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Kentucky and Louisville: The Biggest Game?

Louisville is expected to be good offensively this year. Let's figure out just how good they are.

Andy Lyons

Don’t tell me you aren't looking ahead because you know you are. Yeah, the Western Kentucky game is the most important game of the season because it is the first game. Miami is the next game which makes it the most important game of the season. That kind of thinking is for players and coaches. Fans are free to look ahead. so, let's do it. This is written from the standpoint of the Louisville offense.

The purpose of this article is to take a good look at Louisville's offense for this football season. But first, I want to vent and rant. So here goes.

I often wish Louisville would do a Tom Crean and end the series. The saving grace will eventually come from the ACC and SEC when they force twelve conference games down the throats of their members. I want to get back to 30 years ago when Tennessee was our top rival. We'll have to learn to compete against Louisville if we want that to happen.

I can't stand to lose to Louisville in football or basketball. I don't care about the other sports simply because I don't care about the other sports. I don't follow them. Sports such as golf, soccer, chorus and baseball are like watching grass grow or paint dry, although I can watch a live baseball game if someone else buys the ticket. I included chorus because UofL likes to brag about their chorus.

Ask me how much I hate losing to Louisville. Go ahead. I hate losing to Louisville so much that when we do suffer such losses, there should be a state law that says that Eli, the UK Board of Trustees, Mitch, the coaches and the players must, again by law, stand in the middle of Commonwealth Stadium or Rupp Arena and sing Johnny Cash's song, "I've been flushed from the bathroom of your heart." Then, they should be required by law to clean 60,000 UK fans' toilets for six months. I'm sure UK could afford the travel expense and the cleaning supplies.

One thing we all should know: if Kentucky can't win the first two games, how can we expect to even compete with Louisville? The same can be said with our SEC opponents. So, in my humble opinion, the Louisville game is our biggest game. It will set the tone for the whole season because it can affect the team's level of confidence. This game is a Hope or a No Hope kind of game, at least in my eyes. It will answer the burning question about this team's improvement under Stoops and Co.

Rant done. Deep breath.

Today, I want to look at the Louisville 3 deep depth chart for the Cardinal offense. This depth chart is for the beginning of fall camp, so it is subject to change. By the way, as much as I hate to say it, the Louisville Media Guide provides much better information about the players than does UK's. Page 42 is one page I found particularly helpful. I wish UK would do the same. In the player profile section, they provide the name of each player's high school coach and also the names of the parents which I think is a nice touch. Enough of the praise, already.

Let's begin with the backfield. The table below shows the roster number, player name, where he's from and his Rivals ratings coming out of high school. While that is not indicative of how they play now, it is about how the recruiting "experts" viewed their level of talent while they were going through the recruiting process. I've done the same with UK's roster.

Quarterback Average 3.33 5.63
5 Teddy Bridgewater QB 2011 Miami, Fla. (Northwestern) 4 5.8
11 Will Gardner QB 2012 Douglas, Ga. (Coffee County) 3 5.6
12 Brett Nelson QB 2011 Chula Vista, Calif. (Southwestern CC) 3 5.5
Running Backs Average 4 5.8
26 Michael Dyer RB 2010 Little Rock, Ark. (Auburn/Ark St) 5 6.1
83 Senorise Perry RB 2010 Summerville, Ga. (Chattooga) 3 5.5
71 Dominique Brown RB 2010 Cincinnati, Ohio (Winton Woods) 4 5.8
Fullbacks Average - -
43 Tyler Sharp FB 2011 Louisville, Ky. (Butler)
8 Jarel Mcgriff-Culver FB 2010 Downers Grove, Ill. (Downers Grove South)

Teddy Bridgewater is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. Some Kentucky fans want to belittle his accomplishments, but that is simply because he plays for Louisville. If you'll recall, Bridgewater set a single-game school record for completion percentage at 90.5%, completing 19 of 21 passes (232 yards) against Kentucky last year. For 2012, he completed 267 of 387 passes (69%), and only threw 7 interceptions. He had 3,452 passing yards and 25 touchdowns. We can all sneer at the weak schedule and weak conference, but Louisville beat Florida. That's something Kentucky hasn't done in 20 something years.

Will Gardner is a red shirt freshman who sat out last season due to a torn ACL. Brett Nelson is a red shirt JUCO from Southwestern Community College in California. If Bridgewater goes down, the Cards are in a heap of trouble. Freshman Kyle Bolin from Lexington Catholic could even be called upon. This is an observation and not a call to try to put Bridgewater out of the game. If we could find a way to beat the Cards, I want Teddy Bridgewater playing. If he goes down, then a victory would not be as meaningful for me.

I took the liberty of putting new transfer Michael Dyer as the starter at running back. A 5 star player doesn't fall into the category of being the #2 or #3 guy. Dyer has a troubled past, but Tom Jurich and Charlie Strong accepted his transfer because of his talent. All the talk about second chances, however lofty, is just talk and pure propaganda.

