As we continue to get to know more of the teams around the country during this critical stretch run, we'll take closer looks at many teams - both with statistical analysis or, as in the case below, with interviews with folks that know the team well. Today we welcome Mike from Card Chronicle, who was kind enough to give us a lot of good info on the Louisville Cardinals.
Burnt Orange Nation: Well, Mike, you've got to be pleased with this start to the season. A lot of folks wondered whether Louisville could survive that early slate of injuries, but they have, and Brian Brohm came back in a big way to help take out West Virginia. How good is the offense right now, and what does it need to do to stay in peak form?
Card Chronicle: The atmosphere in the city the last couple of weeks has been unreal, and its hard to elaborate any more on that because this is something Louisville has never experienced before. We've been there with basketball, but this is very different and it has people both excited and unsure as to how to handle all this. Texas has been competing for national championships since before most of you were born, Louisville is a program that flirted with getting rid of football altogether in the early 1980's, and is just nine years removed from enduring a 1-10 season...in Conference USA. So I guess what I'm driving at is, this is cool.
As far as the offense, this is probably the best shape it's been in since the first half of the opener against Kentucky. Brian Brohm looked a gazillion (real number) times better against WVU, than he had in his first two games back from thumb surgery, and the best part about that is that he still wasn't 100%. The zip is returning and hopefully he'll be able to throw without a wrap on his thumb either this week or next. Brian stayed home because he said he wanted to put Louisville in a position to win a national championship, he was basically bred for this, and he has the focus and maturity to not look ahead and make sure his teammates follow suit. The majority of the pressure right now sits directly on the right arm of #12, and it's reassuring knowing that every time he's been challenged in his life he's stepped up and done everything necessary to be successful.
Kolby Smith has finally come to terms with the notion that after three years he is finally the guy in the running game. After being largely unproductive after the Miami game, Smith backed up true freshman Anthony Allen against Cincinnati and Syracuse, and as a result decided to start running hard again and has since reclaimed his starting spot. Allen was a guy that most people thought would redshirt this year, but it became apparent after the Middle Tennessee game that there was no way to keep him out of the lineup. He's a poor man's Michael Bush, and the style of play Thursday against Rutgers should be right up his ally. The speedy George Stripling is the back I thought would shoulder most of the load after Bush went down, but he's had a hard time holding onto the ball and thus saw action in just one play against the Mountaineers, a screen pass which he dropped. Still, he's a gamebreaker and he'll find his way back on the field.
Mario Urrutia is the most physically gifted player on the team, and he continues to be one of the most lethal big play threats in college football. The fact that Urrutia (6-6) is such an exciting player, has forced the brilliant play of Harry Douglass to remain largely unnoticed. Douglass actually leads the team in receptions per game, and receiving yards per game, but will likely never get the credit he deserves because Brohm and Urrutia garner so much attention based on their status as attractive NFL prospects.
Much like everyone's fantasy team, one of the biggest problems with our offense has been trying to establish a reliable third receiver. First it was Georgia Tech transfer Pat Carter, but he has been consistently disappointing. Then it was Notre Dame transfer Chris Vaughn, but he decided to shoot people with a paintball gun. Now it looks as though it's going to be senior Jimmy Riley who's role is going to get stepped up. Riley made two big plays against West Virginia, unfortunately one of them was a fumble. I suppose it'd be nice to have a productive #3 guy, but in all honesty Urrutia and Douglass are good enough to get the job done by themselves, and also tight end Gary Barnidge may have the surest hands on the team. He also does really cool flips whenever he gets tackled low. That should be a rule that all tight ends have to follow.
Our line was the biggest cause for concern coming into the year, but has actually been a pleasant surprise. There were some problems about a month ago, but Petrino moved tackle Breno Giacomini back to tight end where he played last season, and since then Brohm has spent much less time on his back. Fullbacks Brock Bolen and Deriontae Taylor are likely pound-for-pound the best blockers on the team.
Also Bobby Petrino is a better offensive mind than I am.
Burnt Orange Nation: I find that hard to believe, Mike. In any case, that high-powered offense sure is fun to watch, but a number of outside observers don't think Louisville's got a championship caliber defense. What's your own take on the Cardinal defense?
Card Chronicle: I'm still on the fence as far as the whole Louisville defense issue. We looked like the '85 Bears at the beginning of the season, but that was against offenses lacking any players with fully functioning motor skills. And then we simply could not stop West Virginia from moving the ball, but since Adam Bednarik got hurt against us last year, no one has been able to stop them.
People also don't understand the degree to which our defense has been affected by injuries. The offensive injuries get all the attention, but the ability of guys like Amobi Okoye and Malik Jackson to step up and carry this depleted unit may be the biggest reason why we're in the position we are.
Rod Council was supposed to be our best cover corner coming into the year, but he broke his ankle the second week of the season and has played sparingly in just one game since. Our defensive line has seen four guys go down, which has forced five freshmen, including prized recruit Peanut Whitehead, into seeing significant playing time before anyone believed they would. The D is still trying to get healthy so the possibility definitely exists that they will be significantly improved three or four weeks from now, but I'm still not convinced that they aren't all that good right now.
West Virginia not having played anybody before last week means that we have no idea whether they're just that good, or we kind of suck, which is why I think this week will be very telling. If we beat Rutgers say 41-34 and our front seven gives up over 250 to Ray Rice and Brian Leonard, then I'll have to come to terms with the fact that we have serious issues. Until then I'm sticking with the West Virginia's offense can't be stopped theory.
Burnt Orange Nation: Of the remaining games on Louisville's schedule, which concerns you most? What are the odds that the Cards run the table?
Card Chronicle: I said it before the season and I still say it now: the scariest game on our schedule is Nov. 25 at Pitt. Wannstache has a loaded group of freshmen, and when you take talented younger guys who are finally starting to gel with the talented veterans late in the season and mix in that it's a home game against a team hoping to play in the national championship, the result could be disaster for us.
Our secondary has been, and will be up to that point, largely untested. Kentucky's Andre Woodson burned us deep a couple times in the second half of the season opener, and Miami had us beat long on at least three occasions but Kyle Wright as we all know has trouble throwing the ball where he wants to, and since then we really haven't faced a quarterback who would start for an intramural flag team at any major college. Tyler Palko (that guy from 2004 who's kind of a dick) is second in the nation in passing efficiency and they're definitely going to let him air it out as a sort of going away present. Their running back, Stephens-Howling, is also starting to come around.
They're a little thin up front on defense, but HB Blades is a beast who has the ability to get pressure on Brian and single-handedly force a turnover.
Basically this game scares the complete and utter shit out of me.
As far as the odds of us running the table, I'd put it a tad under 50%, say 47.7 %. We haven't won a big game away from home since 2003, and we have two enormous ones in the next month. That said, I really think this team is starting to believe that they are of national championship caliber, and once you have that sort of confidence your level of play increases exponentially.
Burnt Orange Nation: You're no doubt aware how much we Texas fans would like to see Louisville drop a game. But I wanted to note that, on the flip side, you probably ought to be cheering for Texas. We're standing between you and Florida/USC in the human polls. That buffer helps fend off those two teams that could, theoretically, jump Louisville with a computer rating advantage. So, Hook 'Em Horns, right?
Card Chronicle: Hmm, maybe Hook `Em and then quickly let them go once they voice the slightest bit of discomfort.
I think it's becoming more and more apparent that we control our own destiny. The computers are increasingly falling out of love with Florida, and games against South Carolina, Western Carolina and Florida State aren't going to help that. Conversely, the computers are inexplicably fond of Cal and USC, but I don't think either one will get enough of a leg up from the voters (unless everyone in front of them decides to collapse) to jump us.
And then that leaves you guys. The Horns were the only title contenders who looked impressive on Saturday, and Colt McCoy is beginning to garner more and more attention from the talking heads. If Mack Brown can pull an '04 with some of the voters, then you never know, we could be in some trouble. But ultimately I think what it comes down to is that as long as we win our next four games without looking completely awful, and as long as Ohio State/Michigan doesn't go down as one of the five greatest games in college football history, then we're going to be playing for the national championship on Jan. 8.
Burnt Orange Nation: Thanks for chatting with us, Mike. Anything else we should know about Louisville before we let you go?
Card Chronicle: You know, we really just want to be friends.
I think a lot of our fans have been shocked at the Louisville backlash since Thursday night. For a long time we've kind of been that fun, flashy little guy that everybody likes, we put up a lot of points, we're fun to watch on a Wednesday night, and we don't threaten any of the big boys. But now we're right there in the hunt for a national title and it's like we don't belong simply because the guys who played for our school 20 years ago weren't as good as the guys who played for other schools 20 years ago.
It's not our fault Miami and Kansas State (and Temple) turned out to be less than advertised. We've been trying to schedule the so-called giants for years and they won't play us. Our guys are suiting up and beating everybody that they're told to beat, they don't have to apologize to anyone. And if it's decided by the powers that be that they should play for the national title, then they're going to do that too.
Also I love Bevo. And Kenton Paulino.
Burnt Orange Nation: So do we: