College Football Playoff was Not In the Cards

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Just a few weeks ago we were buzzing about the Cardinal’s Playoff chances and counting down the hours until the Playoff Rankings show came on. Louisville climbed to that 5th spot and it became a real possibility that they could still do this. The excitement reached another level. For the first time in program history the Cardinals had a College Football Playoff shot and a Heisman front runner. The hype swirling around the Louisville program was astounding. There was extra coverage on ESPN, extra coverage from national print media, and social media back-and-forth between players, fans and media. It’s the kind of exposure that every major program wants to achieve. The run that the Louisville football team had during the regular season was special. But the kind of pressure that comes along with that will make a great team shine or expose leaks in the foundation.

Unfortunately we had leaks in the foundation…

This weekend I sent out a tweet that I thought the players had let the hype ruin their season. After having a few days to process it all I still think it played a part. The extra posing, the extra gestures… a lot of stuff we weren’t seeing from these guys when the season started. I really do believe that these guys started reading their headlines. Somewhere in all of that complacency set in. When this team played hungry and with something to prove it masked their inability to play clean football. When they got complacent they weren’t able to overcome all of those turnovers, penalties and mistakes. This Louisville Football team is really good. They have explosive playmakers on both the defensive and offensive side of the football field with talent everywhere. But they have turned the ball over 31 times and had 93 penalties along the way. The Cardinals had 19 penalties and 7 turnovers over the last two games.

The offensive line accounted for many of those penalties and allowed 39 sacks this season. When the national spotlight was on them at Houston they gave up 11 sacks. This group was out-manned for most of the season as they faced some very good defensive units. Physical struggles turn into mental struggles resulting in a complete breakdown. There was some improvement this season but this unit still needs a major upgrade to compete for a national title.

Lamar Jackson is such a fierce competitor that sometimes he tries to do too much. Over the last couple of weeks this has become more apparent. Trying to make the play himself while not making the right read, diving for the extra yard while not protecting the ball and throwing into tight coverage all trying to make something happen for his team. This young man is an incredible athlete, but is still very raw. I’m reminded of the story about the old bull and the young bull standing on top of the hill. Lamar is going to learn that if he walks down the hill he can be more effective sometimes. Lamar Jackson will mature a lot as a result of this season. He is going to take that Heisman honor as a personal challenge to live up to what that standard is. It will help him be a more complete player next season. Yes we have him again next season…

The Louisville defense was just good enough but good enough didn’t cut it in the 3 losses. I think some of this responsibility falls on the players and some of it does fall on the coaches. The Louisville staff was out coached at Houston and against Kentucky in my opinion. It’s up to the coaches to have the players in the right spot so they can make the play. That didn’t happen at times. We have seen more big plays on this defense in the last two weeks than we’ve seen in two seasons. I think the defense got complacent and lost some of their intensity. They gave up 943 yards in the last two games and the defensive line only had 1 sack and 9 tackles for loss over the last two weeks. This group can say they had a pretty good regular season but sometimes just being good isn’t good enough.

I cover these guys from summer workouts, thru spring football and into the season. I know nobody in that lockerroom took failure lightly. They are going to get back to work and be ready for the Bowl game in a few weeks and will finish strong. Losing the playoff hopes and the Governor’s Cup over the last two weeks was rough. Putting it into perspective just being in the playoff picture was great for the program and we had held that Cup for 5 years. The program will also have its first ever Heisman Trophy winner. Did I mention that Heisman Trophy winner will be back next season?

Next year we will be back in that playoff picture and we will take that Cup back. Go Cards!

It’s Time for Louisville to win The Governor’s Cup… again

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There doesn’t seem to be as much buzz or anticipation for this seasons battle for the Governor’s Cup. I think that the Cardinals uninspired performance against Houston has a lot to do with that. It might also be the fact that the Cardinals haven’t lost a football game to Kentucky since 2010… But by the time kickoff rolls around tomorrow I expect the spirit of this Bluegrass Rivalry to be in full effect. The all-time series is currently tied at 14, with Louisville winning the past five meetings. The Wildcats will bring one of the best teams they’ve had during the Stoops era into Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium and they are Bowl eligible for the first time since the 2010 season. Our Cardinals also have one of the best teams they’ve had during Petrino Era part 2. We have enjoyed watching them compete for a playoff spot all season and will hopefully enjoy another victory over Kentucky on Saturday at noon.

This is the third season that this game will take its place at the table of rivalry weekend in college football. And this has the potential to be one of the better games on Saturday. Kentucky is finally getting together enough size, talent, speed and athleticism to be fairly competitive again. They have done a nice job utilizing their talent with that Wildcat offense. They have rushed for 2,666 yards this season out of that Wildcat look and are ranked #17 in the country in rushing offense. Their passing attack isn’t as effective but still capable of that big play. They have 1,892 yards through the air this season ranked 111th in passing offense. This Kentucky team has been inconsistent at times on the defensive end of the field but can be very good at times. They are ranked #81 in total defense allowing 428 yards a game. They are giving up 220 yards a game on the ground and 208 yards a game through the air.

Leading the Kentucky offense is QB Stephen Johnson. He took over the starting role after Drew Barker was injured. Johnson isn’t going to “wow you” but is consistent and does a good job out of the Wildcat offense. He has 1,524 yards through the air with a 9:4 TD: INT ratio and has 195 yards with 2 touchdowns on the ground. The Wildcats offense has taken off in the past few weeks in large part thanks to the two headed monster of running backs Boom Williams and Benny Snell Jr. This duo is as good as any in the country. Williams ranks seventh nationally and is second in the SEC in yards per carry (7.3) and 32nd nationally. He has 2,413 career rushing yards, seventh on Kentucky’s career rushing list. Snell’s 1,006 rushing yards this season is a school record for a freshman in a single season. Williams ranked #31 in rushing yards uses his speed to run by people and Snell ranked #41 uses power to run over people. This kid is a beast…

In the Wildcats passing attack WR Jeff Badet has surfaced as a solid threat himself with 335 yards and three scores on just 14 catches over the past five weeks. When this guy catches a pass he makes em count ranked second nationally in yards per catch at 24.46 per reception. The Kentucky offensive line deserves a lot of credit for the success of this team. This is one of their most experienced positions returning 83 career starts, including 46 from last year. Senior center Jon Toth anchors their O-line and he has started in 46 consecutive games. He is considered one of the top centers in college football.

