CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson saw it all last year from Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson.
The Cardinals’ quarterback came into Clemson a year ago with gaudy stats and plenty to prove against one of the country’s best defenses.
Jackson did not quite live up to the hype in the first half; the Tigers’ defense managed to bottle him up as Clemson took a 28-10 lead. Then Jackson dazzled Death Valley to lead five straight scoring drives and give Louisville a 36-28 advantage with seven minutes to play.
Clemson rallied and went on to win the national title. It was one of many impressive performances by Jackson, who walked away with the Heisman trophy.
Now third-ranked Clemson (2-0) gears up for another shot at Jackson when the Tigers play at No. 14 Louisville (2-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) on Saturday night.
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables doesn’t like to keep highlights of Jackson’s play on too long.
“Some of it’s fun,” he said, “and then the more you see of it, the more sick you get.”
Jackson made a lot of Clemson coaches, players and fans ill with his second half performance a year ago. After managing just 138 yards with no touchdowns and four sacks the first two quarters, Jackson erupted for 319 yards with three touchdowns with just one sack.
Jackson and the Cardinals were knocking on the door of a game-winning score when receiver James Quick came up a yard short on fourth-and-12 at the Clemson 3 with 33 seconds left.
Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell said those who went him against him last year are more wary this time.
“Obviously, you know what he can do with his feet. He can make any move you want, all the juke moves,” Ferrell said. “You’ve really got to gang tackle a guy like that.”
That’s what Clemson did in the opening half, perhaps best remembered for former linebacker Ben Boulware choking Jackson on a tackle.
Where the Tigers went wrong after halftime was giving Jackson too many opportunities, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. The Tigers threw three interceptions and lost two fumbles. Two of picks came in the second half and both led to touchdowns.
“Hopefully, we can do a little better job of taking care of the ball and maximizing our opportunities when they present themselves,” Swinney said.
Clemson cornerback Ryan Carter said Jackson hurt the Tigers when he broke from the pocket and made plays on the run. It will be essential, Carter believes, to keep him behind the line and force him to pass.
“We know what he can do when he tucks it and runs it,” Carter said.
Jackson has had a fast start to the season. He’s accounted for 1,010 yards and eight touchdowns in wins over Purdue and North Carolina. Jackson became the second player in Football Bowl Subdivision history to record consecutive games of 300 yards passing and 100 yards rushing.
“Lamar is amazing,” Louisville offensive tackle Geron Christian said. “It helps you out a lot because you know he can make plays. He keeps people in line and the defensive front at home.”
Clemson has had strong start defensively this year. The Tigers had 11 sacks in shutting down Auburn last week. They’ve given up just nine points this season — Louisville has scored more than that in five of eight quarters this year — and are second nationally with just 118 yards allowed per game.
Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said Clemson’s Venables does a good job mixing up coverages and adjusting to the opponents’ attack. The Cardinals, Petrino said, must go straight at the Tigers.
“I think the thing we did last year is, we went out there and played fast,” Petrino said. “Our guys didn’t hesitate, so we were able to make a lot of plays.”
Venables knows Jackson will be aiming to finish things this weekend like he didn’t do a year ago.
“If he’s looking to pass, you’d better cover” the receivers, Venables said. “If you cover them, you’d better be able to come get him.”