WE ARE… Going to beat MARSHALL…

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I have been rough on the Marshall fans this week, but not as hard as ESPN’s David Hale who predicted a 106-3 Louisville victory in the game on Saturday. I agree with the result but don’t think it will be that brutal for the Thundering herd. Marshall has a solid football program. It’s a program that has beat the Cardinals four straight. This will be the 29th meeting between these schools with Louisville holding the overall advantage 16-12.

I don’t think this game will be a matter of “if” but will be a question of how well the Cardinals get the job done. How well will the Cardinals play after one of the biggest wins in program history? How well will this team handle all of the expectation from fans and media? And how will they respond to being such a heavy favorite on the road. This time last year I wrote an article titled “Will the Real Louisville Football Team Stand-Up” after a 0-3 start. This Louisville team is standing tall at 3-0 and will have to prove every week that they are Real.

Louisville’s defense is ranked 25th in the country and are holding their opponents to an average of 20.7 points per game on 302 yards a game. They will face a very effective Marshall offense. It is an offense that is ranked #12 in the country. Marshall is averaging 50 points on 545.0 total yards per game. Their passing attack is ranked #4 in the country and they are averaging 379 yards through the air. Leading that pass attack is the Thundering Herds biggest weapon QB Chase Litton. He has completed 61.6% of his passes for 10 touchdowns this season while averaging 361 yards per game. The Herd goes as Litton goes. He threw for 413 yards and 4 TD’s last week.

Litton spreads the ball around and will keep a lot of pressure on the Louisville secondary. They have 4 receivers who are averaging over 50 yards per game. They are led by Josh Knight (71 yards a game, and 2 touchdowns), Ryan Yurachek (61.5 yards a game, and 1 touchdown), and Michael Clark (52.0 yards a game, and 3 touchdowns). They average 165.5 yards in their rushing attack behind Keion Davis and Hyleck Foster. Their offensive line is led by two all-conference performers in Michael Selby and Clint Van Horn. These guys have been around Huntington for a long time. Selby leads all active Marshall off offensive linemen with 27 starts and Van Horn, a two time all-league tackle, was granted a sixth season after missing most of last season due to injury. They will be a good test for the Louisville defensive front.

Task with stopping the #1 Lamar Jackson led offensive attack is a Marshall defense that is allowing their opponents 32.5 points per game, on 373.0 total yards per game (277.0 passing, 96.0 rushing).

They are led on this side of the ball by their defensive front. Defensive end Gary Thompson was an honorable mention all-conference selection last season after racking up a team-high nine sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. He has 9 tackles and a sack this season. His bash brother is defensive lineman Ryan Bee who has 9 tackles, with 1.5 sacks this season. Blake Keller (3 tackles), Nyquan Harris (4 tackles), Joe Massaquio ( 1 tackle), and Jason Smith (5 tackles, .5 sacks) round out this group.

Marshall is nationally known for being one of the toughest places to play in college football. The program has won 84.7 percent (149-27) of its home games in Joan C. Edwards Stadium. That’s the second highest mark in the country for programs playing in their current stadium. Marshall has won 21 of its last 23 home games. The last time they played a top ranked opponent at home it was againts WVU. In that game they were able to use the emotion of and the atmosphere of their stadium to stay close early before getting blown out in the end. I think they could potentially ride that wave of emotion again this time and with a capable group of players could keep it close early Saturday.

There would be a lot of great tag lines if “Doc” Holliday was able to get into a shootout with Coach Petrino 2.0. But I don’t think they have what it takes to deliver the fast draw. There will be too much talent, athleticism and speed wearing Red.

When a team has a program defining moment during the college football season everyone is waiting to see what they do for an Encore. With another College Gameday appearance looming next weekend at Clemson all eyes will be on how well the new darlings of College Football execute. Go Cards!

incREDible

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If you asked someone to describe the game Saturday you probably heard the word speechless. And immediately following the game that’s how I felt about what I had just experienced. After having some time to reflect I’m still left with just one word. IncREDible!

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I remember how excited I was back in July of 2014 when the University of Louisville was officially welcomed into the ACC. I knew that it would be transformational for the athletic program. I also knew that it would really benefit the Louisville Football program in a big way. Over the last three seasons we’ve seen first-hand how impactful the move to the ACC has been. That magical day inside Notre Dame Stadium during the 2014 season and the FSU game yesterday are two of the biggest moments ever and I don’t think either happens if we aren’t in the ACC.

Just because a College program is given a platform to succeed doesn’t mean that it will. It still takes a great administration, great student athletes and great fans. The University of Louisville football program has taken full advantage of the opportunity. On Saturday Louisville was the epicenter of College Football. All eyes were watching as the administration showed off our first class facilities, and as a record number of Cardinal fans showed up to cheer for their team. The nation also watched the Louisville football players outshine those red chrome helmets as they beat traditional powerhouse Florida State.

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There is a lot that goes into having a college football game especially when hosting the nation’s premier college football pre-game show. We have the best athletic director and SID in the country. Tom Jurich and Kenny Klein are the example of excellence in their profession and their leadership reflects in their staff. They know how to put on a first class event like yesterday and make it special. I want to give Kudos to Tom Jurich and his staff on the Muhammad Ali tribute. I really thought it set the mood inside the stadium. From the inspirational intro to start the game to the half-time dedication. The pride Ali had for his hometown echoed yesterday in all of us.

The hospitality and the catering inside the Louisville press box is second to none. You might get popcorn and a hot-dog if covering a game at most stadiums in the country, but at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium it’s sliced prime rib. I want to give Kudos to Kenny Klein and his staff for showing the National Media Saturday that the University of Louisville knows how to be a winner on and off the field. Anyone in the media who experienced it on Saturday will want to come back and look forward to it. You don’t have a day like Saturday without the hard work of Tom, Kenny and their staff.