Trying to stop the Wildcat Offense is a Cardinals defense that has been strong against the run, holding eight foes to less than 140 rushing yards. They have limited the last five opponents to an average of 58.4 yards per game and will need that type of effort against this Kentucky offense on Saturday. DT DeAngelo Brown (11.0 tackles for loss), LB Devonte’ Fields (22 tackles, 5 sacks), S Josh Harvey-Clemons (33 tackles), and LB Keith Kelsey (41 tackles) will be running out onto the field at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium for the last time on Saturday. These guys have never suffered a loss to the Wildcats and how they play tomorrow will determine if they can graduate with that claim. The Louisville defense took the day off last Thursday night. They have had over a week to think about that effort. I think we will see an inspired performance out of this group.

So far this season, Lamar Jackson has 3,109 passing yards with 28 touchdowns, and also leads the Cardinals in rushing on 209 yards and 1,367 yards and 19 touchdowns. He had a breakout performance against Kentucky last season leading the Cardinal’s to a come from behind victory at Commonwealth Stadium. Jackson is a fierce competitor and you can bet that he doesn’t want to end his record breaking regular season with a loss to the Wildcats. For offensive leaders RB Brandon Radcliff (787, 6 touchdowns), WR James Quick (621 yards, 6 touchdowns), WR Jamari Staples (593 yards, 2 touchdowns), and TE Cole Hikutini (556 yards, 7 touchdowns) this will also be their last time on the home turf. This offense has been explosive and these guys have been a big reason why. Makes no sense to think that they won’t play a big role in this one. This rivalry tends to mean a lot more to the guys from the state and in the case of OL Tobijah Hughley who is from Lexington it really means a lot. He along with OL Matt Cohen, and OL Kiola Mahoni will be playing their last game in front of the home crowd and they should be motivated to finish the home-stand strong. They’ll want to erase that awful game last week (11 sacks) out of the minds of Cardinal fans.

Trying to slow down the explosive Louisville offensive attack is a Kentucky defense that has been very inconsistent this season. They can play lock down on one series then turn around and give up the big play on the next. Playing against this Louisville offense that averages over 15 yards per catch (#8 nationally) that could be a problem for them. This Wildcat defense is strongest at the Linebacker position. LB Jordan Jones is a really good player and flies around all over the field looking for somebody to hit. He has 90 tackles this season to rank third among all SEC defenders with 8.2/game. He also leads the SEC in solo tackles (62), and has a team-high nine quarterback hurries. He will be the biggest challenge for the Louisville offensive line on Saturday. LB Courtney Love, a transfer from Nebraska, is third on the team with 62 tackles and strong-side LB Josh Allen has posted 53 tackles with a team high 6.5 sacks and four forced fumbles, which ranks eighth nationally. Kentucky also has five corner-backs with extensive experience, including Freshman All-American and Freshman All-SEC corner-back Chris Westry (72 career tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack, 3 interceptions, 11 pass breakups). If the Wildcats pull off the upset Saturday these guys will be a big part of it.

I always look forward to this football game. Rivalries are what make college sports so interesting and we have one of the best rivalries in the country. For the first time in a while this game will make its way back to ESPN for the noon kickoff. I hope both teams come out and play the best game of their seasons and make this one an instant classic. With their running backs they could make it a very competitive game and the Louisville defense will face one of the toughest challenges of the season. Penalties could also play a big part in a game like this. The Wildcats are ranked #25 in fewest penalties per game while our Cardinals rank #122. Having said all of that I think Lamar Jackson along with the emotions of Senior Day will be the difference in this one. This is one of the better teams that Kentucky has brought into Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium and I do think it will be competitive but the Cardinals will win their sixth straight in the Governor’s Cup battle. Let’s get loud tomorrow Cardinal Fans. GO CARDS!

The Beak’s Prediction for the
Howard Schnellenberger Award:

My prediction for the award this year is Lamar Jackson. I believe he will win this award for his ability to take over this game like he did last season. He should be able to have his way with a very inconsistent UK defense. The Stoops defense has struggled with mobile QB’s and will have trouble with the speed and athleticism of Jackson again on Saturday.

The 2010 game was the inaugural year for the award. The award is given to the Most Valuable Player of the game. It is named for Howard Schnellenberger, who played under Bear Bryant for Kentucky and coached at Louisville.

Previous winners:

-(9-04-2010) Derrick Locke, RB@ Kentucky had 23 Carries, 104 Yards, for 2 TD’s
-(9-17-2011) Dexter Heyman, LB@ Louisville had 12 Tackles & 1 Forced Fumbles
-(9-02-2012) Teddy Bridgewater Louisville QB 19/21, 232 Yards
-(9-14-2013) Teddy Bridgewater Louisville QB 16/28, 250 Yards, 1 TD
-(11-29-2014) DeVante Parker Louisville WR 6 Receptions, 180 Yards, 3 TD’s
-(11-28-2015) Lamar Jackson Louisville QB 8/21, 130 yards, 1 TD 17 carries, 186 yards, 2 TDs

Another Big Thursday Night Game for the Cards

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Louisville is no stranger to Thursday night football, and has used the weekday games to help propel the program onto the national scene. There have been some of those Thursday night games that have had major implications to the Cards post season. This week marks the ten year anniversary of the Thursday night Jeremy Ito kicked a 28-yard field goal with 13 seconds left to lift No. 15 Rutgers to a 28-25 Big East Conference victory over No. 3 Louisville. That loss most would argue knocked Louisville out of their first chance to play for a National Championship. You can bet that Coach Petrino and Louisville fans have thought about that night many times. With another big Thursday night game looming it to could have major implications on the Cardinals post season playoff hopes.

