ACC Finale on a Saturday Night under the Lights

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

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

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

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!

WE ARE… Going to beat MARSHALL…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Gameday, The Tomahawk Chop & The Champ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the offensive side of the ball:

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

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

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

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

On the defensive side of the ball:

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

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

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

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

Louisville Football Springs Into Action

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It was a beautiful day for some Louisville football. Over 16,000 fans came out to cheer the Cardinals on as they wrapped up the spring session with a very competitive scrimmage. The first team offense dazzled scoring 73 points while the first team defense locked down the white team holding them to just 7 points. Cardinal fans got everything they expected and more from this year’s team.

I expected a lot from Lamar Jackson today and he did not disappoint. Shining just as bright as the sun over Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium he lit up the football field throwing for 519 yards and 8 touchdowns. As impressive as he turned out last year with just a limited time to adjust to the program the writing was on the wall as to just how good he would be after a full season. While now also getting to spend the entire off season in the strength, skills and conditioning program. The improvement is noticeable with better accuracy, arm strength and field command. I can’t wait until September to see him take the College Football world by storm.

As far as the other skill players are concerned it was a big day for the receiving corps. James Quick led this group with 150 yards and a touchdown. His highlight moment was when he and Lamar Jackson hooked up on an 85 yard bomb.

I was looking forward to seeing Jamari Staples today as he finished last season on such a high note and he also looked very good out there. His highlight moment was when he and Jackson hooked up for a 54 yard score.

Another guy you’re going to want to keep an eye on this season is Cole Hikutini. He will be a very important part of the Cardinals passing game. Today he hooked up with Jackson for two scores finishing with 75 yards. He has great hands and really gets himself in good position coming out of his routes. I think he could end up being one of the best tight ends in the ACC.

The Cardinals are once again going to have a stable of very good running backs. Brandon Radcliff has an extra gear when he hits that sideline, and with his work ethic and drive he’s in for a big year. Jeremy Smith and Malin Jones are also very capable backs. Jones had a very impressive 65 yard trot for a score in the scrimmage.

On the defensive side of the ball it was some of the usual suspects on the field flying around making tackles. I was most impressed with Stacy Thomas, Chucky Williams, Alphonso Carter, and Zykeisis Cannon. These guys combined for 30 tackles. Josh Harvey was a guy I was watching closely and he had 2 tackles. I look for him to step it up this season as he really wants to play at the next level.

These Spring scrimmages aren’t a be all end all predictor of how the upcoming season will look, but it is a great opportunity to see how certain players have improved their games and gives you an idea of just what the offense will look like come September. Today in the post-game pressor Coach Petrino said that he welcomes high expectations and said to “bring them on”. He surely will get his wish as I know mine are thru the roof and if you were at the spring game today I’m sure yours are as well.

See you in September Cardinal fans…!


The Smell of Pigskin is in the Air

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I had the chance to get out and enjoy a beautiful spring afternoon with the Louisville Football team today. We still have six months before another year of Cardinal Football but there is a lot of excitement already building for the season ahead. There was a lot of buzz around the practice field today with a great crowd and a lot of high school prospects taking in the action while on spring break. There were also several members of the Louisville media out covering the action.

Heading into year number three of his Louisville sequel with 17 wins and two Bowl games under his belt Bobby Petrino has the Louisville program rolling right along. You could tell by the atmosphere of this practice that the team and assistant coaches know exactly what is expected of them by the head man. The practice today was run at a frantic pace and guys were in a dead sprint as they switched from one drill to the next. Things seemed to be running like a well-oiled machine. They say you play like you practice and if that’s true you can expect this Louisville football team to come out and perform at a professional and high level next season.

There were a lot of great athletes spread all around the practice fields today. The Cardinals have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball heading into the 2016 season, but one guy in particular will be poised to take the college football world by storm. I call him “Hurricane” Jackson but you can also call him Lamar. I was really excited to see this guy go through his drills today and he did not disappoint. I didn’t think it would be possible for him to look any faster but he did today. After a full year playing at the college level he has learned to be more efficient on his cut and runs. He appears to be stronger and looked very good running an offense that appears to be more built around him and his abilities this season. He made some very good throws today and it appears that he has taken this part of his game to the next level as well. If he stays healthy and continues on this upward trend he will be a show stopper.

Over the last couple of years there has been a lot of inconsistency along the offensive line. As I watched this group today the one thing that stood out to me was how much bigger and athletic this year’s group is. They really look impressive and Coach Klenakis deserves a lot of credit for the work he has done with them. They sure do look the part this spring and if they can carry some of that positive momentum they had when the season ended at the Music City Bowl then Cardinal fans will be very pleased. Some guys that stood out to me today were Chandler Jones (6-4, 300lbs), Geron Christian (6-6, 314lbs), Lukayus McNeil (6-6, 313lbs) and Toriano Roundtree (6-7, 305). These are some big, tough guys. And keep an eye out on the Roundtree kid he is going to be a beast.

I’m also excited about the group of wide receivers we have returning this season. These guys looked really good going through their reps today. This is going to be a special year for Jamari Staples and he stood out to me the most. His length, speed and athleticism are on a different level. You can also expect a big year out of now senior James Quick. He made some nice catches today. Traveon Samuel may not stand out as much because he is surrounded by all of these tall guys but I really like him. I think he will have a solid season and will do well in the Petrino offensive scheme. I was also really impressed with Cole Hikutini and he was making impressive grab after impressive grab during this practice. He is going to see his number called a lot this year.

The Cardinals also have a pretty good stable of running backs returning for this season. I expect another solid year out of Brandon Radcliff and really think we will see Jeremy Smith come into his own. I really like what I seen out of him today. L.J. Scott will also see his fair share of reps. All of these guys are capable of gaining big yards.

I’ve heard a lot about how hard Reggie Bonnafon has worked during the off season and there isn’t a guy on this football team who loves it more than he does. Along with his physical gifts he has a heart the size of a football field. I really wanted to watch this guy go through his reps today and it took some effort following him around the practice field. He did work with the running backs, and wide receivers. He has gotten a lot bigger physically and seems to have added some foot speed. This guys is one of the best football players on this team and the Cardinals need him on the field anyway they can make that happen. I’ve never been surprised by what I see out of this young man and he didn’t let me down watching him today. Reggie will have a great year.

The Louisville football program has probably lost more on the defensive side of the ball over the past two years than anywhere else. And we are talking about guys who are now playing on Sundays. But don’t think for a second that the Cardinals won’t be just as good on this side of the ball as they have been. We still have a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball. Guys that stood out to me today were DeAngelo Brown, Josh Harvey and Shaq Wiggins. DeAngelo Brown is a big, tough guy and he has really worked on himself. He will be a beast along the defensive front. Josh Harvey had some times last year where it appeared he took plays off. This will be an important year as it relates to his future and he was very focused today in practice. Last season Shaq did a lot of talking but has vowed to let his game do the talking this year. He was also very focused today. This will again be one of the best defensive units in the ACC.

I had a really good time being back around the football team today and it really has me looking forward to that spring game here in a few weeks. Year number three of the Bobby Petrino sequel just might be one of his best yet.

Louisville Spring Football 2016