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Bobby Petrino and his staff are among the best in the country. They have built upon the winning culture re-established by Charlie Strong and taken it to the next level. Coach Petrino’s play calling yesterday was superb. He had the FSU defense on their heels all day and hung the highest point total ever (63) on the FSU program. A “methodical dismantling” is how one Florida journalist described it.

And how about the job Coach Klenakis has done? He has had the toughest job rebuilding the offensive line but has got it done. His guys protected Lamar Jackson yesterday and gave him time to complete 13 passes for 216 yards and one touchdown. They also opened up running lanes big enough for him to get into open field where he cut, spin and dashed for 146 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Cardinals rushed for 314 yards total behind the Louisville offensive line and they only allowed one sack on their QB. I said in my pregame article that big football games are won in the trenches and that Saturday was the proving ground for the Louisville offensive line. They got it done.

Coach Grantham has built one of the most versatile defenses in the country. He’s got guys that he can move around and come at opposing offenses from every angle. His group held one of the best running backs in the country Dalvin Cook to just 54 yards. The Louisville defense held one of the most explosive offenses in the country to just 284 yards of total offense. They also held them to just 20 points. It was really 10 because Coach Grantham pulled most of his starters in the second half.

I listened to the post game show on 790am on the ride home Saturday. Howie Lindsey called-in to the radio show and was telling a story about how he witnessed Coach Grantham getting all over one of the second string guys after giving up that late FSU score. It’s that kind of coaching, discipline and demand for perfection that has put the Louisville program in position to win big games like they did Saturday.

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You can’t use the word incredible when describing Saturday without mentioning the incredible play of Lamar Jackson. He clearly put himself in position to win the Heisman Trophy with 362 yards of total offense and 5 touchdowns. He did it all while facing one of the best defenses in the country. Jackson epitomizes program changer and he has put this Louisville team and program on his back.

Brandon Radcliff has been described by coaches as one of the hardest working guys on the football field. The guy has so much passion for what he does and for the team he does it for. In my opinion Brandon had the best game of his career yesterday and out staged Dalvin Cook big time with 118 yards and a touchdown. I was great seeing this young man succeed in such a big game.

On a day where Louisville celebrated and honored one of the greatest hometown athletes ever it was another hometown athlete who was catching big passes and moving the chains. James Quick had 122 yards receiving and was a top target for Jackson all day. His best play came on a reception that he completed after the ball bounced off the leg of a defender. Quick made athletic catches all day but that one really stood out to me,and showed just how focused he was. I know that he was proud to represent his city yesterday in such a big way.

I was very critical of Josh Harvey-Clemson last year and felt that at times he took plays off. But yesterday he was one of the hardest working guys on the defense. He was flying around all over the field making big plays. And talk about versatile. I watched him play line-backer and safety yesterday getting 8 tackles and a sack. He was a big key in keeping FSU from ever gaining any momentum and helped keep QB Deondre Francois from getting into any kind of rhythm. If he keeps playing like he did Saturday Harvey-Clemons will hear his name called in the first round of next year’s NFL Draft.

One of the most electrifying punt returners in the country was on display Saturday. They didn’t have any answers for him. FSU’s special teams allowed Jaire Alexander to return two punts for 139 yards, including a 69-yard touchdown. Alexander is a special athlete with exceptional speed and his field vision along with his instincts are next level. He was fun to watch.

I mentioned the stand out performers but every guy in a Louisville uniform helped pull off the biggest win in program history. They are a focused bunch and that showed in their performance. You don’t have days like Saturday without great players and this Louisville team has them from the top to the bottom of the depth chart. Maybe the best depth chart ever.

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Mark Ennis of Card Chronicle mentioned last week that the national media would be surprised to learn that every Louisville fan wrote for some kind of Louisville blog. It’s true and I’m one of them. That is one thing that proves just how much interest and passion that Louisville fans have in the Louisville athletic program.

The Cardinal Nation set a new attendance record on Saturday and I think that all 55,632 of them were tailgating at 7:00am. Some were even out tailgating on Friday. I want to give kudos to the guys at the Red Rage Tailgate for showing the nation just how well we do it in Louisville. Those guys are some of the most passionate among us and their love for Louisville football inspired the ESPN College Gameday folks so much that they did some live spots from their gathering. You guys are awesome!

The Card March was the best one I’ve ever seen. Thousands of Cardinal fans lined up at 9:30 am in the rain to welcome the football team. And when it was time for kickoff every fan was in their seat and that stadium was rocking. I know there wasn’t a person in my section who sat down. We stood up through the whole game. And I think I gave high fives to all of my new friends in section 112.

The atmosphere in and around Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium was surreal. The roller coasters are across the street at the fairgrounds, but the Game day experience on Floyd Street Saturday was one of the greatest thrill rides I’ve ever been on in my life. You the fans made that possible. Thank you!

CARD MARCH FSU GAME

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It was a huge day for the University of Louisville and I couldn’t be happier for our student athletes, administration, and coaches. They are the ones who put in the time and the effort to make Saturday possible. But I’m also very happy for Cardinal Fans. They are the ones who spend their money to go to the games, they are the ones who buy Cardinal merchandise, and they are the ones who have stayed loyal through thick and thin.

I sat by a guy in section 112 that had been a fan for 50 years. He talked about how he had sit through some stinkers and was just amazed to be watching just how far the program had come. The enthusiasm and passion of Cardinal Nation is second to none and they deserve the best. They deserved Saturday.

It was an incredible day and one that I will share with my grandchildren. Telling stories about how I watched our first Heisman Trophy winner lead the Cardinals to the biggest regular season win in program history. (Because by then we will have won a National Title). It was great being there to see the program take the next step. No doubt that we are on that prophetic “collision course”.