On Thursday night Louisville will visit Houston to play the Cougars in what should be a very competitive game. This will be the 17th meeting between these teams with the series tied at 8-8. The Houston Cougars are 8-2 (5-2) this season after beating Tulane by a score of 30-18 in their last game. Houston hasn’t been the team that most expected them to be this season after their big win over Oklahoma but make no mistake about it they are very good. Last year Houston’s season was highlighted by their big win against the Cardinals in Louisville. This game has been labeled as their Super Bowl by several pundits.

With Houston it starts at the top with their head Coach Tom Herman and his staff. Last season I covered the game between Louisville and Houston and spent some time observing the Houston side line. They have a very young and energetic staff and that funnels down through their team. They have struggled at times this season but that competitiveness has been their one constant. The Cougars have always been known for their explosive offenses and that legacy has only improved with Herman. Offensively the Cougars are going to come from all directions and are averaging 37.6 points per game with 168.6 rushing yards and 283.8 passing yards per game. They have scored 26 touchdowns on the ground and 17 touchdowns through the air.

Leading this Cougar offense is a very athletic and talented QB Greg Ward Jr. Ward is completing 68.5% of his passes for 2608 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 8 interception this season. He leads the Cougars rushing attack with 429 yards and 9 touchdowns. Houston also features two very solid RB’s in Duke Catalon (411 yards, 2 touchdowns), and Dillon Birden (277 yards, 6 touchdowns). Ward’s favorite targets through the air are WR’s Linell Bonner (774 yards, 2 touchdowns), Chance Allen (637 yards, 3 touchdowns), and Steven Dunbar (585 yards, 5 touchdowns). One of Herman’s best attributes is how he utilizes his talent in his spread offense and this group has embraced that.

Trying to stop Houston’s very aggressive style of offense is a Louisville defense that has been very consistent this season. Defensively, the Cardinals have moved up to sixth in the country in rushing defense, yielding only 102.7 yards per game and are tied (Alabama, Ohio State and Michigan) for the national lead by allowing just three rushing touchdowns all season. Louisville is also #6 in 3rd down conversion defense, #7 in yards allowed per pass attempt and #10 in sack yards. Louisville hasn’t permitted a touchdown on the ground in the last 22 quarters (since the second stanza versus Clemson.) They are ranked #6 in total defense. There have been different guys stepping up each week on this defense. Keith Kelsey has led the Louisville defense with 68 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 1 sack, while Stacy Thomas has added 58 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, and 1 interception. Last week DeVonte Fields got back to his dominating ways. This is a promising sign as the Cardinals are going to need him down the stretch.

Lamar Jackson got his first college start against the Houston Cougars last season but ended up being replaced by Kyle Bolin after he and the offense struggled. This time around things are a little different. Louisville has the #1 scoring offense averaging 49.6 points per game with 270 rushing yards and 313.2 passing yards per game. Jackson is completing 58.6% of his passes for 2898 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions for Louisville. Jackson has added 1334 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground. This Louisville offense has many weapons and can attack on every level. Houston ranks #41 in the country in passing yards allowed. Look for the Cardinals WR’s to play a big role in the game on Thursday night. Leading this group is four guys well over 400 yards in receiving James Quick (608 yards, 6 touchdowns), Jamari Staples (585 yards, 2 touchdowns), Cole Hikutini (526 yards, 6 touchdowns), and Jaylen Smith (487 yards, 6 touchdowns).

Speaking of the Houston defense they are giving up 21.3 points per game with 92.8 rushing yards and 210.5 passing yards per game. The backbone of this defense is the defensive line and their line-backers. Up front they have maybe one of the best interior lineman in the country in Ed Oliver who has 55 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, and 3 sacks. He is tied for 6th in the country in tackles for loss per game. LB Matthew Adams has 55 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, and 1 sack. While LB Steven Taylor has 50 tackles, and 6 sacks. Houston’s defensive front really has some nice size and these guys get to the ball. With Louisville needing to attack their weak secondary it will be a busy night for the Cards offensive line giving Jackson time to do so.

To say I’m a bit nervous about this Thursday night game would be an understatement. I know a playoff spot is pretty much still a long shot at this point but I really would like to see the Cardinals compete for that spot all the way to the end. A loss to Houston would completely derail any outside shot at playing for a National Title and send the Cardinals plummeting down in the polls. This game will be Houston’s BCS Bowl game. They are looking to make a late season statement themselves and perhaps looking for a bit of redemption after losing a few games. I think that Houston will ride the emotion of their crowd and the hype surrounding this game. I look for them to keep it close and for this game to be a battle. But ultimately big games are decided by great players. I think our O’s are much better than their X’s, and we have the best offensive player in college football on our sideline. Big Thursday night games have served as the ultimate proving ground for Louisville Football. It’s time to show the nation once again that we belong. Go Cards!

ACC Finale on a Saturday Night under the Lights

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Our Louisville Cardinals are heading down the home stretch of the college football season. They moved up one spot this week in the Playoff poll to #6 and winners of four games straight they will close out their 3rd ACC season against Wake Forest Saturday night under the lights of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. The Cardinals and the Demon Deacons have met three times on the gridiron with the Cardinals winning all three. The Cardinals have won 9 straight at home including a perfect 4-0 this season.

In the last three games, Louisville has put up a whopping 138 points, and has held opponents to 14 points or fewer in three of their last four. The Cardinals have dominated the opposition this season, having out-scored opponents 211-61 and having scored 50 or more points in three of the four home contests. Next up is a very respectful opponent in Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons are 6-3 and 3-2 overall after a 27-20 win over Virginia last week. They will be coming to Louisville on Saturday night with upset on their mind and the Cardinals will get their best shot. This Wake Forest team reflects the resilience of their head coach. Dave Clawson has turned several programs around and in year number three in Winston-Salem has them going Bowling. The programs first trip to a Bowl game since 2011.

