 14 Louisville Cardinals, there is one name that is on the lips of every Clemson player and coach ahead of Saturday night's matchup — Lamar Jackson.
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner has been nothing short of spectacular, averaging 505 yards of total offense per game in two wins this season.
But for Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, it is games like this that are the reason players come to Clemson.
"Really excited about another big challenge this week,” Swinney said at his Tuesday press conference. “Obviously, Louisville is an outstanding team, a difficult place to play, GameDay headed up there, 8:12 (p.m.) kick and it's exciting. It's exciting and I'm really looking forward to it. Gonna be a lot of fun; to me that's what you come to Clemson for, to be a part of games like that in great environments.
"We're looking forward to it, and it's a fun game to prepare for, because you just know that every play is so critical and you got to make your opportunities count when you get them. And then, just the challenge of playing against the Heisman Trophy winner. I think that's something that you get excited about, because you want to play the best.”
The Tigers and the Cardinals have met three times since Louisville joined the ACC, with the Tigers winning all three of the previous match-ups by a combined 15 points — including, a 42-36 victory last season.
"Again, got a lot of respect for Louisville -- their team," Swinney said. "We've had some incredible battles with them and don't expect this one to be any different.”
As good as the Jackson-led offense was last season, this year they appear to be even better — averaging 614.5 yards per game, 7.59 yards per play and 41 points per game.
"Offensively, they're crazy good; it's video (game) numbers, it's unbelievable the numbers,” Swinney said. "They’ve played two pretty good games. Two pretty good teams that they've had to put up those numbers. Just impressive.
“Lamar Jackson is an unbelievable football player. He's fun to watch, he's not fun to prepare for. He's not fun to play against. I'd much prefer to watch him. I enjoy that a lot better. We've got our hands full with this guy."
It is not just a one-sided affair when you take on the Louisville Cardinals, as the defense has been one of the best in the country each of the last three seasons — finishing 14th, 18th and sixth nationally in total defense.
Under the direction of first-year defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon, a talented Tiger offense will be tested once again Saturday night.
"Defensively, the biggest thing that jumps out is all the guys back that have played a ton of games for them,” Swinney said. “I think they've got 12 or 13 guys that started at some point last year, and I think maybe nine full-time starters back off last year’s defense. It's a really good group. They're really big and strong up front.
“They’ve got quality people across the board. Another big challenge for us going against a great defense at their place.”
With the first goal of their five — win the opener — already accomplished, along with notching a victory over a top-15 ranked SEC opponent in Auburn last weekend, the Tigers will turn their eyes toward the next goal on their list— win the division.
And while that goal cannot be accomplished until late in November, a victory over Louisville Saturday night would go a long way toward helping them achieve that goal for a third-straight season.
"So, I look forward to seeing how we match up and how we do under the bright lights Saturday night, (with) GameDay and all that stuff," Swinney said. “We can't win the division this week, neither can they. We can't lose it, neither can they. But man, you can get off to a great start and really stay in control of your destiny within your division.
"That's what both teams want to do and we're gonna work our tails off to see if we can get off to a good start in conference play.”