Can we do it all again real soon? Go Cards!

College Gameday, The Tomahawk Chop & The Champ

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On Saturday Louisville will be the epicenter of college football as one of the premier sports shows moves into town to cover the top 10 match-up between the #10 ranked Cardinals and the #2 ranked Seminoles. Of course I’m talking about ESPN’s College Gameday. If you have been a Louisville Football fan long enough then you know how big this moment is for the program and the journey it has taken to get here.

In order to know where you’re at you must understand what it took to get you there. Once thought to be a cheap knockoff of the Saturday College football ESPN show was the ESPN Thursday night college game of the week. Tom Jurich will soon celebrate his 19th anniversary as the Cardinals athletic director. The impact he’s had on the Louisville athletic programs are nothing short of amazing, and a huge factor in all of the success especially as far as the football program is concerned can be directly linked to his willingness to be a part of those ESPN weekly college football games. Jurich was quoted after he was hired saying “The thing we need to do right away is to get exposure and get this program branded, and that is something I feel is most essential.”

The Cardinals played in those mid-week games throughout the 90’s, but those games were regional broadcast and it wasn’t until ESPN that those games went national. Louisville football had five national telecasts on ESPN or ESPN2 during the 2001 season and mid-week games were a big reason why. In the ten years prior Louisville had a total of 28 games broadcast. Since 2001 Louisville has regularly appeared on national television and the surge in nationally broadcast games is linked to Louisville’s embrace of weeknight games. Louisville has had a total of 19 appearances on ESPN Thursday night telecast. Jurich was quoted saying “That’s helped us immensely; ESPN has helped us build this program. I look at them as a full partner.”

The emergence of the Louisville football program happened on those ESPN Thursday nights. Having the undivided attention of college football fans across the country paid off, and the Cardinals haven’t disappointed. Ironically it was the game in 2002 against Florida State on a Thursday night that got it all started in a big way when the Cardinals beat the #4 Seminoles in OT 26-20.

Everything comes full circle and now a nationally known program the Cardinals find themselves playing in what will be the biggest 2016 college football game to date. And again it is against the Florida State Seminoles. This time it will be on a Saturday afternoon and this time the entire college football world will be watching.

Saturday’s meeting will be the 17th in the series, with the Seminoles owning a 14-2 advantage. Florida State has won the last two meetings in the series despite the Cardinals having a lead in both contests. Last season, the Cardinals enjoyed a 7-6 advantage before being out-scored 35-14 in the second half. The Cardinals raced out to a 21-0 second-quarter lead on No. 2 Florida State in 2014, before the Seminoles came back for a 42-31 win. The Cardinals are 1-5 against the Seminoles in Louisville with the lone win coming in that 2002 match-up.

To be the best you have to beat the best. And one of the best programs in the country is Florida State. Most pundits picked the Seminoles to make the College Football playoff this season, and with good reason. They have speed, athleticism and talent all over the field.

As with any football program it all starts with the head man. Two games into his seventh year as the FSU head coach, Jimbo Fisher has authored one of the most successful starts to a head coaching career in college football history. Fisher’s 68 wins are the most in major college football history during a coach’s first six seasons. Fisher’s .833 winning percentage is by far the highest of any ACC coach of all-time, surpassing Seminole legend Bobby Bowden. This will be Florida State’s 10th College GameDay appearance under coach Jimbo Fisher. The Noles are 7-2 in that span.

Leading the Florida state offensive attack is QB Deondre Francois. He was ranked in the top 40 among high school QB’s in the ESPN class of 2015. Red-shirt Freshman Francois much like former standout Jameis Winston is a big time talent. Francois is more of a running threat. Through two games he is 58 of 84 for 69 percent, 5 touchdowns, 1 interception, 340.5 pass yards and a 154.4 efficiency rating. Not quite the video game numbers of Jackson but Francois is a legit talent.

At the other Florida state skill positions the cupboard is filled with talent. And at the top of that talent pool is RB Dalvin Cook. This guys is the leader of this team and maybe the best back ever for their program. This guy has explosion, speed and power coupled with great vision on the football field. He had 1691 yards and 19 touchdowns last season shattering the FSU rush record. The most impressive stat that stood out to me was that almost 700 of those yards were after contact. Through two games this season he has 174 yards and 2 touchdowns. As if it wasn’t hard enough to stop this guy on the ground he also is great at catching the ball out of the backfield. He had 101 yards receiving against Ole Miss.

FSU Wide Receivers Travis Rudolph, Bobo Wilson and Kermit Whitfield are among the nation’s most experienced receivers in the country and all three have lived up to that billing so far this season. Whitfield is one of the most versatile athletes in the country. He had 57 catches in 2015 and already has 7 catches for 70 yards this season. Wilson had 58 catches in 2015 and has 13 grabs for 178 yards this season. Rudolph led this trio with 59 catches in 2015 and so far this season is the leading receiver on the team with 13 grabs for 179 yards and 3 touchdowns. They are the only trio in the country to return with 55+ catches last season. Additionally, Rudolph and Wilson are among the ACC’s top 10 active leaders in career receptions and yards.

FSU had the same question mark about their offensive line coming into this season as the Cardinals. They have a talented group with a lot of potential but they are a group with not much experience under their belt. FSU returns every single scholarship lineman from 2015, which featured 12 players in their first or second years in the program. FSU is known for developing great offensive lineman and sending them to the NFL so you can bet that this will be a competitive group.