One of Louisville's core values is no guns. That's a heck of a core value. Does that say more about Louisville or the type of players they recruit?

Charlie Strong says that Dyer will have to follow a strict code of conduct at Louisville. No one seems to have bothered to ask about the details of this "code." So far, Dyer hasn't been caught with a gun on the campus and he hasn't been pulled over by the police, so I guess he's good to go. Anyway, he's there at Louisville and Kentucky's fans and team are just going to have to deal with it. He rushed for over 1,000 yards each of his two seasons at Auburn. Let's just wait and see if he can keep out of trouble before the Kentucky game.

Fullback is the weakest link in the Louisville offense from a talent standpoint. Neither player (Tyler Sharp or Jarel McGriff- Culver) was ranked or rated by Rivals when they were coming out of high school. That doesn't mean they haven't developed since their arrival at the downtown campus. It just means they weren't considered major college players at the time of recruitment. Sharp is a red shirt freshman walk-on and McGriff-Culver is a red shirt junior walk-on who earned a letter last year.

Moving on to the other offensive skill positions, you'll note some potential weakness at the Tight End position:

Wide Receivers Overall Average 2.89 5.06
X Receivers Average 2.33 3.87
9 Devante Parker WR 2011 Louisville, Ky. (Ballard) 3 5.7
86 Matt Milton WR 2010 Belleville, Ill. (Tennessee) 4 5.9
20 Corvin Lamb WR/RB 2011 Miami, Fla. (Northwestern)
H Receivers Average 3.67 5.73
65 Robert Clark WR 2010 Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (Florida) 3 5.5
82 Eli Rogers WR 2011 Miami, Fla. (Northwestern) 4 5.8
46 Michaelee Harris WR 2010 Miami, Fla. (Northwestern) 4 5.9
Z Receivers Average 2.67 5.57
7 Damian Copeland WR 2009 Bradenton, Fla. (Palmetto) 2 5.3
49 Jarrett Davis WR 2010 Tyrone, Ga. (Sandy Creek) 2 5.4
17 James Quick WR 2013 Louisville, Ky. (Trinity) 4 6.0
Tight Ends Overall Average - -
38 Ryan Hubbell TE 2010 Marion,In. Marion/(Iowa Western)
41 Gerald Christian TE 2010 Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (Florida)
80 Zeke Pike TE 2012 Fort Mitchell, Ky. (Dixie Heights)/ Auburn

At the X receiver, junior Devante Parker is a proven commodity for the Cards and his backup, junior red shirt transfer Matt Milton, a transfer from Rocky Top, will certainly see action as well. Corvin Lamb was an unrated and unranked running back who now is listed as a wide receiver. The red shirt sophomore is on scholarship so Louisville saw something they liked. Parker made first team All-Big East last year.

At the H, Robert Clark, a former Florida gator was not highly rated coming into the college ranks. As a freshman at Florida, Clark saw action in 11 games and caught 7 passes for 69 yards. Junior Eli Rogers was second on the team with receptions (46) and third in receiving yards (505). Michaelee Harris started in 12 games during his freshman year and tore an ACL before the Belk Bowl. Last year, another ACL tear in fall camp forced him to sit out the 2012 season. He's become an unknown commodity.

Damien Copeland is listed as the starter at the Z position, but my bet is that James Quick will be the starter by the Kentucky game. Copeland, however, is a senior who will battle to hold his position. Last year, he started in all 13 games and led the team with receptions (50) and receiving yards (628 yards). Senior Jarrett Davis has appeared in 26 games during his career, but he is outclassed by Quick and Copeland who will both probably be on the field at the same time.

Ryan Hubbell is a senior tight end who played in 12 games last year and was the starter in four games. Louisville uses the tight end more as a blocking position. Hubbell had 14 receptions for 239 yards last year. He can be dangerous, though. He caught a 72 yarder against Temple last year. He was not ranked or rated coming out of high school. Junior Gerald Christian sat out last year after transferring from Florida. He played in 8 games for Florida. Christian was a Rivals (5.9) 4 star who signed with Florida in 2010. We all know who Zeke Pike is. He signed with Auburn. He couldn't get along there and transferred to Louisville. Now, he's a tight end after sitting out the 2012 season.

They say games are won in the trenches. Louisville was ranked 85th in the nation last year, along with Clemson, in sacks allowed (2.38) per game. For perspective, Kentucky ranked 75th along with Kansas and Wyoming with 2.17 per game with a tougher schedule and a losing team.

