As I was leaving the press area I jumped on the elevator to head down to the press conferences with a few other folks the guy working had a big smile on his face and said “we are all happy tonight”, “your happy, I’m happy, the team’s happy”. And that was the feeling in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in the Cardinals 45-3 win over Samford.
It had been a long time since Cardinal fans or the football program had to endure such a winless streak. I know I didn’t miss that feeling and it was starting to take its toll on the team especially the young guys. I was happy they got the win but hearing the triumphant roars inside that locker room last night was especially pleasing.
In this morale building win we also started to see an offensive identity being formed. Coach Petrino officially said that Lamar Jackson was the man going forward and also that we would start to see Reggie Bonnafon used in different aspects. Both of these guys are great athletes and both are even better young men. Lamar like always was very self-deprecating about his record 396 yards of total offense, and Reggie like always talked about just wanting to help his team get better and doing his part after his passing, rushing and receiving 88 yard night.
“We’ve got to keep the dice rolling”
“I’m a football player, It’s what I love to do”
These are the young men that are going to lead our football team forward and I couldn’t think of two better guys for the job. I have been documented many times during the pre-season saying this would happen. I’d hate to be a defensive coordinator task to stop these two.
I have to also mention that it was great seeing James Quick back out on the field. He really is an electrifying player. And he is also the kind of guy that the other players feed off of his energy. He’s a great receiver and athlete but he brings a lot more to the table than that.
The Louisville defense came into the game against Samford allowing opposing offenses to convert on almost 50% of their third down attempts. On Saturday they got off the field on third downs only allowing the Bulldogs to covert on 3 of 11. Chucky Williams said in his post-game that they had been really working hard in practice on just running to the ball. I know this was an FCS opponent but yesterday the Cardinals defense played with ruthless pursuit. Guys were flying to the ball and making plays. They will be able to build off this game and I think we may have witnessed a new identity forming with this group as well.
Even special teams got in on this feel good win. Kicker Josh Appleby nailed a 52 yard field goal. And freshman Jaire Alexander showed his potential with some pretty impressive punt returns.
I’ll leave you with this…
Those enjoying winning streaks thus win twofold. They win not only the game but also the right to greater self-determination. They become masters of their own fate. That feeling of efficacy, of being in charge of circumstances, is the essence of confidence. Winning once or twice is encouraging, but winning continuously is empowering.
I’ve had a few days to think about the Louisville football season and to ponder the 0-3 start. Watching the other college football games over the weekend I can say with extreme confidence that there are a lot of schools who would have started the season 0-3 with Louisville’s schedule. But I digress… Even though our Cardinals are 0-3 we have had moments against both Auburn and Clemson that could be considered somewhat of a moral victory and things that the team could actually build upon.
The Cardinals total margin of defeat in the past three games is 13 points and that is lower than any three game losing streaks in school history. We have not been blown out and have been in every game with a chance to win. We’ve got an exceptional group of freshman and they are the foundation of what will eventually be a good football team. The freshmen have accounted for over 60% of total yardage for this team up to this point in the season. Freshmen WR Jaylen Smith (11 Rec, 171 yards), TE Micky Crum (12 Rec, 158 yards, 1 TD), WR Traveon Samuel (12 Rec, 118 yards), and WR Devonte Peete (5 Rec, 101 yards) are all ranked in the top 40 of receiving leaders in the ACC. Smith #12, Crum #15, Samuel #27 and Peete #33. Freshman QB Lamar Jackson is #10 in the ACC in total offensive plays with 130 rushing yards and 283 passing yards.
On Saturday the Cardinals will play the Samford Bulldogs. The Bulldogs are a very good FCS football program and this will provide the Cardinals the opportunity to get an important Morale victory. This Samford football team will be no push over. They are very well coached by a familiar face. Chris Hatcher comes to Samford after serving as the head coach at Murray State University since 2010. In five seasons as the head coach of the Racers, his teams employed a high-powered “Hatch Attack” offense to top the Division I-FCS football charts. In 2014, the Racers ranked second in the nation in passing offense, averaging 327.2 yards per game. The team also ranked 15th in total offense at 468.3 yards per contest. Hatcher boasts a career record of 121-57 in 15 years as a college head coach at Murray State, Georgia Southern and Valdosta State.