The only chink I found researching this Florida State team is that their defense will be without their most talented player on Saturday. Safety Derwin James will miss 5-7 weeks after having surgery to repair a torn meniscus. While this is a big loss for FSU they still have one of the best defensive units in the country. Probably their next best guy behind James is senior defensive end DeMarcus Walker. In his last three games vs. FBS teams, Walker has staked his claim as one of the nation’s best players totaling 28 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 interception and 1 blocked kick. With 17 career sacks Walker is the ACC’s active sacks and tackles for loss (28.0) leader. He had 4.5 of each in the season opener against Ole Miss. Speed kills and this FSU defense has it flying all over the field. Through two games, the Florida State defense has forced seven turnovers against Ole Miss and Charleston Southern. They have allowed fewer than 10 points in 27.3 percent of the 84 games Fisher has been the Seminoles head coach and even without James I look for this to be the biggest challenge of the season for the Cardinals offense.

This game will also be one of the biggest challenges of the season for the Louisville defense. In two career games versus the Cardinals, Dalvin Cook has totaled 373 all-purpose yards and scored four touchdowns. He has rushed for 273 yards on just 31 carries (8.8 ypc) and caught eight passes for 100 yards. He’s averaging 186.5 total yards per game versus the home team. The Cardinals will need huge games from just about everybody on Saturday in order to stop this human steam roller. I look for Devonte Fields, DeAngelo Brown, Keith Kelsey, Josh Harvey Clemons and James Hearns to lead the way Saturday. Through two games this season Fields (8 tackles, 1 sack, 1 pat down), Brown (3 tackles), Kelsey (14 tackles, .5 sacks), Clemons (9 tackles) and Hearns (7 tackles, 2.5 sacks) have lived up to their billing. No reason to think this group won’t step up in this big-time game.

If our Cardinals can win this game on Saturday it will have a lot of major implications but the biggest may be the first ever Heisman Trophy for the program. Through two games this season Lamar Jackson is putting up video game numbers and has put the Cardinals offense on his back. If he can continue to play at the same level every week he is on pace to finish this season with 3,485 passing yards, 1,590 rushing yards and 65 total touchdowns. With Jackson being a Florida kid this game has more on the line than just stats and a win or loss. This one is also for pride. It’s going to be fun watching him shine.

This will also be a week where other talent will need to rise to the occasion. Jamari Staples and James Quick have also started this season on a tear. Staples is leading the way with 9 catches for 219 yards and Quick with 5 receptions for 140 yards and 2 touchdowns. These guys won’t have to contend with Derwin James on Saturday but will still face a stiff challenge. The Cardinals will also need a big game from Jaylen Smith and Cole Hikutini. Third and fourth in production so far this season these guys should have some room with the focus mainly on the first three guys mentioned. Hikutini had a rough outing last time out and the usually sure handed Tight End dropped several passes. He is the kind of guy that plays with something to prove so look for a big rebound game against the Noles.

Reggie Bonnafon has had a modest start to the 2016 season with 33 yards and 1 touchdown. But this is a week where we could see some crafty offensive sets featuring the hometown hero. If the Cardinals win this game you can bet that Reggie will have played a part in the outcome somehow. Same goes for Brandon Radcliff. He has more heart than any player I’ve covered in 4 years with The Cardinal’s Beak. There won’t be a guy on the football field Saturday playing with more pride for his program than Brandon. Coach Klenakis has been very proud of his unit through two games this season, but with their biggest challenge looming this could put the Louisville offensive front on the map. Football games are won in the trenches and this game is the proving ground.

As if the football game itself wasn’t big enough on Saturday the University of Louisville football program will take the day to honor the greatest of all time Muhammad Ali. Ali has inspired generations of people and made them move. Out of all of the dedications that will be made on Saturday to this special man the best tribute would be one of the biggest wins in program history. Factoring in everything that I’ve researched and taking into account all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding this football game I do think the Cardinals will win. The Louisville football players and Louisville fans have waited for this moment. Our players deserve this and the fans deserve this. Take it all in Saturday folks. This will be one of those moments you’ll remember for a lifetime. Go Cards!

The Beak Football Breakdown: Plays, Moving the Chains, & Subway Trains

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The 2016 Louisville Football season got off to a pretty good start last Thursday under the lights of Papa John’s Cardinal stadium. If the Cardinals can keep that momentum going into each week it could be a special season. The competition gets a little tougher this week with a Friday night trip to Syracuse.

These teams have had a pretty steady rivalry over the past 12 years. Louisville leads the overall series 8 to 6 and has won five out of the last six including two straight. The last time Cuse beat Louisville was in 2012 when the Orange handed the 9-0 Cardinals their first loss of the season and Ryan Nassib looked like John Elway in the 45-26 upset. That is also the last time they beat a Nationally ranked team. The Cards were #11 in the country. They pulled out all of the stops that day and are hoping to pull a similar upset this time around.

The Syracuse Football program has not been a model of consistency and has had three different coaches over the last 10 seasons. Finding the right guy for the job is not an easy thing to do but this time the Orange might have found their man in head coach Dino Babers.

Babers is a disciple of some the most creative offensive minds in the game. One of those guys is Mike Martz. You might remember the “Greatest Show on Turf”? It was once said about Martz that he was teaching so far ahead of what others were teaching. Dino Babers is trying to stay ahead of the game with his potent, fast pace, aggressive style of football and hopes to bring some of that “Greatest Show” to the turf of the Carrier Dome.

It will take Babers a while to get the players he wants for his system but the cupboard is far from bare at Cuse. They are among ACC teams Florida State and Louisville to return at least 90 percent of their rushing production and at least 85 percent of their receiving yardage from a year ago.

Leading their offensive unit is sophomore quarterback Eric Dungey. He played very well last week (34-of-40 for 355 yards). He is a heady QB who can sling it around or run it. His mobility is more than adequate. He’s got a few athletic and talented guys to toss it to in wide receivers Steve Ishmael (registered 1,000 career receiving yards last week), Ervin Philips (caught a school-record 14 balls last week), and Maryland transfer Amba Etta-Tawo (caught 12 passes for 210 yards last week, fifth-highest in Syracuse history). They have one of the most versatile players in the country in receiver and return specialist Brisly Estime.

