LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville will need to play with even more of the resilience in consecutive shootout victories when they square off against third-ranked Clemson on Saturday.
Louisville (4-2, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) will face its toughest challenge this season against the Tigers (6-0, 4-0), who are 5-0 in the brief series. That includes Clemson's 77-16 pummeling last year, a low point of the disappointing 2018 season the Cardinals have worked to put behind them.
"When this new staff came in, we didn't care about last season," said offensive lineman Robbie Bell, referring to the impact of first-year coach Scott Satterfield.
"We were focused on making sure we were the best we could be this year. I think that's starting to show with the 4-2 start and we're starting to click everywhere."
Louisville has certainly clicked offensively the past two weeks, even playing with a bit of swagger, in wins against Boston College and then-No. 19 Wake Forest by a combined 103-98 margin.
Satterfield is pleased with the offensive showing, but the points allowed indicates how much defensive work lies ahead.
Especially if the Cardinals want to upset a Clemson squad that has won 21 consecutive games and that appears intent on winning its third national title in four seasons.
Offensively "they just have a lot of talent all over the place," Satterfield said. "Most teams you play will have a few here and there. They seem like in every position they have some of the better players, which makes it difficult."
The Tigers looked vulnerable a few weeks ago after a 21-20 escape at North Carolina. But they returned from a bye to blow out Florida State 45-14 last week and show signs of distancing themselves from the rest of the ACC.
But Clemson doesn't want to make the mistake of overlooking an improving Louisville squad.
"Watching Louisville, it's tough to get a bead on them," Tigers co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. "It looks like they wanted to do one thing at the start of the season and now they're kind of settling in. ... We're going to have to challenge our guys to be locked in."
Some other things to watch as No. 3 Clemson visits Louisville:
Clemson enters the game leading the ACC in total defense (254.8 yards allowed per game) and passing D (150.3), while ranking second in third-down conversions allowed (29.5. The young Tigers held FSU to 253 yards and had four takeaways but believe there's room to improve, especially up front.
"Every day we're learning something new and I feel like we're going to keep growing," tackle Jordan Williams said. "We're never going to be complacent with where we're at."
Junior linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who returned an interception 27 yards for a TD in last year's meeting, leads the team with 46 tackles and four sacks.
Louisville quarterback Micale Cunningham has practiced this week after being knocked out at Wake Forest from a scary tackle. The mobile sophomore fumbled while being upended on a run and landed partially on his helmet, sending him to the medical tent. He's better, but with Jawon Pass (toe injury) out for the season , the focus for Cunningham and freshman Evan Conley is staying healthy as the remaining QBs.
"We've got to be more careful out there and just watch our surroundings," Cunningham said. "I'm not looking forward to getting hurt, but I'm going to go out and play ball and whatever happens, happens."
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says he's not changing how he coaches, despite what some think was an over-the-top display as he yelled at kicker B.T. Potter for missing a field goal against FSU. Swinney said he does not degrade players, "but I coach them hard." The coach said he yelled at safety K'Von Wallace a lot worse than Potter in the third quarter after he picked a bad personal foul. Swinney added that he won't be swayed by critics and will keep doing what he believes is right.
Louisville sophomore Hassan Hall leads FBS in kickoff returns with a 38.8-yard average helped by four attempts for 220 yards last week at Wake Forest. The highlight was a 100-yard return for a TD, the second of his career, which he followed with an 83-yarder that set up another TD in the 62-59 win. Louisville ranks fourth nationally with a 30.46-yard average.
AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in Clemson, South Carolina, contributed to this report.