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Q&A With Louisville Blogger and Radio Host

The penultimate asking of q’s and receiving of a’s.

NCAA Football: Louisville at Houston Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, I exchanged emails with Mark Ennis of Card Chronicle. Mark has also previously written for the SB Nation mothership, and hosts UofL post-game shows on local Louisville radio. He’s smart, fair, and funny. An extremely rare combination. His proximity to UK sports also provides an important outside perspective. You can follow him on Twitter @MarkEnnis where he already has more followers than God Herself.

A sincere thanks to Mark for taking the time to thoughtfully answer my questions during a busy holiday week.

Here’s to an exciting Governor’s Cup, and Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Without further ado...

1. Lamar Jackson is this season's College Football Wonder. What areas of his game improved in the last year that helped him to make the leap from promising freshman to Heisman front-runner?

Jackson's biggest area of improvement has been his coverage recognition and his willingness to stand in the pocket and make throws instead of bailing out to run. Arm strength and even accuracy have never really been his problem as much as early in his career he would make decisions late and force things. Now it's really rare to see him not seem to know where to go with the ball or to see him force throws.

2. Jackson and Petrino get most of the pub, but what other offensive players contribute to UofL having the 4th ranked offense overall and the 4th most explosive offensive, according to S&P+.

Two receiving weapons have emerged this season that I am not sure many saw coming. Tight end Cole Hikutini has 42 receptions and 7 touchdowns has been Jackson's security blanket for much of the year. And in the second half of the season, sophomore Jaylen Smith has played extremely well as both an intermediate threat and a guy that can beat you over the top (like he did with the 69 yard touchdown catch against NC State).

3. Todd Grantham is finishing his third season in Louisville. How does his defense in 2016 stack up to his previous defenses at Louisville, and how would you broadly compare his squads in terms of execution and scheme to the Strong-Bedford years?

This defense has been different than the previous two in that the secondary has not been the clear team strength. In 2014 and 2015 you had Gerod Holliman breaking the interceptions record and James Sample coming out of pretty much nowhere to get himself drafted. You had Charles Gaines as a future NFL guy at one corner spot. This year, the front seven has been very good and it's required less blitzing and less chances to pressure the quarterback and force turnovers. It's hard for most defenses to block all of Devonte Fields, James Hearns, Keith Kelsey, and DeAngelo Brown on every play. Having big leads in a lot of games has also been a nice luxury.

4. UofL leads the ACC in yards allowed per play at 4.27. To put that in perspective for UK fans, that would rank the Cardinals second in the SEC. Which players make the largest contribution to that figure?

They haven't played a bunch of just killer offenses, for one. Wake Forest, Virginia, Boston College. These are not good offenses at all. Second, as I hinted at above, they've been playing with the luxury of some very big leads for large portions of games. 44-0 lead at halftime against NC State, 35-10 lead at halftime of FSU, 42-0 lead at halftime against Charlotte, etc. Being able to just worry about teams passing and having to hurry with a streamlined playbook is a dream situation for most defenses. And, third, I think they've gotten a lot of pressure without having to sacrifice much in coverage. All three defensive line spots have good pass rushers and there's been emerging depth from guys like Jonathan Greenard at OLB (2.5 sacks, 5.5 TFL) that keep everyone fresh.

5. UK runs the ball well, but outside of Stephen Johnson throwing a decent deep ball, UK's passing offense is pretty limited. Inquiring minds want to know, how do you think UK's rushing attack stacks up against UofL's rush defense?

It really stacks up as strength against strength. I think UK will have chances to make some plays in the running game. They've been too good at it to just go dormant against Louisville. And, Clemson had some some success on the ground against Louisville. However, Louisville has been the only team this year that truly shut down Dalvin Cook and for as good as Bennie Snell and Boom Williams are, neither are Dalvin Cook.

6. Okay, Governor's Cup lightning round:

A) The number of Louisville punts in this game over/under 2.5?

I'll say over. Louisville always has a stretch in games where they sorta check out mentally. Even if they're humming against Kentucky they'll make their share of goof ups, too.

B) Rank Papa John's favorite teams from the following: UofL, UK, Peyton Manning, and Papa John.

Haha, I think Papa John truly loves him some Papa John more than anything else. And he might even see Peyton Manning as just an extension of himself. Then Louisville since he's put the name on the stadium, then UK because he likes money.

C) What's UK's best chance to upset UofL beyond food poisoning?

Copying the Duke strategy of forcing turnovers (Louisville is comically careless with the football) and shortening the game by controlling the ball on the ground.

7. What's the outcome and what are one or two of the most significant factors?

I think the game will be decided by Louisville. If Louisville is careful with the football and mentally dialed in on both offense and defense, they should win by a decent margin. But, if the same hobgoblins of fumbles, offensive line assignment mistakes, and defensive over aggression and lack of discipline reemerge, it could be a much tighter game than anyone in red wants. Ultimately I think Louisville comes out like more of the former than the latter and wins 38-21.