They’ve also got some running power with backs Dontae Strickland, Jordan Fredericks and freshman Moe Neal. The biggest question mark on this unit is the offensive line. LT Cody Conway, LG Aaron Roberts and RT Jamar McGloster made their first career starts last week.

All I’ve heard this week is how the Louisville defense will have their hands full with the up tempo style offense. Coach Grantham and his guys spent the spring and fall chasing Lamar Jackson around on the football field so I don’t think they’ll have any trouble adjusting to the unorthodox style of “Babers Ball”.

The biggest challenge this week will fall on the shoulders of the Louisville defensive backs. Every wide receiver on Syracuse’s roster caught a pass last week. They are going to sling the ball around and will attack the entire football field. Josh Harvey Clemons will have an opportunity to record his first big game of the season. His versatility will be a good weapon to have Friday night. Devonte Fields, James Hearns and Keith Kelsey will need to put the pressure on Dungey and not let him get into a rhythm. While DeAngelo Brown holds down the run. At the end of the day the pressure of the Louisville defense will be a lot for the young inexperienced Cuse line to handle.

Lamar Jackson and the Louisville offense faced a hectic, blitzing style of defense last week but will face a more methodical approach this week. The Cuse defense will work with a zone mindset and look to get a big push up front with their line backers and defensive line. Their D-line is really young and unproven but the back seven is formidable. Their best players on this side of the ball are linebackers Zaire Franklin, free safety Antwan Cordy, and cornerback Corey Winfield.

Lamar Jackson and company should have no problems attacking the zone coverage. Overall there is more speed and athleticism on the Louisville side of the ball and more overall experience in general. Last season Cole Hikutini scored his first career touchdown against the Orange in route to a three catch, two score day. I think Cole will fit in nicely to the game plan this week and his success against Cuse will continue. I also think Staples and Quick have a big week.

The emotion of the “Oranged Out” Carrier Dome crowd and the excitement of their players will keep this game competitive throughout the first half, but eventually this game will be decided by big-time football players making big plays. The Cardinals have more of those big time football players and will make more of those big plays. This game won’t be a repeat of that 2012 meeting. I don’t see this Louisville team having that type of clunker. Cards win going away setting up a great showdown with FSU next weekend. Go Cards!

Cards Take Care of Business

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For months we’ve been talking about, analyzing, and breaking down the start of Louisville Football. The wait was finally over Thursday night as over 50,000 fans (15th largest) piled into Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium for the start of the 2016 season. It was a great crowd and it’s great to see a full house on a Thursday night. The Cardinals did not let this great crowd down and provided a lot of action on both sides of the ball. In a 70-14 lopsided win the Cardinals took care of business and did what they were supposed to.

Lamar Jackson finished last season getting his name in the NCAA record books by running and passing for over 200 yards in a Bowl game. On Thursday night he starts the 2016 season by etching his name in the Louisville record books now the program record holder for most touchdowns in a single game (8) and most touchdown passes in a single game (6). It was also mentioned by ESPN that he is the first player to have 6 passing touchdowns and 2 rushing touchdowns in the 1st half in the modern era.

Jackson ended last season with everyone talking and now starts this season with everyone talking. He even had an impromptu interview on Sports Center after the game. During the Louisville post-game Lamar Jackson wasn’t worried about any of the hyperbole. He was happy that his team won and happy that he was able to play a part in that. To me this says more about Lamar Jackson than the 8 touchdowns.

All of the guys in the skill positions looked sharp tonight. Both James Quick and Reggie Bonnafon had great touchdown catches. Jamari Staples also had 83 yards. The offensive line faced a challenge early on with all of the Kamikaze blitzes the 49ers were running. But they appeared to adjust well. Lamar did give his O-Line credit in the post-game.

The defense was aggressive and guys were flying around all over the field. I really liked seeing Harvey-Clemons in that linebacker spot. And he and Devonte Fields were on, or around every defensive play. It was also great to see Stacey Thomas making plays. He led in tackles with 7 and is a leader of this unit. Some had thought he might miss action after having a surgical procedure a few months ago.

There’s really not much you can say or analyze about a game this lopsided. It’s just one of those games where the better team comes out and does what they need to do. I think it was great for everyone to get involved. These guys been busting their butts for months in the heat so it’s good they all got rewarded with playing time. It’s also very good for the depth chart for everyone to get game reps. It’s a long grueling season and every guy has to be ready to go when called on.

The Cards are 1-0.

Louisville vs Charlotte

Heart over Hype, a few reasons why I’m optimistic about Louisville Football

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We are less than a week away from another year of Louisville Football. Expectations are high and the hype surrounding this year’s team has also reached new heights. It’s fun to see this type of excitement and it really adds to the anticipation of kick-off. The hype is great on many levels. It sends out a positive message to guys being recruited by the Cardinals, and also works as motivation to the guys taking the field this season.

But hype doesn’t have any longevity and as soon as the ball is in the air on Thursday night and the players get that first lick in the hype is over. As a fan the hype for this season has got me more ready than I’ve ever been to watch these guys play but it’s the heart of this team and of a few individual players that really puts a smile on my face. Unlike hype that heart will last and will help this team through the adversity of what will be a grueling schedule.

Before I dive in here I’d like to give you an example of heart over hype. I watch the UFC and have seen guys come in with a lot of heart work their way up through the ranks to the top of their division. Then comes the hype. Once the hype takes the place of heart it never fails to see the champion fall.

