In the interest of us being fair and this being rivalry week and all, we bring to you a guest columnist to preview the Filthy Cards. Please welcome Mike Rutherford of the Card Chronicle to KSR. He’s surprisingly talented and entertaining, especially considering that he’s a U of L fan and all. Enjoy.
All right boys and girls, it’s time to ready “Loserville,” “U of Smell,” and all other Chaucerian insults for launch. But before resorting to that highest form of Internet discourse, why don’t you hear me out for a paragraph or two.
I’d like for you to approach what you’re about to read as an opportunity. If a red-clad fan gives you lip sometime between now and 3:30 on Sunday, instead of the time-tested “Louisville sucks,” try busting out something along the lines of “Abdul Kuyateh!?!? Abdul Kuyateh didn’t make his collegiate debut until last year’s Connecticut game, and he was penalized eight times for either holding or false start infractions in just five contests!” Sure, an answer like that drastically increases the likelihood of you being stabbed in public (we really like Kuyateh), but whatever, the peace of mind that comes with knowing you were the more informed fan in a confrontation with the enemy is worth at least a couple pints.
Or you can go ahead and skip down to the comments section and Loserville it up. It’s a lifestyle choice.
Now you guys might have heard that several key U of L players who were supposed to figure prominently in this year’s game are no longer with the program. So let’s start this off by taking a look at who some of those guys are, and the reasons behind their departures.
Mario Urrutia: Louisville’s second leading receiver in 2007/opted to forego his senior year of college and enter the NFL Draft.
Lamar Myles: Louisville’s leading tackler in 2007/opted to forego his senior year of college and enter the NFL Draft.
Anthony Allen: Louisville’s leading rusher in 2007/discovered the cure for Restless Leg Syndrome and left college to go on a world lecture tour.
JaJuan Spillman: Expected to be Louisville’s starting kick returner and Z receiver in 2008/wrote, directed and starred in Entre Les Murs, winner of the Golden Palm at the ’08 Cannes Film Festival. Felt continuing to play football was beneath him.
Rod Council: Expected to be Louisville’s top cornerback in 2008/robbed a convenience store in North Carolina with an Uzi.
With that squared away, let’s move on to the guys in red who will be on the field this weekend.
The main point anyone picking the Cards to win will make is that Hunter Cantwell is a much more proven commodity than Mike Hartline or Randall Cobb. While Cantwell is a big kid with a pro arm who has come up huge for U of L in the past, I think you can almost throw the experience thing out the window.
Cantwell has played in situations at least as big as the one he’ll approach Sunday afternoon, but in each instance he’s always known in the back of his mind that he was just keeping the seat warm for Brian Brohm. Even if you’re starting a game as big as the Gator Bowl, or entering a game as big as the one against Miami in 2006, knowing that expectations are tempered due to your still active title of backup is a nice security blanket to have.
Regardless of talent, you also exit those situations with reviews that would have been markedly lower had you been the man listed above you on the depth chart. Had he gone 15-of-37 with three interceptions, I seriously doubt folks would have spent as much time talking about Brian Brohm’s toughness as they did praising Cantwell’s after he was battered and bruised by the Virginia Tech defense on New Year’s day, 2006.
Make no mistake about it, the feeling Hunter Cantwell will have when he takes the field on Sunday will be a foreign one, and he’s just as likely to look jittery in the game’s opening minutes as Hartline is.
If the Cardinal QB is appropriately composed and putting the ball where it needs to be, then the issue for U of L fans quickly shifts to whether or not there’s a receiver on the field who can finish the play. Four of Louisville’s top five receivers from a season ago are now being paid to play the game, and the team’s three leading returning receivers (running backs and tight ends excluded) are either injured or no longer with the program.
In last year’s game, the Kentucky secondary – in particular, Trevard Lindley – did a tremendous job of taking away anything up the sidelines (see: Brohm’s first pass, almost any ball thrown to Mario Urrutia). However, Harry Douglas did have a great deal of success exposing the soft belly of the Wildcat zone, and finished the game with 13 catches for a staggering 223 yards. Louisville’s receiving corps can’t claim a Douglas-level talent this year, but former Kentucky Mr. Football Doug Beaumont is a guy with the athleticism and courage to make a number of plays in the middle of the field. With Scott Long out due to a foot injury, Chris Vaughn feeling a little gimpy, and Trent Guy’s status still up in the air, unproven guys like Beaumont, Troy Pascley and Josh Chichester are going to have to step up huge for the Cardinal air attack to be anywhere near effective.
The general consensus is that the Kentucky defensive line is the strongest unit either side can lay claim to (an assessment you won’t hear me refute), and in a game where both sides are going to look to control the clock via the running game, that’s a tremendous advantage. Louisville counters with center Eric Wood and left tackle George Bussey both of whom are about as good as it gets at their position. Fellow front five starters Jeff Adams, Mark Wetterer and Abdul Kuyateh have suitable size and talent, but lack the experience and polish of the two veterans.
The first Louisville back hoping to see some open space in front of him will be senior Brock Bolen (say something bad about him and expect instant death…that’s not necessarily hyperbole). Bolen, who has found the endzone 12 times over the past two seasons, has spent most of his time at U of L as the lead blocker for other ball carriers, but earned the starting tailback job with his performance during spring and fall camp. He’ll split touches with the talented but relatively unproven Bilal Powell (personal favorite), and the talented but completely unproven Victor Anderson.
At your behest, we’ll start with the linebackers.
Gone are the trio of men in the middle who “held” opponents to 4.4 yards per carry a year ago, gone is the top backup at the position, and injured is the only returning LB with any game experience at U of L. So who will be stuffing the gaps and floating around the middle for the Cards on Sunday? Two junior college transfers and a true freshman.
The only insight I can offer here is that Dexter Heyman is an enormous 18-year-old, and Chris Campa can lay people out during half-speed drills. Aside from that, you know as much as I do when it comes to what to expect from these guys.
It’s hard to know how to approach having so many defensive backs return when you’re coming off a season in which “Louisville secondary bad” became a staple of the college football lexicon. Perhaps the biggest cause for optimism is the return of strong safety Latarrius Thomas, a starter as a freshman on the 2006 squad who was injured in the Cards’ second game a year ago and missed the rest of the season. He’s joined in the back of the defense by senior Bobby Buchanan, who made the switch from cornerback to safety midway through last season, and performed much better at his new position than he had at his old one. Johnny Patrick established himself as the top cover corner on the roster this summer, while fellow starting CB Woodny Turenne will have to step up his game immensely if he wants to even approach living up to the hype that followed him out of junior college.
Like Kentucky, Louisville’s defensive outfit is strongest in the trenches. Nose tackle Earl Heyman is likely the most established player in the unit, a statement which might not be true had colleague Adrian Grady not gone down with a season-ending injury in last September’s game at NC State. Ends Maurice Mitchell L.D. Scott and Rodney Gnat have all shown flashes of brilliance, but were among the group that was dominated by Garry Williams and Justin Jeffries (two guys who will be on the field again this weekend) in last year’s Battle for the Governor’s Cup.
There is no more important key to Sunday’s game than controlling the line of scrimmage. In each of the last eight meetings between U of L and UK, the leading rusher on the victorious squad has outrushed the entire other team. With the passing games of both offenses harboring so many question marks, both Jeff Brohm and Joker Phillips are going to have to adopt a quasi-Big Ten mindset, something I doubt sits well with either. The team which wins the war in the trenches, and which makes the fewest amount of big mistakes will probably (there are no certainties this year) take this one home. That’s as descriptive a prediction as I’m willing to give.
It’s not going to be anywhere near attractive, but that won’t keep any fans on the winning side from taking their pants off, or having a quiet evening consisting of a few celebratory postgame cocktails with a small group of close friends. Either way.
Best of luck to you all this weekend…you know, so long as your luck in no way detracts from mine.