Offensive Line Overall Average 2.36 4.35
Left Tackle Average 3.0 5.55
79 Jamon Brown OT 2011 Fern Creek, Ky. (Fern Creek) 3 5.6
78 Aaron Epps OT 2011 Tucker, Ga. (Tucker) 3 5.5
Left Guard Average 1.0 1.87
70 John Miller OL 2011 Miami, Fla. (Central) 3 5.6
63 Josh Stearns OL 2011 Louisville, Ky. (DuPont Manual)
76 Chase Petersen OL 2011 Bentonville, Ark. (Bentonville)
Center Average 3.0 5.53
12 Jake Smith OL 2010 Jacksonville, Ala. (Jacksonville) 3 5.5
62 T.C. Klusman OL 2012 Cincinnati, Ohio (Elder) 3 5.6
54 Mike Romano C 2011 Port St. Lucie, Fla. (Treasure Coast) 3 5.5
Right Guard Average 1.7 3.63
68 Kamran Joyer OL 2009 Tampa, Fla. (Wesley Chapel) 3 5.5
30 Chris Acosta OL 2010 Miami, Fla. (Hialeah) 2 5.4
69 Chris Walker OL 2009 Louisville, Ky. (Ballard)
RightTackle Average 3.0 5.56
77 Abraham Garcia OL 2012 Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (University) 3 5.6
74 Ryan Mack OL 2011 Memphis, Tenn. (Wooddale) 3 5.6
60 Joe Manley OL 2012 Bowling Green, Ky. (Bowling Green) 3 5.5

The Cards lost two starters from the interior line to graduation. Returning starters are junior left tackle Jamon Brown, junior left guard John Miller, and red shirt junior center Jake Smith. I would say Louisville will tend to run left. The right side has the question marks. Joyer and Garcia played enough to earn letters, as did Acosta and Mack.

Jamon Brown played in 9 games as a freshman and started in one. Last year, he started in all 13 games. His backup is a question mark. Epps red shirted his freshman season and sat out last year due to injury. There is a depth problem at left tackle, so I'm sure there will be some switching around.

John Miller is a product of Miami Central and he's started in 21 games. He started in 10 games as a freshman before injuring his ankle, and played in 12 games last year. He started in 11. He's the anchor.

After a red shirt in 2010, Jake smith has started in 25 games. He didn't start in the Sugar Bowl game due to illness. He's solid and he's experienced.

Kamran Joyer has been injury prone. After a red shirt in 2009, he missed the 2010 season due to injury. He played in 3 games in 2011, starting in one against Marshall. Last year he appeared in four games and started in two, including the Florida humiliation.

Abraham Garcia played in six games last year. According to the media guide, he displays good technique but has areas to work on.

It is evident, to me, that the right side may have some trouble even though it is deeper than the left side. I just don't see the quality. The offensive line was able to do a decent job of protecting Bridgewater last year, but Louisville ranked 102nd in rushing offense. That being said, the Cards didn't have Dyer last year. Will he make that big of a difference? Maybe. Maybe not. It will depend on how the offensive line performs.

Louisville won a couple of games last year that they would've lost without Bridgewater heroics. According to the NCAA, Louisville ranked 52nd in total offense and averaged 418.77 yards pergame. Of that, 296.08 was passing yards. They averaged 12.54 yards per completion and 8.44 per attempt which put them at 24th in passing offense. Louisville only lost 5 fumbles and had 8 interceptions. Only five teams had better numbers last year. Louisville ranked 50th in scoring offense, averaging 31.5 points per game. The Cards, under Charlie Strong, are 14-0 over the last three seasons when they score more than thirty a game. Can Kentucky keep them under thirty?

Strengths: quarterback, wide receivers and running backs

Weaknesses: The right side of the offensive line, depth at quarterback and the schedule

Question marks: Fullback

Summary on the coaching staff:

Having a quarterback like Teddy Bridgewater would make any OC look good and Shawn Watson is no exception. Here's his expectations for this year. It looks like all his eggs are in the Bridgewater basket. If Bridgewater goes down, the Cards are in trouble because there is no experienced backup.

Dave Borbley is the offensive line coach and has coached in 13 bowl games at Stanford, Notre Dame, Colorado, Virginia and Louisville. Does he have the same level of talent that he had at those schools?

Kenny Carter was running backs coach at Florida and came to Louisville with Charlie Strong. He coached Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey during their BCS championship season in 2008.

Ron Dugans doesn't have a lot of experience as a wide receivers coach, but he's done a good job in coaching and recruiting. The receiving corps is steady and capable of making big plays. The WR position is a strength at Louisville.

The big question is can Kentucky stop or slow down the Louisville offense?

That is tough to answer because this UK team isn't anywhere near the same team as last year. Will the high performance program show results or is our talent level such that it won't make much difference?

We know the Cats are in trouble at the corners. Losing J.D. Harmon hurt. There are players at safety than will most likely be moved over to cornerback. Putting pressure on Bridgewater is paramount and I wonder if the Cats can do that. Covering Parker, Clark and Quick may be more than our DBs can handle without some serious help from our defensive line with the pass rush. Louisville will also test our run defense.

Can Stoops and company work miracles on the field as they have with recruiting? What do you think?