Leading the Samford offense is QB Michael Eubank who is completing 68.6 percent of his passes for 907 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions. We may also see QB Devlin Hodges. He and Eubank have combined for combined for 1,054 passing yards this season. They have three very solid players in their wide receiving corps. WR’s Karel Hamilton and Emmanuel Obajimi have combined for 438 receiving yards and two touchdowns. WR Kelvin McKnight has 11 receptions on the season. Leading their rushing attack is Junior Denzel Williams who has 219 yards and two touchdowns on the season. They are averaging 182 yards on the ground per game this season. The Bulldogs have scored over 40 points in two of its first three games and are averaging 45 points. Defensively, Samford is allowing 22.7 points and 438 yards per game. The stud of their defense is SR Line Backer Justin Cooper who leads the Bulldogs with 25 tackles. Leading their defensive front is Jared Holloway who has two sacks on the season and leading their secondary is James Bradberry with four pass deflections.
I do expect Coach Grantham’s defense to win the day here. Shadowed by the fact that they have played some very good teams with some very good athletes at the skill positions is that this Louisville defense has the chance to be really good. They have a lot of new parts that have had to come together and some players that had to find their football feet again but it’s coming along. Defensively, Louisville is allowing 28.3 points and 396.7 yards per game. The obvious issue for this defense is getting off of the field on 3rd downs. They have allowed 20 third down conversions this season allowing teams to convert 44% of the time. I think this is a big part of those growing pains. There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of communication gaps that still need time to gel.
This Cardinal defense does have the top tackling duo in the ACC. Keith Kelsey and Josh Harvey-Clemons both have 33 tackles on the season and that is good for #1 in the ACC and #12 in the nation. Clemons is 2nd in the ACC and 16th in the country in interceptions with two on the season. And he is just getting started folks. This Cardinals defense also boast several other players in the top 25 of tacklers in the ACC. #6 James Burgess with 26, #11 Sheldon Rankins with 23, #18 Keith Brown with 18, and #22 Devonte’ Fields with 17. Fields is getting more and more back to his old self every week, and I expect full beast mode by the middle of the season. This Louisville defense is just like a pot of chili, and the more it cooks the better it will get.
The Louisville offense is ranked in the bottom or near the bottom of every category, and it can all be directly related some way or another to poor production on the offensive front. We all knew that it could be bad but didn’t expect it to be this bad. The rushing game is one of the worst in the country through three games and the Louisville QBs are running for their lives. I still have faith that Coach Klenakis will get this issue resolved. He has proven time and time again that he can develop talent. The guy has coached 21 offensive linemen who have advanced to the NFL. Before coming to Louisville Klenakis was at Iowa State and in 2013 he had six different starters miss at least one game. He was forced to use nine different combinations that season. They ended up having two consecutive 500 yard games of total offense and the Cyclones finished the season with the 10th most points in school history. He has built offensive fronts at every coaching stop in his career and he will figure this out.
It has been a youth movement for this Louisville offense. It looks like Lamar Jackson may take back the QB duties on Saturday and there is no doubt that Jaylen Smith and Micky Crum who have combined for 329 receiving yards and one touchdown along with Traveon Samuel who has 12 receptions will continue to play an important role. We may get to see James Quick return to the line-up as well. In order to get things really moving for this group we have to get some production in the running game. Brandon Radcliff has done his best with little or no help from that offensive line and leads the way with 164 yards and two touchdowns. The Cardinals Rank 14th in the ACC and 115th in the country in rushing offense averaging a whopping 3.2 yards a carry, 109 yards a game and 6 touchdowns. I still have high expectations out of this group and Coach Petrino is one of the best offensive minds in the game.
As I said in my opening the Cardinals have played a very tough schedule, and one that has kept them winless through the first three weeks of the college football season. We have had some moral victories, but on Saturday I do believe that both the defense and offense will get a much needed Morale boost from this game. They are playing a team that they should beat but it will still take a good effort from both units to get the win. This game couldn’t have come at a better time for our Cardinals. This season will be defined by how this group overcomes adversity and this weekend will be the start of positive things ahead.
We have a short week Cardinal fans before we get to pour back into Papa John’s Cardinals stadium for another game. Hopefully it will be to get some redemption after the Cardinals heartbreaking loss on Saturday. It is a Black-Out game so hopefully the team can feed off of what will be an electric environment to pull off the upset. Just as it was last season when Louisville visited Death Valley for the very first time this will be the Tigers very first trip to Papa John’s Cardinal stadium. These teams have only met one time with Clemson winning that game 23-17. Clemson is 5-8 All-time in its first game in an ACC facility, and has a 5-9 record in ESPN Thursday Night games over the years. They have won four in a row, all under Dabo Swinney. Thursday nights have also been pretty good to Louisville with a 10-8 record during the mid-week showdowns.
Clemson will come into Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium on Thursday night ranked #11 in the AP Poll and #9 in the Coaches Poll. Most pundits have picked them to ascend to the thrown of the ACC replacing Florida State as the top dog. Coach Dabo Swinney will have one of the most explosive players in the country at his disposal on Thursday night. Dual threat quarterback Deshaun Watson is the real deal. He can hurt you with his speed and has a rocket for an arm. In their first two games Watson has completed 37-48 passes, a .771 completion mark for 442 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. That computes to a 184.6 passing efficiency, ninth best in the nation. He has 11 carries for 39 yards on the ground. If the Cardinals defense can’t put some early pressure on Watson it will be a long night for the home team.
This Clemson team is also pretty solid at the other skill positions. They have some long athletic receivers. Leading the way in the group are Artavis Scott (12 rec, 148 yards, 2 TD’s), Charone Peake (6 rec, 98 yards, 2 TD’s), Ray-Ray McCloud (9 rec, 84 yards) and Germone Hopper (3 rec, 50 yards). Scott played 49 plays against Louisville and had 10 receptions for 66 yards last season. The 10 catches were the most against Louisville in 2014. Tight End Jordan Leggett has 4 receptions for 40 yards this season, but was one of Clemson’s most effective players with three receptions for 43 yards against the Cardinals last year. They have a solid one two punch at running back with Wayne Gallman (29 car, 171 yards, 3 TD’s), and Zac Brooks (8 car, 53 yards, 1 TD). Gallman will be their feature back on Thursday night and Brooks will be their change of pace guy. The only hole I could find is that they lost their offensive mastermind Chad Morris. But make no mistake about it this is a very good offensive group with a lot of fire power.
Tasked with stopping this potent Clemson offensive attack is a Louisville defense that had a very dismal outing last weekend. They allowed 462 yards of total offense and allowed 11 of 22 in third down conversions to the Cougars. Tackling will have to improve and the intensity level will have to improve on Thursday night. The one bright spot for the Cardinals defense has been Josh Harvey-Clemons. He has 24 tackles and two interceptions in the first two games. Big time players love big time atmospheres and I expect him to shine Thursday night along with Shaq Wiggins (5 tackles), and Trumaine Washington (11 tackles, 1 Int) who have also started off with solid performances. This will be the third game back to big time football for former Big 12 defensive player of the year Devante Fields (11 tackles). I hope he has found his football feet again and can return to some of that past glory on Thursday night. Much was expected from the Louisville defensive front this season. They’ll have their hands full but will also need to have a big night. Tall task ahead for this group.
The Tigers defense led the nation in 11 categories last year, including total defense, pass efficiency defense, third-down conversion percentage, first downs allowed and yards per play. But this unit lost virtually the entire defensive front including six players with eight or more tackles for loss in 2014. Clemson is one of those programs that doesn’t rebuild they just reload and this year’s Clemson defense already has some high national rankings as well. They will be led up front by DE Shaq Lawson (8 tackles, 1 sack), DE Kevin Dodd (7 tackles), LB Ben Boulware (5 Tackles), and LB B.J. Goodson (12 tackles). They are led in the secondary by CB Mackensie Alexander, and S Jayron Kearse (8 tackles, 1 Int). This Clemson defense lost a lot but they still have a lot of athletes and speed on this side of the ball. A young struggling Louisville offense will have their hands full.
The Cardinals offense will be without wide receivers Jamari Staples, James Quick, and Alphonso Carter on Thursday night leaving a very young group to carry the load. I expect to see Devonte Peete, and Micky Crum to step up and have big nights. I expected a lot out of Brandon Radcliff this year and he is the type of player that is capable of putting an offense on his back. I think Bad Rad could really have a big night and that would really help to get this struggling offense going. The Cardinals have to get the running attack going if they are to have a chance in this game. We don’t know officially who the quarterback will be on Thursday night. Based on his performance Saturday and his ability to deliver the ball to the right guy I think that it will be Kyle Bolin. And I wouldn’t be shocked if we also see Lamar Jackson a few snaps. This group is still struggling to find some type of identity and they’ll have to do it against a very solid defense on Thursday night.
There has been a lot of Thursday night magic in Louisville. It will take some more of that magic for our Cards to pull off this upset. The defense will have to carry the load and the offense will have to find a way to move the ball. I think that the intensity of the Louisville crowd and the Black-out will carry over and this will be another one of those mid-week classics we are talking about years from now. This is the night when the ship gets turned around. I HOPE..!
