As I grow older I have come to realize that life is a series of beginnings and endings. I believe that much of this is to prepare us for some of life’s greatest challenges. We tasted the bitterness that came along with saying good-bye to some great players last season and getting our butts whipped in the Bowl Game. But on Saturday September 5th Cardinal fans will get to taste the sweetness of new beginnings. That Saturday afternoon starts a new era of Louisville football, and one that will surely be full of success.
This is the first game of all first games as our Cardinals travel down into SEC country to face the #6 Auburn Tigers. I don’t know about you folks but I love getting another chance at the SEC this fast. I’ve been looking forward to this one since walking out of a bitter cold Bank of America Stadium back in December. This game like that one will be a stiff test. Much of what these teams do or how these teams will perform on Saturday is up in the air as are most of the first games of the college football season, but I will give you an assessment based on my research and observations.
Coach Petrino Auburn pre-game:
(Video Courtesy TheCrunchZone.com)
The Head Coaches: Bobby Petrino and Gus Malzahn are two of the best offensive minds in college football. It is going to be great watching these two great minds at work in the Georgia Dome on Saturday. Both coaches design their offenses with an up tempo pace in mind. Petrino has a tendency to be more vertical than Malzahn but both of these guys love to attack and attack some more. Both have a knack for getting the most out of their quarterbacks and keeping defenses on their heels. I doubt we’ll see a very complex play book from these coaches on Saturday and both will make things as simple as they can for their teams in the opening game. I do expect fireworks from both sides and a bit of trickery wouldn’t surprise me either. This will be one of the best coaching battles of week one.
The Auburn offense lost a lot of talent including their starting QB and their top three rushers a whopping 85% of their rushing yards is gone. They do bring back a lot of talent on this side of the ball and it all starts with the dual threat quarterback Jeremy Johnson. Johnson’s snaps have been limited but he did have 436 yards with 3 touchdowns in 7 games last season with a 75.7 completion percentage. This kid is a freak athlete with size and ability who can run it; sling it down the field, and with great intermediate accuracy. He has 3 of Auburn’s top 5 receivers from last season to pass it to. D’haquille Williams 730 yards, 5 touchdowns last season, Ricardo Louis with 261 yards and 3 touchdowns last season and Melvin Ray with 182 yards and a touchdown last season. They are also expecting big things out of Jason Smith and he could be the X-factor in this group. I expect the passing game to be a huge part of this Auburn offense in the game on Saturday.
Running Back Roc Thomas who had 43 carries, for 214 yards with 2 touchdowns last season and Jovon Robinson juco back who was #1 in the country will power what has been a powerful ground attack for the Tigers that always produces under Gus Malzahn. Auburn is known for having 1200 yard rushers every season and this group won’t be any different. Most expect this Gus Malzahn offense to look like his 2009 season where they are throwing it around a lot more. This offense will look at what the defense gives them and not so much going to try and dictate. Most expect this Auburn offense to be more reactionary. Take away the pass and these guys will try to run it down your throat and stack the box they’ll try to throw it over your head. Much like our Cardinals they have a lot of important parts to replace at the skill positions including an offensive line that is still in doubt. They will replace a starting center and have two guys in Austin Golson and Alex Kozan along the line who didn’t see the field once in 2014.
Task with stopping this Auburn offensive attack is year two of Todd Grantham’s defense. Our Cardinals secondary was gutted but we have one of the best returning defensive fronts in college football this season. Five of the Cardinals front seven returns and I’m expecting a lot out of defensive end Sheldon Rankins who had 13.5 tackles for loss last season with 8 sacks, Keith Kelsey who had 87 tackles last season and James Burgess who had 10 tackles for loss last season. Joining Burgess and Kelsey at Line-backer is the former Big 12 defensive player of the year Devonte Fields. By all accounts he has looked really good during camp and should be ready to plug some of those holes on Saturday.
I think defensive tackle DeAngelo Brown will be a huge factor along with Pio Vatuvei. And I mentioned that the secondary had been gutted but don’t worry because like every good program there is a group of guys who will be as hungry as any player on that field Saturday in Shaq Wiggins and Josh Harvey Clemons. I haven’t been as excited to see two guys play their first game in a Louisville uniform as I am with these guys. Along with Jermaine Reve, Trumaine Washington, and Zikiesis Cannon they will be ready to challenge that Auburn receiving corps.
