Playoff Hopes Alive & Halloween Weekend Trip To Hooville

With a little help from Penn State and a very convincing homecoming victory over NC State the Cardinals are very much still in the College Football Playoff picture. Now each week becomes very important in that bid for a Playoff spot. Next up for the Cardinals is a Halloween weekend trip to Virginia to face the Cavaliers. Saturday’s game will be the fifth meeting between the two schools, with the series tied at 2-2. Louisville held off the Cavaliers 38-31 last season at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

The most prominent and widely accepted nickname for Virginia athletics is “Wahoos”, and “Hoos”. There is a persistent myth and according to legend, Massachusetts resident Dr. Theodore Giesel better known to the majority of the world as Dr. Seuss had his application to the University of Virginia rejected. Giesel was allegedly so upset over being snubbed by UVA that he purchased a house on the hill overlooking the school, because its elevated location allowed him to “look down” on the institution that rejected him. It’s also allegedly the inspiration behind his famous children’s book How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

The University of Virginia’s football season has not been as pleasant as those children’s books that we grew up on. They’re entering the game on Saturday with a floundering 2-5 record, fresh off a 35-14 loss to North Carolina. They are currently 5th in the ACC Coastal Division with a 1-2 record. So far this season their passing game has been tepid with 1,878 yards ranked 34th in the country and their rushing attack has muddled along with 795 yards ranked 117th in the country. Defensively they are allowing 456 yards a game ranked 108th in the country.

Leading the Virginia offense is QB Kurt Benkert. He has 1,859 yards with 14 touchdowns and 7 interceptions on the season. The Virginia Offense is very pass heavy with five players having over a 100 yards receiving. Benkert’s favorite targets are WR’s Olamide Zaccheaus (439 yards, 5 touchdowns), Keeon Johnson (323 yards, 3 touchdowns), and Doni Dowling (309 yards, 1 touchdown). One of the Cavaliers most dynamic players is RB Taquan Mizzell. He is the head of the rushing attack with 461 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also ranks 4th in their passing attack with 211 yards and 1 touchdown. Mizzell has a reception in 40 straight games, which is tied for the third-longest active streak in the nation and the longest of any running back. He poses the biggest challenge to the Louisville defense on Saturday.

Speaking of that Louisville defense the Cardinals held their fourth opponent to under 250 yards of total offense by limiting NC State to 250 yards of total offense on Saturday. NC State, which entered the game averaging 186.2 yards on the ground, were held to a season-low 14 yards on 25 carries. The Cards moved up to 19th in rushing defense, yielding 116.1 yards per game. And while Cavaliers running back Taquan Mizzell will be one of the best offensive players the Cardinals have faced this season he won’t find running on these Cardinals easy. The Cardinals, who are 19th in the country against the run allowing 116.1 yards per game have yielded an average of 62.0 yards over the last two games. Keith Kelsey has been credited with 31 tackles over the last four games to give him 51 on the season, which is now tops on the team in 2016. I would really like to see Devonte Fields have a big game on Saturday. He needs to find his groove again.

The Virginia Defense is giving up 171 yards a game on the ground and giving up 285 yards a game through the air. Leading the Cavaliers on defense is line Backer Micah Kiser with 77 tackles and 3.5 sacks. And safety Quin Blanding who has 75 tackles and 1 interception. Kiser (11.0) is leading the ACC in tackles per game and Blanding (10.7) is No. 2 in the ACC in tackles per game. These two guys are good but they’ll have their hands full with Heisman leading Lamar Jackson who leads the Cardinals in rushing with 130 carries for 908 yards and a whopping 16 touchdowns, and is 134-of-230 through the air for 2131 yards and 18 scores.

Every ‘Hoo down in ‘Hooville
Liked college football a lot
But the Leaping Lamar, who rules the ville,
They will not

All four games in the series between the Cardinals and Cavaliers have been won by a touchdown or less, including the first three on field goals in the closing minutes. Anytime you play a conference road game you can expect to get that team’s best shot. And while I think the Cavaliers don’t really stand a chance against the Cardinals high powered offensive attack I do think they can keep it interesting. Turnovers and penalties are things that can be a great equalizer in a football game especially on the road. The Cardinals have had 16 turnovers on the season (11 fumbles, 5 interceptions), and are one of the most penalized teams in college football with 9 a game for over 80 yards a game. This is an area that this Louisville team needs great improvement. And an area that could cost them in one of these for sure win games on the road.

That being said it should be another winning Saturday for our Cardinals and another big day for our Heisman hopeful… Go Cards!

Homecoming, Bowl Eligibility and the Wolfpack

With all that has happened this week the College Football season has taken a back seat. That boring performance by the Cardinals last Friday Night didn’t help much either. Saturday afternoon Louisville Football will take center stage again. The Cardinals will have a chance to become Bowl eligible for the seventh straight year and have another shot at getting that quality type performance to help bolster a playoff resume if that were to come into play. I think that is a long shot at this point but all it takes is one crazy weekend to change everything.

The Cardinals will welcome the NC State Wolfpack into Papa John’s Stadium on Saturday. This will be the seventh meeting between the two schools, with the Cardinals owning a 5-1 series advantage and have won two in a row over the Wolfpack. Its Homecoming weekend in Louisville and this should help add a little spark. That and a very competitive NC State team should provide much entertainment in this game.

NC State was a field goal away from upsetting Clemson last weekend and will look to ride that wave of emotion into Louisville on Saturday. The Wolfpack is the only team in the FBS this season that has the privilege of facing top 10 teams on the road in back to back games. They are one of six FBS squads that have had back-to-back top 10 opponents this season, but the only one that has faced both on the road. They have not beaten a Top 10 team since 2012.

Leading the Wolfpack offense is QB Ryan Finley. He is completing 64.9 percent of his passes for 1,272 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions. Finley has just three touchdown passes in his last three games. Finley’s favorite targets are WR Stephen Louis and TE Jaylen Samuels who have combined for 650 receiving yards and five touchdowns this season. WR Kelvin Harmon has 10 receptions for 179 yards and 2 touchdowns.

The NC State offensive line has been a solid unit for them this season. They call themselves the Band of Brothers. It is a group that has yielded just nine sacks in 2016, and is helping senior running back Matt Dayes have one of the best seasons in school history. Dayes enters the game Saturday ranked third in the ACC and 18th in the FBS in rushing with 111.5 yards per game. He has 669 yards and four touchdowns on the season. The NC State Wolfpack ground game is averaging 186.1 yards a game.

Tasked with slowing down the NC State offense is a Louisville defense that is allowing 24.3 points and 309.8 yards per game this season. One of the keys to Louisville’s defensive success has been getting off of the field on third down. The Cardinals are 11th in the country, holding opponents to just 26-of-89 for a 29.2 percent conversion rate. However, in the last two games, opponents are 12-of- 25 on third down, including Duke, which was 8-of-16 for 50.0 percent. I hope this little trend ends on Saturday or it could be a long day with NC State’s ability to run the ball.

It has been some of the usual suspects getting it done on the defensive side of the ball for the Cardinals. Josh Harvey-Clemons leads the Louisville Cardinals with 45 tackles, and Keith Kelsey has 43 tackles. While James Hearns has 5.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Jaire Alexander has made some big plays with 21 tackles and three interceptions. Devonte Fields has 27 tackles and two sacks this season but has just 7 tackles in the last two games. I would really like to see him get back on track Saturday. There has been some other guys step up this season on this side of the ball. