Kentucky Wildcats vs. Louisville Cardinals: The Cardinal Defense

Jamie Rhodes-US PRESSWIRE

A few days ago, we looked at the Louisville offense. Today, we take a look at the defense.

Will the Louisville defense be able to stop or contain Neal Brown's Air Raid and the hurry up offense? Are the Louisville corners the reason that Louisville is expected to blitz more than last year? Like Kentucky's defense, there are questions that need to be answered for the Louisville defense. Both teams will have opportunities to make adjustments before the third game of the season.

I was going to wait a few days to see if the Wildcats were going to post a depth chart so I could match up our defense to the Louisville offense. It occurred to me, though, that we may not see a depth chart until the week or days before the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers game. So I'll just move along to Louisville's defense.

The Cardinals ranked 23rd in total defense last year while giving up 340 yards per game. They ranked 36th in scoring defense, giving up 23.77 points per game.  They ranked 78th, along with Michigan, Purdue and Louisiana-Monroe in sacks, averaging 1.69 per game.  That doesn't seem a lot for the 23rd ranked defense.  They were ranked 42nd with Purdue, NC State, South Carolina and Tulane in turnovers gained with 24 on the season. Louisville's success on defense stemmed from the fact that they only allowed the other team a first down only 18.23 times per game which tied them for 22nd with Michigan. They were 16th in pass defense and 48th in rushing defense. All that's pretty impressive, but according to Sagarin the Cards had the 70th toughest schedule last year.  Just for perspective, our hapless Wildcats (2-10) had the 8th toughest schedule.

For more perspective, let's look at the Big East. Cincinnati's (10-3) schedule was ranked 80th, Rutgers (9-4) was 72nd, Connecticut (5-7) was 69th, Temple (4-7) was 64th, USF (3-9) was 46th, Syracuse (8-5) was 45th, Pittsburgh (6-7) was 57th. The Cards also played Missouri St (3-8), North Carolina (8-4) and FIU (3-9). Those three had the 89th, 77th and 81st toughest schedules respectively.  Who wouldn't want that schedule? It certainly wouldn't qualify as an SEC or even an ACC schedule.

Their schedule this season is easier than last season's and many have predicted an undefeated campaign. Some have projected Louisville as playing for a national championship, Tim Brando at CBS Sports being one of those. Teams such as Ohio State, Notre Dame and a couple of others are far more likely to play Alabama, Texas A&M or LSU for the national title. Louisville will most likely play in another BCS bowl. Kentucky, however, isn't projected to make a bowl game. You have to wonder about a bowl possibility if Kentucky had Louisville's schedule for 2013. Kentucky has to play against teams that wear big boy pants, not underoos.

What made Louisville legitimate was the 33-23 Sugar Bowl win over Florida. Florida fans were so excited about that game they didn't show up at the Sugar Bowl and Florida lost over $800,000 on their bowl appearance. Was the Gator football team as impressed with their opponent as the fans? It really doesn't matter in the record books or history. Louisville won the game convincingly. They are to be commended for that.

Louisville lost one defensive starter to graduation plus four more lettermen. Three of the five were cornerbacks. That makes you wonder if the corners for this year are suspect.

Let's look at the Cardinal defense and begin with the defensive backfield.