Leading the Wake Forest offense is another guy who is a direct reflection of his coach. QB John Wolford has been right in the middle of the rebuilding process and has taken the blows that comes along with that. His numbers don’t necessarily reflect it but Wolford has weathered the storm and has his offense moving the football. So far this season, Wolford is 127-of-225 for 1313 yards and has a 5:7 TD: INT ratio. The Demon Deacons have a pretty balanced attack with 1476 yards on the ground and 1507 yards through the air. Leading their rushing attack is Matt Colburn with 109 carries for 463 yards and one TD. Wolford is a mobile QB and he is second on the team in rushing with 456 yards and 6 touchdowns. Wolford’s favorite targets are WR Tabari Hines (367 yards 2 touchdowns), WR Cortez Lewis (298 yards), and TE Cam Serigne (257 yards, 1 touchdown).

Looking to stifle this Wake Forest offense is a Louisville Defense that keeps getting better every week. After giving up 201 yards on the ground in the 42-36 loss to No. 2 Clemson on Oct. 1, the Cardinals have allowed just 66.3 average over the last four games holding the last three opponents to under 100 yards on the ground. Entering the game last weekend, Boston College totaled 170.1 yards per game on the ground, and were held to 57 yards on 47 carries an average of 1.5 yards per attempt. The Cards are ranked seventh in rushing defense this season. They have also done a great job at defending teams through the air and rank 15th in the country allowing 187 yards a game. The Cardinals are ranked 8th in the nation in total defense giving up 293 yards a game. For DeAngelo Brown (second on the squad with 6.5 tackles for loss), Keith Kelsey (team leader with 61 tackles), Devonte Fields (30 tackles, 2 sacks), and Josh Harvey-Clemons (second on the team in tackles with 56) their college careers are nearing the end. Look for them to be playing some of their best football on Saturday night and during these final weeks.

On the year so far, Jackson is rolling with a 170-of-288 line for 2753 yards and 26 touchdowns, also leading Louisville in rushing with 1181 yards and 19 touchdowns on 162 attempts. Brandon Radcliff ranks 10th in the nation with an average of 7.12 yards per carry. James Quick is the Cardinals’ lead receiver this year with 35 catches for 601 yards and six touchdowns of his own and not far behind is Jamari Staples second on the team with 557 receiving yards. Jaylen Smith has caught a pass in 14-straight games and is tied for the lead with six touchdowns. Cole Hikutini has caught 27 passes and always seems to be there to move the chains when needed. This Louisville offense is rolling along like a well-oiled machine and I only expect that to continue Saturday night.

I don’t think that Wake Forest can stand up to this kind of offensive onslaught in any realistic scenario, but do think that they’ve got a defense that will sure be excited to try and slow down the Heisman leader and the weapons he has around him. Wake Forest has some very good player’s at all three levels of their defense. This is a hard-nosed group who flies around the field looking to hit somebody. The leaders of this group are DL Duke Ejiofor (36 tackles, 8 sacks), LB Marquel Lee (71 tackles, 5 sacks), LB Thomas Brown (45 tackles, 1.5 sacks), DB Brad Watson (40 tackles, 2 interceptions), DB Ryan Janvion (42 tackles, 1 interception), and DB Jessie Bates (63 tackles, 5 interceptions). You can tell by their numbers that these guys come to play and they will Saturday.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to be under the lights of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium on Saturday night covering this game. We haven’t had the chance at many of these night games since joining the ACC. It will also be great to be a part of the atmosphere that will honor our veterans. The Cardinals will wear maybe their best uniform combinations of the season when they take the field. I don’t see any scenario where this game will be in doubt. With the home crowd behind them this Louisville offense and defense will come out and play one of the best games of their season looking to gain momentum as they close this thing out. It’s going to be an awesome Saturday night folks. Go Cards!

Battle between an old foe & against a top defense looms for the Cards at BC

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Our Cardinals have won 3 straight, have secured another Bowl trip and are ranked 7th in the first College Football Playoff Poll. I’d say things are going pretty well. They will now head to the Northeast to face Boston College. The Cardinals lead the series between these teams 5-3 and have won the last three match-ups. They are heavy favorites again this week but there is an old foe and a really good defense who would love nothing more than to ruin the Cardinals day on Saturday.

Boston College just broke a 12 game ACC losing streak last week with a victory over NC State and they are going to be feeling pretty good about themselves Saturday afternoon. There is one guy on their team in particular who has been waiting for the Cardinals to come to town all season. Former embattled Kentucky QB Patrick Towles has found refuge at Chestnut Hills and for him this game is a chance at redemption for the losses he took against his Bluegrass Rival.

Towles grew up in Kentucky and was a very good high school QB. I always thought he was a gamer when he played for the Wildcats but he never seemed to gain the support or confidence of their fans or his coach. So far this year, Towles is 88-of-107 with 1147 yards and a 7:5 TD: INT ratio for Boston College. He is a QB that will run the ball and has rushed for 268 yards with 4 touchdowns this season. He is the team’s second leading rusher.

Boston College has a pretty balanced offensive attack with 1,241 yards through the air and 1,361 yards on the ground this season. They do slightly favor the run. Coach Steve Addazio has already made mention of a grind it out day so I’d say that we will see a heavy dose of their leading rusher RB Jon Hillman who has 411 yards and 5 touchdowns on the season and RB Davon Jones who has 290 yards and 1 touchdown on the season. WR Jeff Smith will also run out of the backfield. He had five carries for 70 yard and a touchdown in their win against NC State. Towles will also sling the ball down the field to Smith who is his leading receiver with 284 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Looking to stop the BC offensive attack is a Louisville defense that is ranked 16th nationally against the run and 11th overall. Defensively, the Cards held Virginia to 322 yards of total offense and just 84 yards on the ground to remain in the top 20 in total defense and rushing defense. CB Jaire Alexander has emerged as a big spark to the Cardinal’s defensive attack and is second nationally with five picks through eight games. Devonte Fields is still looking for the numbers he produced last season but has been slowed by nagging injuries. Facing a rushing offense this would be a good game for him to return to form.

This will be a game that will feature one of the best offenses in the country against one of the better defenses. So far this season for Louisville, Heisman leading Lamar Jackson is 158-of-271 for 2522 yards and 22 touchdowns, and is also tops in the running game with 147 carries for 996 yards and 16 more scores. Staples is the leading receiver for the Cardinals this year, bagging 29 catches for 546 yards and two touchdowns. Steve Addazio has rebuilt the BC program on the fundamentals of good defense. His team boasts a top 5 defense against the run and is ranked #8 nationally in total defense. Boston College will feature all-league contenders at each level, headlined by DE Harold Landry (29 tackles, 9 sacks), linebackers Matt Milano (44 tackles, 5 sacks) and Connor Strachan (36 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and S John Johnson (47 tackles) and CB Kamrin Moore (19 tackles).

Reviews say that Alumni Stadium at Chestnut Hill offers legitimate college football to the New England area. From the upper deck you can get a view of BC’s Gothic architecture looming just up the hill from the stadium and Boston College will try to go medieval on the Cardinals on Saturday. They have a hungry defense and a QB with revenge on his mind. The Cardinals will have to prove again to the country on Saturday that they belong in the playoff conversation. A big win would show that and put the Cardinals in good shape heading into the final month of their schedule. I think we will see another good ACC battle… Go Cards!

Playoff Hopes Alive & Halloween Weekend Trip To Hooville

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With a little help from Penn State and a very convincing homecoming victory over NC State the Cardinals are very much still in the College Football Playoff picture. Now each week becomes very important in that bid for a Playoff spot. Next up for the Cardinals is a Halloween weekend trip to Virginia to face the Cavaliers. Saturday’s game will be the fifth meeting between the two schools, with the series tied at 2-2. Louisville held off the Cavaliers 38-31 last season at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

The most prominent and widely accepted nickname for Virginia athletics is “Wahoos”, and “Hoos”. There is a persistent myth and according to legend, Massachusetts resident Dr. Theodore Giesel better known to the majority of the world as Dr. Seuss had his application to the University of Virginia rejected. Giesel was allegedly so upset over being snubbed by UVA that he purchased a house on the hill overlooking the school, because its elevated location allowed him to “look down” on the institution that rejected him. It’s also allegedly the inspiration behind his famous children’s book How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

The University of Virginia’s football season has not been as pleasant as those children’s books that we grew up on. They’re entering the game on Saturday with a floundering 2-5 record, fresh off a 35-14 loss to North Carolina. They are currently 5th in the ACC Coastal Division with a 1-2 record. So far this season their passing game has been tepid with 1,878 yards ranked 34th in the country and their rushing attack has muddled along with 795 yards ranked 117th in the country. Defensively they are allowing 456 yards a game ranked 108th in the country.

Leading the Virginia offense is QB Kurt Benkert. He has 1,859 yards with 14 touchdowns and 7 interceptions on the season. The Virginia Offense is very pass heavy with five players having over a 100 yards receiving. Benkert’s favorite targets are WR’s Olamide Zaccheaus (439 yards, 5 touchdowns), Keeon Johnson (323 yards, 3 touchdowns), and Doni Dowling (309 yards, 1 touchdown). One of the Cavaliers most dynamic players is RB Taquan Mizzell. He is the head of the rushing attack with 461 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also ranks 4th in their passing attack with 211 yards and 1 touchdown. Mizzell has a reception in 40 straight games, which is tied for the third-longest active streak in the nation and the longest of any running back. He poses the biggest challenge to the Louisville defense on Saturday.

Speaking of that Louisville defense the Cardinals held their fourth opponent to under 250 yards of total offense by limiting NC State to 250 yards of total offense on Saturday. NC State, which entered the game averaging 186.2 yards on the ground, were held to a season-low 14 yards on 25 carries. The Cards moved up to 19th in rushing defense, yielding 116.1 yards per game. And while Cavaliers running back Taquan Mizzell will be one of the best offensive players the Cardinals have faced this season he won’t find running on these Cardinals easy. The Cardinals, who are 19th in the country against the run allowing 116.1 yards per game have yielded an average of 62.0 yards over the last two games. Keith Kelsey has been credited with 31 tackles over the last four games to give him 51 on the season, which is now tops on the team in 2016. I would really like to see Devonte Fields have a big game on Saturday. He needs to find his groove again.

The Virginia Defense is giving up 171 yards a game on the ground and giving up 285 yards a game through the air. Leading the Cavaliers on defense is line Backer Micah Kiser with 77 tackles and 3.5 sacks. And safety Quin Blanding who has 75 tackles and 1 interception. Kiser (11.0) is leading the ACC in tackles per game and Blanding (10.7) is No. 2 in the ACC in tackles per game. These two guys are good but they’ll have their hands full with Heisman leading Lamar Jackson who leads the Cardinals in rushing with 130 carries for 908 yards and a whopping 16 touchdowns, and is 134-of-230 through the air for 2131 yards and 18 scores.

Every ‘Hoo down in ‘Hooville
Liked college football a lot
But the Leaping Lamar, who rules the ville,
They will not

All four games in the series between the Cardinals and Cavaliers have been won by a touchdown or less, including the first three on field goals in the closing minutes. Anytime you play a conference road game you can expect to get that team’s best shot. And while I think the Cavaliers don’t really stand a chance against the Cardinals high powered offensive attack I do think they can keep it interesting. Turnovers and penalties are things that can be a great equalizer in a football game especially on the road. The Cardinals have had 16 turnovers on the season (11 fumbles, 5 interceptions), and are one of the most penalized teams in college football with 9 a game for over 80 yards a game. This is an area that this Louisville team needs great improvement. And an area that could cost them in one of these for sure win games on the road.

That being said it should be another winning Saturday for our Cardinals and another big day for our Heisman hopeful… Go Cards!

Homecoming, Bowl Eligibility and the Wolfpack

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With all that has happened this week the College Football season has taken a back seat. That boring performance by the Cardinals last Friday Night didn’t help much either. Saturday afternoon Louisville Football will take center stage again. The Cardinals will have a chance to become Bowl eligible for the seventh straight year and have another shot at getting that quality type performance to help bolster a playoff resume if that were to come into play. I think that is a long shot at this point but all it takes is one crazy weekend to change everything.