The Optimistic Beak Prediction:
Louisville 20 Clemson 17
Once thought to be a cheap knockoff of Saturday College football the Thursday night college game has become a staple of the season. These Thursday night throw downs started off with much skepticism. Some college football fans and media folks thought that the Thursday night game degraded the product. As the popularity of the mid-week game has increased that negative talk has decreased and even the NFL is now cashing in on the market. The University of Louisville has been a part of ESPN Prime-time College Football Thursday nights since the late 90’s. They were playing on Thursdays before they were cool, and now prepare for one their biggest match-ups they’ve ever had on the mid-week telecast.
Tom Jurich will soon celebrate his 18th 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 ESPN’s 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 had played in 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 broadcasted games is linked to Louisville’s embrace of weeknight games. Louisville has had a total of 18 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 has happened on Thursday nights. Having the undivided attention of college football fans across the country has paid off, and the Cardinals haven’t disappointed. At 10-8 on Thursday nights they have been involved in some great games. Ironically it was the game in 2002 against Florida State that got it all started in a big way when the Cardinals beat the #4 Seminoles in OT 26-20. In 2006 Louisville and West Virginia set the mark that still holds today as the most watched Thursday night game in ESPN history. 4,916,000 households watched the #5 Cardinals beat the #3 Mountaineers 44-34. This game is also the second-biggest college football audience ever for an ESPN game (any day or time slot).
Thinking back about those games I’m reminded of all the highs and lows I’ve felt on Thursday nights over the last 15 years. The field goal at Rutgers was probably the biggest low, but that was replaced by many highs including the Thursday night win against Rutgers that got us to the Sugar Bowl. And that game two years ago against Cincinnati. All those heroic performances by Teddy and other Cardinal greats the memories just go on and on. They laughed at us for playing the Thursday night games but who’s laughing now. I think it’s been one helluva ride and I’m looking forward to that next great moment.
We may not have to wait long. On Thursday night the 11th ranked Clemson Tigers will make their first trip into Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. This will be only the second game ever between these teams. The Cardinals find themselves needing another program defining win on a Thursday night after a dismal start to the season. It’s funny how things tend to come full circle. There have been some magical Thursday nights in Louisville and lets just hope that this week we can recapture some of that magic and pull off the big upset.
All summer long and during the spring we all talked, and wrote about the potential and talent that the 2015-16 version of the Louisville Football team would have. We knew that we would have some issues up front on the offensive line and we knew that we would have some young guys that would have to step in and fill some gaps. I think we all expected some inconsistency over-all. This is all part of growing pains. The one thing that nobody ever questioned was if this team would play with passion and intensity. Being around these guys in the spring and watching the videos of these guys during their summer weight lifting and workouts I just knew they would be hungry for every down, but these first couple of games has been just the opposite.
In the season opener the team came out and fell behind early. They lost most of that first game excitement during the first half against Auburn and really the intensity level you would expect in a big game like this was not there. Being on the field at times it seemed as if most of the guys on the field and on the sidelines were just going through the motions. Then in that second half Lamar Jackson’s performance seemed to carry over to the rest of the team and the intensity returned. Guys were flying around all over the field and making plays that only a certain level of intensity allows.
On Saturday I think we all expected to see that same level of intensity the guys had on the field in the second half of that Auburn game. Instead they came out in the first half and it never felt like they were completely bought in to what they were trying to do. Sure there were moments in the game when things felt right but it was more of the latter. This was not just the players either. I don’t think the coaches were as fired up and intense as they should have been. I was on both sidelines Saturday and I can tell you that the Houston coaching staff was about as intense a group as I’ve ever seen and this obviously carried over to their teams performance.
There’s no shame in losing to Auburn or to Houston. Both of these teams are very well coached and have solid athletes on both sides of the ball. The shame is in how our team lacked the passion and intensity needed to perform in both. There is going to be a learning curve with this edition of Louisville Football as it pertains to the x’s and o’s but passion and intensity can’t be taught. You either have it or you don’t. I have seen moments of this and we know that all of these guys want to give their best efforts. My hope for the rest of the season is that the real Louisville Football team will stand up and play with that level of passion and intensity Cardinal fans have grown to love over the last four seasons. I’m still very optimistic at how this season will turn out and think we’ll see a big difference in this group on Thursday night.
There’s no place like home and there’s nothing like the home opener of the College Football season. The smell of pigskin will be in the air on Floyd Street as Cardinal fans return to their favorite tailgating spots of the fall. Saturday will be a revival of sorts as fans gear up for another exciting home football slate.
Our Cardinals will try to get their first win of the season in front of the home crowd at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium on Saturday as the play host to the Houston Cougars. These teams have met 15 times in school history, with the Cardinals holding an 8-7 overall series advantage. This series dates all the way back to 1950. Louisville won the last meeting 20-13 in 2013 at Papa Johns in their first and only season in the American Athletic Conference.
The Houston Cougars have always been known for their explosive offenses and I expect that legacy to only improve with their new head coach former Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman. Herman is fresh off Ohio State’s College Football Playoff championship run and you can bet he will have this Cougars team ready to go Saturday.
I expect to see a pretty balanced attack pass and rush from Houston on Saturday. Leading that attack will be QB Greg Ward Jr. Ward ranked ninth nationally in completion percentage in 2014, completing 67.3 percent of his passes, or 177-of-263 attempts with 2,010 yards. He is also pretty mobile scrambling for 573 yards on the ground last season. In their opener last week he had 107 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. He also threw for 275 yards and one touchdown.
Leading their ground attack is two of the better running backs in college football seniors Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson.
Last season the duo rushed for 2,911 yards and combined for nine 100-yard games. Farrow is their feature back and he is coming off a career year that included 1,037 rushing yards, seven 100-yard games and 15 total touchdowns, which led the American Athletic Conference. He had a quiet day last Saturday only recording 11 carries for 49 yards but you can expect a healthy dose of him against the Cardinals.
Houston is task with finding some emerging talent at their receiver positions as they lost 5 of their most experienced guys last season. They do return Junior Demarcus Ayers who has 11 career starts and he was second on the team in 2014 with 33 receptions for 335 yards. He had a big game in their opener catching 10 passes for 121 yards. Much like in Louisville’s opener they had three players make their first career receptions against Tennessee Tech last Saturday. Chance Allen, Isaiah Johnson and Kyle Postma all got into the action for the first time. Postma had 4 catches for 82 yards and a touchdown. They are also expecting a solid year out of junior tight end Tyler McCloskey who pulled in two receptions for 19 yards last weekend.
Another similarity they have with our Cardinal is their lack of experience on the offensive line. I expect Coach Grantham to attack this young group with a lot of pressure on Saturday. James Burgess had a tweet this week that insinuated he wasn’t too happy with his performance against Auburn. That’s not going to work out to well for Houston. I expect him to dominate. I think the Cardinals secondary could have a big day as well. What we seen out of Josh Harvey and Trumaine last Saturday was just the beginning and Chucky Williams is hungry after leaving a few interception opportunities on the field at the Georgia Dome. With the first game jitters behind him I expect a big day from Devonte Fields. Then there’s that guy named Shaq. #6 will be flying all over the place in his Papa John’s debut.
Task with stopping emerging superstar Lamar Jackson and the Louisville offense the new Houston defensive coordinator Todd Orlando will bring a 3-4 base that mixes up looks and brings pressure from all angles. He will also try to put a lot of pressure on a very young Louisville offensive line. Orlando has two solid guys up front in defensive tackle B.J. Singleton (11 starts) and defensive end Tomme Mark (15 starts). Houston’s defense has been one of the best in the nation with 73 turnovers forced over the last two seasons. A big reason why is their secondary. They return every starter in their secondary from 2014. This is a group that has 97 career starts and a group that had 19 of the 30 turnovers in 2014. Adrian McDonald (5 Int), Trevon Stewart (3 Int), Howard Wilson (3 Int), William Jackson III (2 Int), Lee Hightower (1 Int), and Earl Foster (1 Int). Last weekend Adrian McDonald led the defense with an interception. Linebacker Elandon Roberts led the team with 8 tackles. This is a very formidable defense.
Lamar Jackson said this week after practice that he wanted to showcase his passing game more on Saturday. I think he’ll get his chance as his scrambling ability along with Brandon Radcliff and Jeremy Smith running down hill will draw the secondary in and allow him to throw over it to the Cardinal receivers. Devonte Peete led the team with 3 receptions for 60 yards against Auburn and I look for him to have another great game this week. I look for JaQuay Savage to have a good game this week also.
This Houston team won’t be a push over as they have a very good coaching staff and some solid athletes. I just think our guys will keep building off of that strong second half showing in the Georgia Dome last weekend. I really think we have found something special with Lamar and our defense is going to be one of the best units in college football. Look for a big win Saturday.
On Friday night down in Atlanta I made my way through an Armageddon type traffic situation to watch one of the most talented QB’s to commit to Louisville. I say one of because there have been several. When I finally made it to Creekside High School the players were on the field for their pre-game warm-ups and it was obvious who Jawon was without even seeing a jersey number. He stood out because he looked bigger and stronger than most of the kids on the field.
I read and evaluation that said Pass is like a ball of clay that just needed to be molded. Watching his game on Friday night I can tell you that there is a lot to work with here talent-wise. Right now he is a high school athlete who is playing quarterback, but when he gets to the next level he will have to learn how to be a quarterback who is a good athlete. He is a solid passer but there will be many fundamental changes that will have occur at the next level. Jawon possesses raw, untapped physical tools, and is a good player that has a very high ceiling for development.
I bet the coaches can’t wait to get this kid on campus to start coaching him through some of his technique deficiencies and turn him into a prime-time Quarterback. He certainly passed the eye test on Friday night and I came away also thinking about how good he will be in a few years. I can’t wait to see him in the red and black.
Wanted to also give a huge shout out to the Cardinal Nation who was there supporting this young man on Friday night. As I mentioned in the beginning the trip was anything but easy and still hundreds of folks made it. This will go a long way and will really show many of those other kids just how we support our athletes. There were several great players playing in that game Friday night and I can almost guarantee that the Cardinal Nation left an impression.
“In three weeks there won’t be much said about the Chick Fil A Kick-off Classic”, that’s what the CBS announcers said after the Chick Fil A Kick Off game. Maybe that will be true of the Auburn fans but Cardinal fans will more than likely remember it as the moment more great Louisville players emerged.
I remember back in 2011 on a September night in Commonwealth Stadium. Our Cardinals had lost four straight games to the arch rival Kentucky team, but on this night we would see a true freshman quarterback enter the game and take over, a Louisville running back who had a break out game, and a defensive line find it’s identity while completely dominating in the game. Yes this was against Kentucky (we know they are horrible) but this was a pivotal moment for the program and after this game our Cardinals never looked back with many years of success that have followed. We still haven’t lost a game to the guys in blue, and you can add a BCS bowl win in there along the way.
On Saturday our Cardinals had a very rough first half of football and ultimately lost a close game in the end but just like that game back on September 17th 2011 there were several future stars that emerged and I really think it was another pivotal moment. I don’t think this new group of Cardinals will look back. This time it could be a spot in the playoffs as a result.
The Cardinals played seven true freshman on Saturday Lamar Jackson, Jaire Alexander, Traveon Samuel, Geron Christian, Devante Peete, Jaylen Smith, and Kenny Thomas. All of these guys played hard and a few of them really stood out. Devante Peete had 3 catches for 60 yards and showed the ability to get open against a formidable defense. Jaylen Smith had 3 catches for 34 yards and he also showed some great separation speed and athleticism.
A stat I got from Howie Lindsey of Cardinal Sports.com 82% of Louisville’s receiving yards went to guys playing their first Louisville game. Peete had 60 yards, Smith had 34 yards, Samuel had 22 yards, Crum had 19 yards and Savage had 2 yards.
And there was the true freshman QB Lamar Jackson who came in and took over the game. He reeled off 100 yards through the air and 106 yards on the ground with 1 touchdown. Folks this guy is the future. Much like that night on September 17th 2011 when Teddy had his moment on Saturday Lamar Jackson had his.
My comments are well documented on Lamar Jackson and I even raved about him before the season started on the Afternoon Underdogs show. I knew what was coming and sure enough the moment is upon us. Get ready to watch this kid take his spot among some of the best to ever wear the red and white.
On defense Trumaine Washington had his first career start with a 7 tackle and one interception performance, and Josh Harvey-Clemons who had his first Cardinal Career start had 14 tackles with two interception performance. I’m really excited about this defense and there are a lot of guys who caught my attention but these two really stood out. I expect many more huge performances out of them.
Our Cardinals dominated in every statistical category on Saturday. 1st downs: Louisville 27, Auburn 21, Total Yards: Louisville 405, Auburn 327, Rushing: UofL 238, Auburn 190, Passing: UofL 167, Auburn 137 and led time of possession UofL 30:50, Auburn 29:10. We gave #6 in the Nation all they wanted and I like where the direction of this team is headed. We got to see many future stars emerge and it’s going to be a great season. I do think these guys turned a corner in the second half on Saturday and think we have a real shot at winning the ACC.
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.