After Louisville beat Florida State in a thoroughly impressive 63-20 home win last September, coach Bobby Petrino told the gathered media that his coaches began scouting the Seminoles nine months earlier, in the winter.
"We spent a lot of time on it," Petrino said back then. "You pick out a few games each year where you’re going to focus on over the winter, over the spring and summer and make sure that you get well-prepared for it. And this was one of those games that we picked out."
Generally speaking, coaching staffs across the country begin evaluating the teams on the early part of their schedules during the long offseason. The Florida State game was Week 3 last season. But the pinpoint focus, detail and precision the Louisville coaching staff took in making notes and plans for the Seminoles rose to a different level.
Now let’s fast-forward to this season. Louisville plays Clemson at home in Week 3, the exact spot on the schedule Florida State occupied last season. So it stands to reason that the Cards might want to follow a similar blueprint, considering how much the Florida State and Clemson games mean for their ACC hopes.
What’s more, a revamped defensive coaching staff needs the early scouting reports, too, as defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon begins formulating a game plan to beat both teams.
"We’ve watched a lot of Clemson, and we’ve watched a lot of Florida State," Sirmon said recently. "I like it because you go through and do a mock scouting report. It’s a good dry run for us as a new staff to how we’re going to compile it, how we’re going to delegate who’s doing what in the breakdowns, and how we study it.
"Then we watch the film together of base runs, and we go through the base runs and we start throwing out ideas. Of the package that we currently carry, these are the things that look good, these are the things we might have to add. It’s been good for me to get to know the guys and for them to understand the process of how we’re going to do [things]."
Sirmon said the staff has already done a complete breakdown on all ACC opponents, including personnel groups, formations, style of play and tempo. They also have watched tape of Western Kentucky to prepare for the opener against Purdue, where former Hilltoppers coach (and Petrino protégé) Jeff Brohm has taken over.
But it is obvious why so much work has gone into the Clemson and Florida State games. They are the teams standing in Louisville's way in the Atlantic Division. Advance preparation helped Louisville throttle the Seminoles, and against Clemson it has nearly paid off three straight seasons.
It’s hard to forget how agonizingly close Louisville has come to beating Clemson over the past three meetings, losing each game by six points or less. In 2015, Clemson also traveled to Louisville in Week 3 (though it was a midweek game) and pulled out a 20-17 victory.
The Clemson offense that the Louisville defense sees in Week 3 won’t have the same personnel as the one that won the national championship in January. But personnel evaluations are not essential right now. Sirmon and staff want to figure out tendencies so they can start thinking about a possible game plan.
They have gone through last season’s games. Now that spring practice is over, they will take a deeper dive and look at the past several seasons with Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott calling the plays for the Tigers.
"Most programs recruit similar athletes to what they want to run," Sirmon said. "You don’t see a lot of the mature programs deviate that drastically. You’re going to recruit the skill players that are going to run in your system. It’s a lot about spacing formations, how they block different fronts, things that have been consistent for years with the staff."
Something else to keep in mind as the offseason moves forward. The Florida State game last year and Clemson game this year share more than just the same spot on the schedule. Clemson also will be starting a first-year quarterback, just as the Seminoles did.