The key to stopping the Auburn attack will be to get quick stops for losses on first and second downs. Get off the field on third downs and don’t let the Auburn offense gain any momentum. I really like our defense against an offense that has a lot of new parts.
The Cardinal offense remains shrouded in mystery as far as the starting quarterback is concerned, but I have said all along that it will be Reggie. I really think his ability to run or pass will be a bigger asset in this game than any other on the schedule. I watched Reggie first hand in the spring and in camp and he has become a more accurate passer while appearing to be stronger and faster. I have also said all along that we could see either Will Gardner or Kyle Bolin in some form or fashion early in the season but if I had to guess it would be Will Gardner in this game. All of these guys have big game experience and could handle the environment that day in the Georgia Dome. There has also been a lot of buzz coming out of camp about Lamar Jackson. Don’t be surprised to see him lined up in some type of Wildcat formation with Reggie. I think this kid is a super athlete and I think Bobby has already figured out a way to use him in game one.
Running back Brandon Radcliff is the most physically transformed athlete on the Louisville roster. This young man is dedicated to perfection and he will be the lead back on Saturday. I also expect to see Jeremy Smith and LJ Scott in some capacity. Radcliff could be the ultimate key as we’ll have to get our running game going to open up things for the receiving corps. Speaking of that group that will be led on Saturday by James Quick who had 36 catches last season. I think the Louisville wide receivers might be the most underrated in the country. The world will get introduced to this group on Saturday and they will be pleasantly surprised at the length, speed and agility of this bunch. There has been a lot of buzz about transfers Ja’Quay Savage and Jamari Staples during camp and I think they give this group some much needed talent after the loss of Devante. I also expect Paul Harris, and tight Ends Charles Standberry, Keith Towbridge, and Cole Hikutini to have a huge impact in the offensive game-plan Saturday. I think Cole has a huge upside and will really flourish in the Bobby Petrino system.
When talking Louisville offense there is the elephant in the room and that is the offensive line. Coach Petrino says that there are 11 guys that have been rotating on the offensive front during camp. Let’s hope that those guys have had enough reps to develop the continuity they will need on Saturday. Tobijah Hugley and Aaron Epps will anchor the reconstructed line counting on guys like Pedro Sibea, Kelby Johnson, Skylar Lacy, Lukayus McNeil and Khalil Hunter to step up.
Gus Malzahn talks about preparing for Louisville:
Will Muschamp will get his shot at redemption after the Louisville offense dismantled his Florida Gators in the Sugar Bowl. And he has a very talented group to do his bidding. It’s questionable how effective his defense can be after losing most of his secondary and other great defensive players to transfer. And really how much of his stuff has he had time to get in with such a short period of time. This is an Auburn defense that gave up 30 points in eight of their last 9 games.
The main piece of Muschamp’s attack will be a guy returning from injury last season Carl Lawson. This young man is a monster who is disruptive, very agile and plays with an incredible motor and toughness. He will be a nightmare for the budding Louisville offensive front. Coach Petrino will game-plan to try and get this guy double teamed while Muschamp will feature him by trying to get him in one-on-one situations. Muschamp is the kind of defensive coach known for getting his best defensive players in opportunities to succeed. Like our Cardinals he also has a very talented front group anchored by guys like Cassanova McKinzy, Kris Frost, Jonathan Ford, DaVonte Lambert, Montravious Adams and Dontavius Russell. I expect the Tigers to be tough up front with solid recruits also. It’s what’s behind this group that has the Tigers a little concerned. Their secondary lacks experience and includes at least two true freshmen in Byron Cowart and Jeffery Holland. Our Cardinals will have their hands full and I expect this to be a very formidable defense on Saturday.
A lot of the talking heads and folks who know more than I do about college football think that on this day it will be the Auburn Tigers who’ll reign victorious. But you know that’s the thing about days… They tend to have a mind of their own. We’ve all been a part of days that had a mind of their own. Let’s just hope that September 5th is one of those days.
The Beak Prediction:
Louisville 34 Auburn 31