Starter Average 3.33 5.67
Linebackers Depth Average 2.71 5.47
Sam Average 3.00 5.55
1 Keith Brown LB 2012 Miami, Fla. (Miami Norland) 4 5.8
31 Champ Lee LB 2009 Lakeland, Fla. (Lake Gibson) 2 5.3
Mike Average 2.33 5.33
43 Preston Brown LB 2010 Cincinnati, Ohio (Northwest) 3 5.6
34 George Durant LB 2009 St. Petersburg, Fla. (Boca Ciega) 2 5.2
46 Lamar Atkins LB 2012 Miami, Fla. (Miami Norland) 2 5.2
Weakside Average 3.00 5.60
13 James Burgess LB 2012 Homestead, Fla. (Homestead Senior) 3 5.6
44 Deon Rogers LB 2010 Port St. Lucie, Fla. (Treasure Coast) 3 5.6
Starter Average 3.00 5.58
Depth Average 3.10 5.61
Cornerbacks Average 3.00 5.57
19 Terell Floyd CB 2011 Fort Pierce, Fla. (Port St. Lucie) 3 5.6
36 Kevin Houchins S 2012 South Euclid, Ohio (Brush) 3 5.5
2 Stephan Robinson CB 2010 Louisville, Ky. (Central) 3 5.6
Strong Safety Average 2.67 5.47
29 Hakeem Smith S 2009 Jonesboro, Ga. (Riverdale) 2 5.2
27 Jermaine Reve S 2011 Miami, Fla. (Northwestern) 3 5.5
18 Kkamal Hogan S 2010 Montvale, N.J. (St. Joseph's Regional) 3 5.7
Free Safety Average 3.50 5.75
25 Calvin Pryor S 2011 Port St. Joe, Fla. (Port St. Joe) 3 5.7
8 Gerod Holliman S 2012 Miami, Fla. (Southridge) 4 5.8
Cornerbacks Average 3.50 5.75
15 Andrew Johnson CB 2011 Miami, Fla. (Southridge) 4 5.8
3 Charles Gaines CB 2011 Miami, Fla. (Central) 3 5.7

Keith Brown played in 11 games last year and started in five as a freshman. He was named a freshman All American by Fox Sports. He had 13 tackles against Cincinnati and another 12 against Pittsburgh. He was a 4 star player coming out of Miami Norland and played like it.  Senior Preston Brown is the leader of the Louisville defense. He's logged 203 tackles coming into this year and recorded double-digit tackles in six games. James Burgess played in 10 games last year and started in four as a freshman. He had four tackles against UK last year. The depth at linebacker isn't particularly impressive, but they will have two games to gain needed experience.

Terell Floyd and Andrew Johnson are the projected starters at the corners. Floyd played in all 13 games last year and was a starter in ten.  He also played in 12 games as a freshman and started three times.  Johnson started in six games last year and played in twelve. He improved as the season progresses and intercepted Florida in the end zone during the Sugar Bowl game. He played in 11 games as a freshman and started in nine. He was a 4 star player coming out of Miami Southridge.  There's not a lot of experience seen from the backups with the exception of Stephan Robinson. He played in 10 games last year and appeared in 7 as a freshman.

The safeties are more experienced than the cornerbacks. Of this bunch, Hakeem Smith came out of high school as a two star player, but has developed into something much better. He made the All Big East Team last year. He had 10 tackles last year against the Cats. Calvin Pryor will start at the other safety spot. He had nine tackles and forced two fumbles against Kentucky in last year's victory. He finished second on the team with 100 tackles. As a freshman he played in 13 games and had 43 tackles. There is not a lot of depth at the safety position due to injuries and a lack of experience. There are some solid players, though.

Starter Average 2.67 4.53
Depth Average 2.29 4.02
Fox Defensive End Average
10 Marcus Smith DE 2010 Columbus, Ga. (Hardaway) 3 5.6
48 Deiontrez Mount DE 2011 Fort Walton Beach, Fla. (Fort Walton Beach) 3 5.6
52 Nick Dawson DE 2012 Charlotte, N.C. (Phillip O'Berry Academy of Tech) 4 5.9
Defensive Tackle Average
2 Brandon Dunn DT 2010 Louisville, Ky. (Pleasure Ridge Park) 3 5.5
96 Pedro Sibiea DT 2012 Homestead, Fla. (Homestead) 3 5.5
93 Roy Philon DT 2009 Lexington, Ky. (Bryan Station) 2 5.3
11 B.J. Dubose DT 2011 Oakland Park, Fla. (Northeast) 3 5.7
Nose Tackle Average
7 Jamaine Brooks DT 2011 Miami, Fla. (Palmetto)
97 Deangelo Brown DT 2012 Savannah, Ga. (Savannah Christian Prep) 3 5.5
Defensive End
94 Lorenzo Mauldin DE 2011 Atlanta, Ga. (Maynard Jackson) 3 5.6
98 Sheldon Rankins DE 2012 Covington, Ga. (Eastside) 3 5.7

At defensive end, Marcus Smith has led the team pass rush for the last two years.  Smith has 9.5 sacks over the last two years. His listed backup  is Deiontrez Mount who was hampered last year from shoulder surgery, but still managed 26 tackles last year. On the other side, junior Lorenzo Mauldin from Atlanta led the team in sacks last year with 4.5. His listed backup is sophomore Sheldon Rankins who has been moved over from tackle.

The defensive line consists of seniors Brandon Dunn and Roy Philon, junior  B.J. Dubose and redshirt freshman Pedro Sebiea at the tackles and Jamaine Brooks at nose guard. Dunn had 28 tackles and 2 sacks last year, and Philon had 27 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Philon was injured and missed spring practice. Brooks had 19 tackles last year. Sophomore DeAngelo Brown and new comers De'Asian Richardson and Kyle Shortridge might also contribute this year.

As for the defensive coaches, Clint Hurtt is back on the field coaching the DL. How long is anyone's guess since the NCAA hasn't come down with their Miami ruling and no one seems to know when they'll get around to it. Louisville had the option of removing him when the allegations first surfaced, but chose not to.  He's had a clean record at Louisville and it is understandable why they kept him on the payroll. It would look bad if they fired him and then he was exonerated by the NCAA.  The decision, once made, put Strong and Jurich in a situation where if Hurtt gets the "show cause" ruling, it is going to come during or right before the season. It is my guess that Strong will take over Hurtt's duties as the coaching search commences. The question, then, is how will the double-duty affect Charlie Strong? We know he is a more than capable defensive coordinator, but how will it affect him as a head coach, if at all?

Linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary has shown that he is experienced and capable. He was the secondary coach at North Alabama in 2003 and became the linebackers coach at Georgia Tech in 2004. Strong hired him when he became head coach in 2010. Dexter Heyman (2nd team) and Preston Brown (2nd team) were all Big East in 2011 and 2012 respectively.  Keith Brown was named a freshman All-American.

Secondary coach Tommy Restivo was promoted to the position last year after serving as a GA at Marshall, Florida and Louisville. He began his career at Marshall in 2007. Adrian Bushell, Calvin Pryor and Hakeem Smith were all named All-Big East last year.

Vince Bedford is the Cards defensive coordinator. He could take over Hurtt's responsibilities if needed. He began his college career at Navarro junior college in 1986 as an assistant. He coached the DBs at Colorado St. from 1987-1992 and did the same at Oklahoma St. in 1993-1994. He worked with Charlie Strong at Florida in 2008 and 2009. He came to Louisville with Strong as the DC.

I'm not going to get into the kicking game because I just don't see any point other than Louisville's John Wallace (Central Hardin HS), made 16 field goals last year as a freshman and punter Josh Appleby averaged 42 yards per punt against Kentucky last year. I think you would have to rate both teams' special teams as about equal.  Now that I’ve said that, there will probably be several touchdowns from the special teams on both sides, just to prove me wrong.

What makes this game difficult to predict is the fact that the new staff at UK is making significant changes and we don't really have anything to go with except optimism and hope while Louisville has a track record. Talent-wise UK and UL have similar issues, particularly in the depth in the secondary.

While some Louisville fans are predicting a blowout, I don't see it. I do think it will be a high scoring affair because I just don't believe their defense can stop the Air Raid and I don't think Kentucky can stop Teddy Bridgewater. So, I expect an entertaining game with lots of offensive fireworks.

I don't think Stoops has the talent he had at Florida St. in 2010 when he wound up 42nd in total defense from 108th the year before, but he might get us up to his first year at Arizona where those Wildacts finished 61st in total defense from 112th the year before.

While not probable, I wouldn't be shocked about a win over the Cards. There are just too many unknowns about Kentucky to make a prediction without seeing them play their first game. Regardless, Commonwealth Stadium will be an exciting place to be when Louisville comes to town.

For the Louisville fans that read this, the information contained in the article is strictly from the Louisville Media Guide. Any corrections or revelations are certainly welcomed by the author.

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