The Cardinals will welcome the NC State Wolfpack into Papa John’s Stadium on Saturday. This will be the seventh meeting between the two schools, with the Cardinals owning a 5-1 series advantage and have won two in a row over the Wolfpack. Its Homecoming weekend in Louisville and this should help add a little spark. That and a very competitive NC State team should provide much entertainment in this game.

NC State was a field goal away from upsetting Clemson last weekend and will look to ride that wave of emotion into Louisville on Saturday. The Wolfpack is the only team in the FBS this season that has the privilege of facing top 10 teams on the road in back to back games. They are one of six FBS squads that have had back-to-back top 10 opponents this season, but the only one that has faced both on the road. They have not beaten a Top 10 team since 2012.

Leading the Wolfpack offense is QB Ryan Finley. He is completing 64.9 percent of his passes for 1,272 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions. Finley has just three touchdown passes in his last three games. Finley’s favorite targets are WR Stephen Louis and TE Jaylen Samuels who have combined for 650 receiving yards and five touchdowns this season. WR Kelvin Harmon has 10 receptions for 179 yards and 2 touchdowns.

The NC State offensive line has been a solid unit for them this season. They call themselves the Band of Brothers. It is a group that has yielded just nine sacks in 2016, and is helping senior running back Matt Dayes have one of the best seasons in school history. Dayes enters the game Saturday ranked third in the ACC and 18th in the FBS in rushing with 111.5 yards per game. He has 669 yards and four touchdowns on the season. The NC State Wolfpack ground game is averaging 186.1 yards a game.

Tasked with slowing down the NC State offense is a Louisville defense that is allowing 24.3 points and 309.8 yards per game this season. One of the keys to Louisville’s defensive success has been getting off of the field on third down. The Cardinals are 11th in the country, holding opponents to just 26-of-89 for a 29.2 percent conversion rate. However, in the last two games, opponents are 12-of- 25 on third down, including Duke, which was 8-of-16 for 50.0 percent. I hope this little trend ends on Saturday or it could be a long day with NC State’s ability to run the ball.

It has been some of the usual suspects getting it done on the defensive side of the ball for the Cardinals. Josh Harvey-Clemons leads the Louisville Cardinals with 45 tackles, and Keith Kelsey has 43 tackles. While James Hearns has 5.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Jaire Alexander has made some big plays with 21 tackles and three interceptions. Devonte Fields has 27 tackles and two sacks this season but has just 7 tackles in the last two games. I would really like to see him get back on track Saturday. There has been some other guys step up this season on this side of the ball. Tackle Drew Bailey had 11 much needed tackles to help the Cardinals pull out that snoozer last Friday.

Duke played stall ball last Friday and that did slow down the Cardinals high powered offensive attack but it has yet to be stopped. Lamar Jackson is completing 58.2 percent of his passes for 1,806 yards, 15 touchdowns and four interceptions. He has seven touchdown passes in his last three games. The top targets in the Cardinals passing attack has been James Quick and Jamari Staples who have combined for 890 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Continuing to emerge as one of the biggest weapons for the Cardinals Cole Hikutini has 21 receptions for 275 yards and three touchdowns. The Cardinals ground game is averaging 305.6 yards per contest behind Brandon Radcliff (534 yards, 3 touchdowns), Jeremy Smith (217 yards, 5 touchdowns) and Jackson who leads the way with 832 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Trying to slow down the Heisman Trophy leader and this Louisville offensive attack is a NC State defense that is allowing 18.7 points and 315.7 yards per game. Leading their defensive unit is safety Josh Jones with 53 tackles and 1 interception. Defensive end Bradley Chubb has 25 tackles with five sacks and Mike Stevens has 16 tackles with one interception. This is a solid unit for the Wolfpack and they will be another stiff test for Lamar and the Cardinals Saturday.

Like most of you that game last week put me to sleep and I hope we don’t see another one like it for the rest of the season. I think we will see a more exciting game this Saturday afternoon. I think the Cardinals are going to come out inspired and ready to put up some big numbers. The Wolfpack are coming off a very good performance in Death Valley and one that they should have won. They not only believe that they can play with the best in the ACC but now they know they can. They will challenge the Cardinals but I don’t think they have enough firepower to ruin the day. Should be a lot of train horns tomorrow. Go Cards!

Red and White Scrimmage #1 Has Me Ready for Hoops

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Having a top 10 Football program and possible playoff contender Louisville fans are buzzing about the pig skin. So much so that the Louisville Basketball season has arrived like a whisper. Even the annual Red and White Scrimmage on Wednesday night was a non-televised event. Regardless it was still a really good turnout and it didn’t take long for the Louisville faithful to find their basketball groove. A very exciting style of play, and a deep, talented, athletic roster had them on their feet.

Cardinal fans are no strangers to speed. We’ve watched Lamar Jackson running up and down the field for the last few months. The pace of the scrimmage tonight was just as frantic. It was wide open from tip to towels. I was really impressed how the guys held up and they went at it. Love the depth of this group and it will be needed for the up and down style of play. It also helps to have the competition at all of the positions during practice.

I was really excited to see the Cardinals sophomore class. I have covered these guys since the Derby Basketball Festival. That week I knew that this group was going to be special. They did not disappoint. Donovan Mitchell has transformed himself into a lean mean basketball machine. He is faster and appears to be lighter on his feet. He was already extremely athletic and could jump out of the gym. He has really worked on his shot and that was obvious during the scrimmage. He hit 4 threes and was 6-10 from the field for 22 points.

Deng Adel has also made big strides by having a full off season without being hampered by injury. He has a nose for the basket and looks for ways to get his shots. He is going to be a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. This will especially be true if he can get his jump shot to fall with more consistency. He hit one three point shot and was 5-11 from the field for 14 points.
I’ve always thought that Ray Spalding had the highest ceiling on this team. With his athleticism, height, and wing span he could be a program changer. He played with a lot of confidence Wednesday night and was really active around the basket. He had 15 rebounds 5 blocked shots, and 5 steals.

If you aren’t familiar with Ryan McMahon you will be. He took a red shirt last year and it really helped him physically. Tonight Ryan had the Yum Center crowd on their feet bringing back flashbacks of Pitino’s bombinos. Folks this kid has one of purest jump shots that you will ever see. At one point he hit like three deep balls on consecutive trips down the floor and the crowd loved it. Ryan hit 6 three point shots and was 6-8 from the field for 18 points. This sophomore class showed out during the first scrimmage and McMahon was one of the bright spots. He is going to be a fan favorite and will hit some big shots this season.

I was also excited to see VJ King take the floor for the first time in a Louisville uniform. It didn’t feel like he was a freshman and honestly it was like he had been around forever. He is very poised for a freshman and really fits in nicely to the dynamics of this team. He has great size and is a really athletic kid. He will be ready to contribute game one and will only continue getting better as he gets stronger. He had 19 points.

Cardinal fans were introduced to the graduate transfer rule last season. Trey Lewis and Damion Lee left their mark on the program after just one season. This year Tony Hicks moves into that role and he is going to be just as important to the team as those guys were. He is another guy who has a nose for the basket. He does a great job at finding his shots and creating off the dribble. He is a gritty type of player. He is the type of player to have 20 points and you don’t remember how he did it. He puts his head down and gets it done. He was 10-19 from the field tonight for 26 points. Second highest point total for the scrimmage.

Speaking of silent assassins and gutsy players Quentin Snider is both. He’s always been one of my favorite players and he has become one of the most important players on this team. He is the conductor of the Pitino orchestra. When a play needs to happen he is the guy that will put into motion. He has improved every season and coach Pitino said tonight that he is the only guy on the team close to reaching his full potential. He did what he does on Wednesday night and led the scrimmage with 27 points.

You can really see the physical transformation of this team. And a guy where this really stands out is Jaylen Johnson. Jaylen talked last year about giving up his ranch dressing. Well it was worth the sacrifice. For his size Jaylen really gets up and down the floor well. He didn’t seem fazed by the pace of the scrimmage. He was very active around the basket grabbing 20 boards and scoring 21 points. If I had to give out a most improved award he would win it. The best thing about it is that I think he has just scratched the surface.

I walk away from this first scrimmage very confident about this 2016/17 group. They are a bunch of hard workers and all of them have awesome attitudes. You can tell by how these guys interact in the post-game locker room that they really get along well. It is a cohesive unit. Coach Pitino is trying to emulate the style of play he had with the 96 Cats. If he is going to pull that off then he has the group to do it. This team has depth, length, athleticism and versatility. It’s going to be wide open on offense and in your face on defense. They are going to be fun to watch.

Red/White Scrimmage 2016

No Hurricane Lamar, but a Hurricane Evacutaion on a Bye-Week

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The loss to Clemson this past Saturday left a bitter taste in the mouths of Louisville fans. And thanks to a bye week one that will linger for awhile. Thanks to a trip to Disney World that begin last Sunday and a Hurricane evacuation this week I was able to avoid those feelings of disappointment. But now that I’m safe at home and looking through the stories I missed this week. I can’t help but feel for our guys. This group has worked hard and has paid their dues. They deserved a big win like that.

But just because you deserve something doesn’t mean it will be handed to you. And there was no way that Clemson was going to give the Cardinals anything. One of the Clemson players didn’t even want to give Lamar Jackson’s head back to him after a tackle. I digress but do want to give credit to Clemson for winning their big game. They had some guys step up. They have a great team and a great coach.

I had mentioned in my pre-game and it wasn’t a big revelation that Clemson would ride that big wave of emotion that comes with a Saturday night Primetime game in Death Valley. That place was electrifying. And their guys were amped up. This really stood out in the trenches.

The Cardinals O-Line and D-Line struggled getting beat both physically and mentally. The O-Line allowed a QB as elusive as Jackson to get sacked 5 times. And the penalties were staggering. Especially with them trying to overcome the emotion in that place. The D-Line struggled to contain Watson and allowed him and Gallman to play well above their rushing averages.

The mistakes weren’t limited to that part of the game but it did set the tone for the night. Being under pressure all night Lamar struggled to really get things going missing some throws and missing his reads. And the Louisville DB’s had their hands full with Watson getting time to deliver to his receivers. The absence of Shaq Wiggins didn’t help either.

I expected big time performances from Josh Harvey Clemons and Devonte Fields. The reason these guys came to Louisville for their second chances were for games like this. Harvey Clemons got his 11 tackles, but Fields was nonexistent with just two tackles. I think the defense really missed his presence. He can really set the tone when he’s getting to the QB.

Lamar missed some opportunities with Staples and I really thought that this would be a big night for this duo. Really thought Staples would have a huge outing. He like the guys I mentioned above came to Louisville for big games. Hope he can get it going soon. He’s got a lot of big play potential and the offense is going to need him.

The Cardinal’s lost the game but not all was lost. We got to see the Heisman Run of Lamar Jackson solidified. Clemson slowed him down but they couldn’t stop him. We got to see the coming of age of one of the best tight ends in College Football. Cole Hikutini fought through extra contact, holding and tripping for 7 catches and 84 yards. He is going to be fun to watch during the home stretch. We also got to see the emergence of guys like Jaire Alexander and Zykiesis Cannon who really made some great plays to help change momentum at times.

And finally we got to see this Louisville team take a big punch in the gut and fight to come back. They gave themselves a chance to win this game and even in defeat showed the 3rd largest TV crowd to ever watch a Saturday night football game that they do belong in the discussion this season.

It was a crushing loss and that game could have big implications on the rest of the Louisville Football season. Emotions tend to get the best of us sometimes but I was extremely disappointed to see some fans on social media bashing James Quick after the game. Without his play we wouldn’t have had a shot to win that game. No chance.

It’s all about perspective anyway isn’t it? As I mentioned above my family had to evacuate from our fall vacation due to a deadly hurricane coming across the southeast. This storm will cause all kinds of damage and loss of life. I’m so thankful we made it home safely and happy to be at home watching the storm from my TV instead of in person.

If you got so upset about a loss that you lashed out at a student athlete then you need some perspective. There were many mistakes Saturday night. But those mistakes will be corrected and nobody wanted it more than the players who have laid it all on the line.

The bye week is hard on the fans especially after a loss. It’s good for the team. Time to heal up and the extra practice time will give the Cardinals a chance to get back to work to correct things. Duke has a very good team and it should be a competitive game. Like most of you I Can’t wait! Go Cards!

Prayers to all of the folks in the path of Hurricane Matthew. Stay safe folks!

Not Just Another Gameday

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After years of leaping around to different conferences it has been great to see the University of Louisville Football team finally be in a legitimate football conference like the ACC. The Louisville Football program has battled its way to some national relevance and have shown that they can contend. Since the move to the ACC I’ve heard coaches, players and fans say how they are grateful for the opportunity. On Saturday it’s time for the Louisville Football program to take advantage of that opportunity.

The Cardinals and the Clemson Tigers don’t have a long history. Two games define the story between these teams. Clemson has beat the Cardinals in both meetings but it has been competitive. The Cardinals have had their introduction to Death Valley but have yet to see just how daunting Memorial Stadium can be at night. With ESPN’s College Gameday in town they will have their biggest, and rowdiest crowd of the season. If the Cardinals are to reach the summit of the ACC they will have to survive Death Valley.

Not only will the Cardinals have to face one of the most intimidating venues in college football they’ll be playing a pretty good team as well. Dabo Swinney has a roster loaded with talent, speed and athleticism on both sides of the ball. Leading the Clemson offense is QB Deshaun Watson. He is a very gifted athlete and can hurt you with his arm or his legs. He has completed 60% of his passes this season for 996 yards and 9 touchdowns. He is second on the team with 120 yards rushing. Watson is the big game kind of player and he will be the toughest QB that this Louisville defense will face all season.

This Clemson offense is very pass oriented. They have 1,172 yards and 11 touchdowns through the air. They spread the ball around and they have 10 guys who have 40 receiving yards or more. They also have 8 guys who have caught at least one touchdown pass. Watson’s favorite targets are Mike Williams (303 yards, 1 touchdown), Ray-Ray McCloud (255 yards, 2 touchdowns), and Artavis Scott (143 yards). McCloud hauled in eight balls for 101 yards against Georgia Tech last week and this group had 442 yards through the air against the Yellow Jackets. The Louisville secondary will face a tall task.

The Tigers rushing attack hasn’t been as effective as their passing game this season. The Clemson rushing attack has accounted for 638 yards total with 4 touchdowns. In comparison Lamar Jackson has 526 yards and Brandon Radcliff has 427 yards rushing this season. Clemson’s leading rusher is Wayne Gallman. He has 256 yards with 3 touchdowns this season. Last week he was held to just 56 yards.

You can’t mention this Clemson offense without talking about their offensive line. They were picked by several outlets to be one of the top units in the country this season. Last season the Tigers O-line, which had been overhauled ranked No. 19 in fewest sacks allowed and were No. 21 in rushing. This group has allowed three sacks and the rushing game is averaging about 4.2 yards a carry through 4 games this season. I don’t think that’s what most expected out of this unit at this point but they are a capable bunch.

Clemson backs up a very talented offense with a defense that is 5th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 11 points per game and a total defense that is ranked third, allowing 218.5 yards per game. Clemson is also second in pass efficiency defense and second in yards per play allowed (3.41). Leading this group up front is D-Linemen Christian Wilkins (18 tackles, 2 sacks), Carlos Watkins (10 tackles, 3 sacks), and Scott Pagano (7 tackles, 1 sack). A secondary thought by many to be a weak spot in this defense has started to gel after returning one starter from last season. Leading this unit is DB Ryan Carter (7 tackles, 1 sack), Safety Jadar Johnson (11 tackles), and Safety Van Smith (24 tackles). He had 14 tackles against Troy.

This Louisville Football team has taken the college football world by storm and it’s hard to picture the Clemson defense being able to completely stop the Cardinals attack. Lamar Jackson is the best player in college football, and if teams find a way to slow him down they still won’t be able to stop him in my opinion. A big reason why is the weapons he has around him.

The Cardinal offense is a balanced attack with 1,273 yards rushing and 1,455 yards receiving. Brandon Radcliff is having a career season himself with 427 yards and 3 touchdowns in the rushing attack. James Quick (360 yards, 3 touchdowns), Jamari Staples (313 yards), Jaylen Smith (202 yards, 2 touchdowns), Cole Hikutini (177 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Traveon Samuel (77 yards, 1 touchdown) lead one of the best receiving groups in the country. I look for Cole Hikutini to have a big game and think that Jamari Staples has his biggest game of the season on Saturday.

It is becoming a cliché this season to say that it all boils down to how well the offensive line performs. So far the Louisville offensive line has gotten the job done. They did take a few steps back last week and at times got beat up by a very good Marshall front. The Clemson group they will face on Saturday won’t be as good but will be another tough challenge. I know Coach Klenakis coached up his guys in the film room this past week and he will have them ready.

The Louisville defense will have their hands full all night long with Watson and company. Especially in the first quarter of the game. The Clemson crowd will be electric and I know that the Clemson players are going to feed off of that energy. If they make a few big plays on the Cardinals defense early on then it could spell trouble. If the Cardinals defense is able to stop that initial burst and take the crowd out early it will change the complexion of this game. Players like Josh Harvey-Clemons, Devonte Fields, Keith Kelsey, and James Hearns are players who love big moments. These guys will be ready for this challenge. Zykeisis Cannon recorded a career-high nine tackles last week and I look for him to have a big follow up.

There will be a lot on the line on Saturday night. A Cardinal win will cement their membership into the ACC giving them their 1st legitimate shot at a conference championship. A win would all but guarantee a Heisman trophy for Lamar Jackson and would put Louisville on a path to a possible College Football playoff berth. It doesn’t get any bigger than Death Valley on a Saturday night in October. Winning games like this on the road puts a college football program in a different conversation. I’m ready to have those conversations. Go Cards!