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The Cats and the Cards -- my look at the game

It's time to look at the Louisville at Kentucky football game in detail.  This one deserves far more attention than the first two games of the season, so I'll give it my all.  We'll start by looking at the Cardinals, then move on to the Wildcats in each statistical area.

The Cardinal Offense

This is the cornerstone of Louisville's team over the last three years, and Brian Brohm has been leading that offense since his sophomore year at Louisville.  Here is how the Cardinals have stacked up offensively since 2004:

Cardinal Offense National Rank
Year Scoring Rushing Passing Total
2004 1 8 9 1
2005 3 30 13 9
2006 4 12 7 2
2007 1 8 4 1

This is what Louisville does better than almost anyone -- score the football.  If these numbers make you nervous, they should.  Louisville is a dominant offensive team, particularly pitching and catching.  This year, as you can see from current results, is no different.

Louisville's offensive balance is excellent, and their receiving corps is virtually identical to last year, except more experienced and not quite as deep (so far, anyway).  Urrita, Douglas and the TE Bainbridge are all averaging >19 yards/catch this year.  Brian Brohm's numbers are way up so far this year, but even if we just take last year's stats, he is averaging 277 yards/game throwing the ball at a 63% completion percentage.  Folks, there is only one word for that kind of performance -- Dominant.

On the negative side, Brohm is twice as likely to suffer a pick on the road as he is at home.  Also last year, Brohm suffered the vast majority of his interceptions early in the year.  Last year, Brohm threw for only 268 yards against us -- slightly below average, and for only one touchdown.  Not much to take away from that, though -- Louisville ran for 6 TD's last year.

The rushing statistic is more interesting.  Despite the fact that Louisville has been playing high school level competition, their rushing ranking of only 8th is surprisingly low.  Perhaps it is because their running back depth this year appears to be somewhat less than last year, losing leading rusher Kolby Smith to graduation.  Allen and Stripling have looked strong so far, but this will be the first true test of their abilities this year with the proven Smith gone.  Last year, Louisville liked to run the ball more in the first and 4th quarters.  But with a new coach, this statistic is probably meaningless.

Offensively, the Cardinals are a juggernaut, and there can be no doubt that Kentucky's defense will be sorely tested.

The Kentucky Offense

Wildcat Offense National Rank
Year Scoring Rushing Passing Total
2004 116 100 102 116
2005 90 79 103 108
2006 43 101 9 32
2007 7 10 41 8

Well, there is simply no way to minimize the difference between the two offenses.  Yes, Kentucky has a powerful offense that it has grown rapidly from the depths of probation.  Yes, our offense is now comparable with that of Louisville.  But the bottom line is, Louisville's is still better by any reasonable measure.  While Kentucky labors in a much tougher conference, that fact doesn't make us equal, now or then.

Kentucky's passing attack last year was clearly at the Louisville level.  André Woodson, Keenan Burton and the rest of the UK receiving corps were nothing short of excellent.  Coming into this year, Kentucky's passing attack has been efficient, but nowhere near the level of Louisville.  That will have to change by Saturday.  If Brohm throws for 350 yards and Kentucky throws for 250, Kentucky will almost surely lose.

Last year, Woodson was much more productive at home than on the road, averaging over 300 yards per game in passing in the cozy confines of Commonwealth Stadium.  That bodes well for this game.  It also will bode well for Kentucky if Woodson can pass for over 300 yards tomorrow.  Kentucky usually wins when that happens.

The running game is different this year.  Kentucky's running game is very competitive with that of Louisville, and Kentucky has arguably played tougher cupcakes to this point in the season.  Kentucky's running backs look deeper overall than Louisville's, and that is an important factor.  The longer we can keep the Louisville defense on the field, the better chance we will have.

We are not the offensive machine that the Cardinals are, but we can put up bunches of points.  The home-field advantage should put our offense close to par with theirs, and that is bad news for the Card defense.

Louisville Defense

Cardinal Defense National Rank
Year Scoring Rushing Passing Total
2004 25 18 30 15
2005 47 21 47 23
2006 17 20 80 40
2007 74 94 59 87

As you can see, Louisville's defense is not like its offense.  Obviously, if it were, the Cardinals would have won multiple national championships by now, but they haven't even won one, and their defense is the biggest reason why.  This is not to say that Louisville has not had a good defense over the last 4 years -- they surely have.  But compared to their offense, it is about the closest thing the Card team has to a weakness.

This year, we can see a particular weakness against both the run and the pass.  Weakness against the pass is somewhat understandable, considering that they were 80th in that statistic last year.  But the Cardinals lost some serious defensive talent last year on the line to graduation, namely Amobi Okoye, Nate Harris and Zach Anderson.  This loss has showed up big time, and Louisville has yet to prove that the second string from last year are ready to stand and deliver.

Louisville's passing defense has improved from last year, but as we shall see, they have not demonstrated the level of improvement that the Wildcats have.  Louisville safety Latarrius Thomas is also out for the season with an injury, and that further weakens the Cardinals, both against the run and the pass.

The Kentucky Defense

Wildcat Offense National Rank
Year Scoring Rushing Passing Total
2004 86 113 44 103
2005 109 103 86 105
2006 100 108 118 118
2007 26 105 6 47

It takes nothing approaching rocket science to see that Kentucky's defense last year was nothing short of an abject failure.  But new defensive coordinator Steve Brown has some real experience returning in the line, and some outright excellence returning in the linebacking corps in the form of Wesley Woodyard.  Micah Johnson will take advantage of this opportunity to shine for the injured Braxton Kelley.

This year's version of the Wildcats have been nearly as inept against the run as they were last year, but the secondary hasn't just improved -- it has made a quantum leap.  The secondary will regain the services of safety Marcus McClinton, which will greatly improve our odds against the talented Cardinal receivers.

Historically, at least for the last 4 years, Kentucky simply hasn't had the athletes on defense to compete with the Cardinals.  This year, we do, but the question is whether or not we can hurry Brohm.  Any secondary player will tell you that if a quarterback has enough time to throw, especially a great college quarterback like Brohm, they will find open receivers.

Another big statistic for the Cards is third down conversions.  Last year, they converted at a rate of around 45% for the season, and so far this year, they have converted at a rate of 63%, and even though that has been against inferior competition, it is a real concern for Kentucky.  Our linebackers and secondary have to be able to break up pass attempts, and if they fail to do so, we will be unlikely to win.

So far this year, Kentucky's defensive line has been unimpressive against either the run or the pass.  If the Wildcats are to emerge triumphant tomorrow, that must change.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is, the team who plays the best defense will likely win the game.  I didn't look at special teams, and that could be a factor in a close game.  I don't expect this game to be that close.  One of these two teams will defend their goal line, and that team will emerge triumphant, in my opinion.  Kentucky has the stronger defense at this point, especially in the secondary.  Anyone who gives an advantage to the Cardinals when it comes to the linebacking corps has been smoking something illegal.  But the Wildcat's D-line will be the group that make or break this game.

For Louisville, the key to their game is all about their O-line.  If you give Brohm time to throw, and Allen holes to hit, we will be lost.  Kentucky's offense is not powerful enough to win a shootout with Louisville, and no secondary in the nation is good enough to shut down their passing game if Brohm has time to throw the ball -- he isn't a Heisman candidate for nothing.

In the final analysis, it is Kentucky's D-line and Louisville's O-line that will determine the outcome.  My prediction is:

Kentucky 42, Louisville 30