Everybody is born with a heart but not everyone has heart. Having heart is a deep personal drive for excellence and failure is not an option. Winning, being successful and a willingness to work hard to achieve that perfection is what having heart is all about.

With this Louisville team it starts at the top with Coach Bobby Petrino. One of the greatest offensive minds to ever coach in the college ranks. It was his hard work and guidance that took him to the top of his profession only to have the hype roll in and take it all away. But having faced that adversity only made Coach Petrino’s drive for excellence that much stronger. After leading the program to 17 wins the last two seasons while facing their toughest schedules in years and becoming bowl eligible for a 6th straight season He’s got that look in his eyes again and this time it’s heart over hype.

On the offensive side of the ball:

Reggie Bonnafon is the kind of player that every coach wants. Talk about a guy with a lot of heart. After losing his father he walked into Notre Dame Stadium and led the Cardinals to one of the biggest wins in program history. When he lost the QB job to Lamar Jackson he didn’t let that slow him down and vowed to contribute in any way he could. His versatility and will to win earned him playing time. This year he will again help this Louisville team win. Having him in the backfield along with Jackson will be a nightmare for opposing defenses especially with a guy like Coach Petrino calling the plays. Reggie is one of the most important players on the roster, and the hype is real. But with Reggie it’s never been about hype and he plays with more heart than any kid I’ve seen.

It takes a lot of heart to go from a walk-on to scholarship player especially in major college football and that’s just what Tobijah Hughley did. It didn’t take him long to become a crucial part of the Louisville offensive line after getting his first start. With 25 starts now under his belt he is not only the anchor of the offensive line but an anchor for the offense in general. Lamar Jackson has said that Hughley helped him read defenses last season. Unlike last year the Louisville offensive line has been through the battles. There’s no substitute for experience and now with Geron Christian (13 starts), Kenny Thomas (5 starts), Lukayus McNeil (7 starts), Kiola Mahoni (4 starts) this Louisville line is ready. For the first time in a while there has been some hype surrounding this group. With a guy like Hughley leading the way there’s no doubt that it will be heart over hype in the trenches.

Jamari Staples has overcome so much adversity and is another guy on this Louisville offense with a lot of heart. Jamari had his college football program pulled out from under him at UAB and missed the first four games of his first season at Louisville with an injury but didn’t waste any time establishing himself in the offensive scheme when he finally got his chance. His biggest game last season came against Wake Forest when he had 133 yards with two touchdowns. He finished the season as the top receiver on the team with 638 yards and 3 touchdowns despite missing those first games and he moved the chains at critical moments many times. I talked with him at media day and this young man has a great desire for excellence. Glad he found another home here with our Cardinals. With Jamari its most definitely heart over hype.

Lamar Jackson had four games last season in which he ran for at least 100 yards and threw for at least 100 yards, tied with Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and SMU’s Matt Davis for the most such games in the FBS. Three of these games came against the mighty SEC. He threw for 100 and ran for 106 against Auburn, threw for 130 and ran for 186 yards to lead Louisville to a comeback win over Kentucky, and threw for 227 yards against Texas A&M while running for 226 yards. He became only the third player in NCAA history to run and throw for over 200 yards in a Bowl game. His 960 rushing yards led the team despite not playing on a full-time basis. He appeared in 12 games and started just seven of them. There is a lot of hype surrounding Jackson but watching this kid play you can see his heart on the field. When being interviewed at Media Day Jackson said about that UK game: “When coach threw me out there I knew we were down by a lot and it was going to be hard, but I just didn’t want to lose.”

On the defensive side of the ball:

Devonte Fields is another guy who let hype get in the way, but he plays with so much heart that he has fought his way back. Fields had to learn the Louisville playbook on the fly last season, but even tougher than a crash course in Granthamology was catching up to the speed of the Louisville workouts. He had played a year of junior college before becoming a Cardinal but Fields was out of shape. He didn’t get any time in the Louisville off-season program, so Devonte essentially had to play his way into shape. And that’s just what he did. Over the final six games of the regular season, Fields racked up all 7.5 of his sacks and 15 of his 19 tackles for loss. In the Music City Bowl he had 8 tackles, 3 sacks and 2 pat downs. He finished the season with a team leading 10.5 sacks and 22 tackles for loss. He finished 10th in the country in sacks and 1st in the country in tackles for loss. The hype is back but this time Devonte Fields is playing with a lot of heart. That is a good thing for the Cardinals.

One half of the bash brothers Keith Kelsey is a valuable leader on and off the field for the Cardinal defense. He served as a great ambassador at the ACC media days and is just one of many guys that has been more than just a football player to the Cardinal program. But he is a great defensive player and plays with a ton of heart. He finished last season with a team leading 107 tackles and is poised to help lead this season’s group to being one of the best units in college football.

You can’t talk about this Louisville defense without talking about the guy on the front line DeAngelo Brown and you can’t talk about guys playing with heart without mentioning him either. Last season he had 40 tackles, 6.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks. He is a supreme run-stopper in the middle for this Louisville unit and will be playing on Sunday’s when his college days are over. Brown is a guy whose game and heart is bigger than he is and that’s big.

Like I mentioned above there has been a lot of hype surrounding this Louisville Football team, and that hype has got the fan base more excited than I’ve seen in a long time. It has also helped the Cards land a spot in both the AP and Coaches pre-season polls. But in order for the program to take that next step it is going to take a lot of heart. The guys mentioned above are who I believe will lead this charge but make no mistake about it there is a lot of heart on both sides of the ball and this team will make us all proud. See you Thursday night Cardinal fans!

Rick is on a roll….

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I’m not going to lie I was worried that the Dorm Incident would have an impact on our recruiting for a few years. But it hasn’t happened and one could argue that Rick Pitino is on the hottest recruiting  haul he’s had in years. Back in November he inked 5* top 25 player VJ King to the 2016 Class and now has two 4* top 50 players committed to the 2017 Class in #42 center Malik Williams and #48 true point guard Darius Perry.

