The Tigers (3-2, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) and Swinney have seen their season revived with Watson's ascension to starting quarterback. He has run and passed for 1,088 yards and 11 touchdowns the past three games, the past two victories over North Carolina and North Carolina State following the team's 1-2 start.
The Cardinals (5-1, 3-1) will try to slow him down when they make their first trip to Death Valley on Saturday. Louisville leads the country yards allowed, permitting just 230 yards and one touchdown a game - about 130 yards and two TDs fewer than Watson's averaged the past three contests.
Swinney understands the challenge ahead for Watson with Louisville's aggressive defense. But Watson has shown a poise at the position many newcomers need time to develop. The coach raved about Watson's ability to hang in amid pressure, work through his progressions when opponents cut off the primary routes and making positive yards.
''Those are the things that he has demonstrated,'' Swinney said. ''If he continues to prepare in the right way, we will be all right.''
Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham schemed for the Tigers last year as Georgia's defensive leader. He thinks Clemson is reaching that level of efficiency with Watson in control.
''They've gotten their groove now over the last little bit with him,'' Grantham said. ''They certainly present a challenge to us and we understand that we have to play well.''
The Cardinals have certainly done that on defense. Defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin is second in the ACC with nine tackles for loss this season. He's tied with teammate, linebacker Keith Kelsey, at ninth in the league with four sacks.
Mauldin said the Cardinals want to keep Watson bottled up and force him to throw into Louisville's secondary, which leads the conference with 12 interceptions.
''So if we can keep the outside contained and keep our middle contained and make him pass the ball, we should be alight,'' Mauldin said.
Things to watch when Louisville plays Clemson on Saturday:
SAY IT LOUD: Louisville coach Bobby Petrino ignited a kerfuffle this week, saying Clemson's Death Valley probably wouldn't be much louder than Syracuse's Carrier Dome where the Cardinals won 28-6 last week. At Clemson, some 80,000 people will be cheering against the Cardinals, more than double the 37,569 who attended the Syracuse game. Tigers defensive tackle Grady Jarrett expects a raucous home crowd, as always. He says the team has watched game film from all sorts of stadiums and at Clemson, the tape is ''always shaking.''
PARKER PREPARES: Injured Louisville receiver DeVante Parker returned to practice this week and offensive coordinator Garrick McGee said how he handles things will determine how much, if any, Parker will play against the Tigers. Parker has missed the season so far with fractured bone in his foot. Parker had 55 catches a year ago for 885 yards and a school record 12 TD receptions.
CLEMSON'S D: While most of the buzz involves the Tigers young quarterback, the team's defense showed its strength a week ago in a 41-0 shutout of North Carolina State. It was Clemson's first shutout of a FBS opponent in 16 years. Wolfpack quarterback Jacoby Brissett was 4 of 18 passing for 35 yards. Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables does not believe Louisville's lofty defensive ranking will have his group any more charged up than they are just to get back out on the field.
WHO'S AT QB: Louisville also got some good news at quarterback with the return of sophomore Will Gardner to practice this week. Gardner started the Cardinals first four games before leaving with a knee injury against Florida International. Freshman Reggie Bonnafon led Louisville's past two victories. Coach Bobby Petrino said he'll decide on a starter based on this past week's practice.
BEASLEY MILESTONE: Clemson senior defensive end Vic Beasley is almost done chasing the school's sacks record. He joined ex-NFL standouts Michael Dean Perry and the late Gaines Adams when he collected his 28th career sack in the North Carolina State win. Beasley said he's anxious to get the record-breaking stop to he can concentrate on the rest of the season.