With his big man of the future Williams committed most assumed Coach Pitino would next look for his point guard of the future. Today we found out who that would be when Darius Perry announced his commitment. By all accounts Perry is a very talented player that can do it all. He is a triple threat on the perimeter. He can drive and pop, hit the three and run an offense. He has a very solid shot. He will be a very nice compliment to Ryan McMahon in that shooting guard spot in a few years. I’m looking forward to seeing this duo on the court together. Lights out!

This 2017 Class is coming together nicely. With two areas of need addressed I think Coach Pitino and his staff will now narrow down their focus as this class only needs two more guys. Some of the hot names floating around are Brandon Randolph, Alex O’Connell, Lance Thomas, Makhtar Gueye, Lindell Wigginton and DJ Harvey.

If any of you were ever worried about the future then those thoughts can rest easy because the last three years of recruiting have been some of the best ever in Louisville. The Coaching staff are not only getting great talent they are also getting solid young men who want to play hard, improve and help their team win. By all accounts this latest commit fits that mold. Congrats to Coach Pitino and his staff for all of their work paying off. Keep it rolling!

ESPN Breakdown of Darius Perry:

ESPN Analyst

Strengths:

Perry is a true point guard that is tough and competes on both ends of the floor. He pushes the ball on the break and does a good job running the halfcourt offense. He can also make plays when the things break down. Perry can get to the rim and knock down the open three. He is a terrific open court passer as well. Perry has a tight handle that allows him to change speeds and direction and weave in and out of traffic with ease. Perry also has excellent court vision that he uses to get the ball to open teammates on time and on target. Perry can also play off the ball and make scoring plays from the wing. He is also an excellent on ball defender that applies relentless pressure.

Weaknesses:

Perry will need to continue to add strength. He also over dribbles at times and becomes a little careless with the ball all will be fixed as he gain valuable playing experience and maturity.Perry will need to continue to work on developing his overall point guard skills and decision making at times but has already made positive strides in those areas.

Bottom Line:

Perry is a true point guard that can handle, pass and make open jumpers to the arc. He is a good athlete that is tough and competes which makes him a high major point guard with tremendous upside.

Video of Darius Perry:

Darius Perry Silky Smooth SG @ NBPA Top 100

Ten Seasons Ago the Kragthorpe Era Had Just Begun

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Sorry for the reminder but you can’t really appreciate where you are without being reminded of where you came from.

The one thing that I noticed at Media Day this past weekend is that the winning attitude and personal drive for excellence is very much engrained into this Louisville program. This is a program that now has everything it needs to get to that next level of competition and compete for both conference and national titles. It’s not easy climbing the ranks of College Football and it hasn’t been easy for Louisville.

Every year at the Media Day event we are provided a great hard bound copy of the media guide. As I was flipping through it this weekend I was reminded that it had been ten seasons ago that Coach Petrino left the first time and we were just headed into year number one of Kragthorpe.

Ten seasons ago Louisville Football fans were still dealing with the loss of Coach Bobby Petrino as he headed to chase his NFL dream. We were headed into year number one of the Kragthorpe era. After being a field goal away from a possible National Championship appearance Cardinal fans had to sit thru three seasons of sub 500 football 15-21 overall record and a 5-16 Big East record. Not to mention three straight losses to Kentucky.

What had taken generations to build up Steve Kragthorpe came along and in three seasons tore it all down. He was even responsible for the worst jersey in Louisville’s history. “The Ville” jerseys… Yea remember those… As I watched during that 2009 season my heart broke seeing what had become of the Cardinal football program. And I wasn’t the only one.

After the rock bottom season of 2009 Tom Jurich sent Kragthorpe packing and brought in a guy that got the ship headed back in the right direction. Coach Charlie Strong cemented his legacy as the Louisville coach who done major damage repair and fast. It was Coach Strong who implanted that winning attitude and personal drive for excellence back into the Louisville program.

There is a lot to be learned from a disastrous coaching hire, but the biggest is not to ever do it again. That’s why when Charlie left to chase his dreams Tom Jurich didn’t hire another guy to build a foundation; he hired the guy to finish the job. It has all come full circle. Ten seasons ago Bobby left us holding the bag and this season could have us holding the trophy.

Working thru Media Day it was obvious that these players believe in themselves and in the coaches leading them. And the message was loud and clear that the coaches believe in their players. There is just something in the air folks. It’s that smell of success. Expectations are thru the roof and after what I’ve seen so far they should be.

After watching the Louisville program struggle thru those sub 500 years and not getting to celebrate at the end of the season in a bowl city has sure made me respect their success that much more. I’m excited about where the Louisville football program is and I’m excited about the guys leading it. I do think Coach Petrino will finish the job this time around and can’t wait to celebrate when he does.

Below is some of the video I shot from the Football Media Day event Saturday morning. You can judge for yourself the attitude and excitement. I asked each coach about their confidence in the depth this season. Great teams have a great depth chart. The 2 has to be just as good as the 1 and the three has to be ready to go. I also interviewed some of the players who will be very important this season.

Coach Petrino Part One:

Coach Petrino Part Two:

Offensive Line Coach Klenakis:

Wide Receivers Coach Galloway:

Secondary Coach Heyward:

Linebackers Coach Tony Grantham:

Lamar Jackson:

Reggie Bonnafon:

DeVonte Fields:

Brandon Radcliff:

Jamari Staples:

DeAngelo Brown:

Always a light hearted moment during Media Day:

Cardinal Basketball Lands Big Man of the Future

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Along with the high expectations of the upcoming Cardinal Football season there has been a level of anticipation waiting to hear from the NCAA about whether or not they will accept the self-imposed penalty by the Louisville Basketball team or will it be more punishment coming. I know it has been the big elephant in the room for many die hard Cardinal fans and we just want it to be over and behind us.

While the Louisville Program continues to wait on that final judgment of the NCAA today Coach Pitino got some big news from the big man of the future Malik Williams. Williams is a 6-11 product of R. Nelson Snide High School in Indiana. This kid really burst onto the recruiting scene during the spring playing with Legit Basketball in Indiana. When you see scouts and other folks breaking down his game they talk about how well he runs the floor as a big man and how well he moves in the post. He is a player that is capable of facing up and making a move to the basket and can step back and hit shots on the perimeter.

Coach Pitino said recently that he was going to go back to having his teams press a lot more. This means that the back-court guys along with front-court guys are going to have to be able to run up and down the floor and be able to make things happen on both ends of the court. Malik Williams is a guy that can do that and will fit in nicely to what Coach Pitino’s plan is for his team. Williams just recently started to break-out as a big time player but a lot of programs had taken notice of his potential. He held offers from Georgetown, Indiana, Iowa, Purdue, Michigan State, North Carolina State and UCLA.

Coach Pitino got the guy he wanted in the 2016 Class when he inked VJ King, and now has started the 2017 Class off with a guy to build around. Williams will blend into the Louisville program nicely. He is a kid that has been described as having a great work ethic and has that competitiveness and desire Coach Pitino loves in a player. With the potential to be a future NBA player is a kid who will need a couple of seasons of college to get ready for that. Williams a four star recruit is ranked #42 in the ESPN 100, #22 in 247 Sports, #30 in the Scout 100 and #35 in the Rivals 150.

Now that Coach Pitino has his big man of the future he will turn his focus to the perimeter. Other primary targets that he will look to add to this class are Makai Ashton-Langford, Brandon Randolph, Alex O’Connell, Darius Perry, Lindell Wigginton, and Matt Coleman. You can check the profile of these players along with Malik Williams over on the Beak Recruiting Page

This has been a great week for Cardinal Sport’s fans. Football season is ramping up and with less than a hundred days until College Basketball tips we got a very solid player for the future of the program. I’m looking forward to what is shaping up to be a very good year of Cardinal athletics.

ESPN BREAKDOWN OF MALIK WILLIAMS

Strengths:
Williams is extra long and lean power forward. He has good hands and runs the floor extremely well. He is also a high level shot blocker with great length and timing. In the lane he scores with quick turn shots or finishes above the rim when he receives drop off passes created by dribble penetration. He handles the ball pretty well for his size and has good range on his jumper from the mid range areas out to the arc with needed time and space. He rebounds well with his length as opposed to strength.

Weaknesses:
Williams will need to continue to.work on adding strength and weight in order to be more physical and make his production more consistent.

Bottom Line:
Williams is a high major prospect with excellent versatility. He is talented and loaded with potential with his best playing days ahead of him.

Deng Adel & Donovan Mitchell take their games to Adidas Nations

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Adidas Nations, the premier international grassroots basketball program is holding their event this weekend. Practices, pool play and college counselor games are being held July 29-31. More than 80 of the top under 18 players from around the world have the opportunity to hone their skills under the guidance of elite coaches and players. The camp culminates August 1 with third-place and championship games played at Cerritos College beginning at 4pmPT and broadcast live on ESPNU.

Over the years several Louisville players have been chosen to be counselors at the Adidas Nations Camp. This year Deng Adel and Donovan Mitchell got the honor. There were 37 current U.S. college players, who competed on four teams. The counselors are taught and put through drills by coaches and pro-type players. They also get to scrimmage a lot against other top players. The experience should help both of these guys get better and that is important heading into a season where both will play significant minutes.

Here is a list of college players at Adidas Nationals:
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Deng Adel started his first two games as a freshman and had a small setback missing eight games with a sprained left knee suffered in practice on Nov. 20. He
returned to practice on Dec. 20. He had his best game of the season against Boston College where he totaled season highs with 13 points, seven rebounds, four assists and 34 minutes starting in place of injured Damion Lee. He started the last five games, averaging 7.2 points and 3.2 rebounds per game while providing a valuable defensive presence for the Cardinals. He played in six games as a freshman where he scored 8 points or more. Deng is a match-up nightmare for opposing teams and can score in a lot of ways. There has been a buzz surrounding him this summer and by all indications he is due for a special sophomore season. Adel had one really stand-out performance at Adidas Nations on Saturday when he had 18 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 steal.

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Donovan Mitchell had many moments where his athleticism stood out last season. He is just one of 10 players in Louisville history to score as many as 14 points in a freshman career debut, tying for eighth on that list. He made his first college start against Wake Forest, scoring a career-high 18 points and pulling down a career-best eight rebounds. Mitchell played at least 10 minutes in every game last season and was a starter on five occasions. He was a double-figure scorer in 13 games and averaged 7.4 a game. If Donovan can add a consistent jump shot to his arsenal along with his extremely athletic game he will be one of the very best to ever suit up for the Cardinals. I have enjoyed watching him evolve and look forward to seeing him be one of the best players in college basketball this season. Like Adel there has been a lot of buzz around him also this summer. Mitchell’s standout performance of Adidas Nationals came on Friday night where he had 10 points, 6 steals, and 4 rebounds.

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As we get ready to embark on another exciting Louisville Football season it’s never too early to talk some basketball. The ceiling is very high for the current Louisville roster. Players tend to have the biggest jump under Coach Pitino from their freshman to sophomore year. Deng Adel and Donovan Mitchell are both guys who will play major roles for the Cardinals this season. Glad that they are out getting in the extra work. Go Cards.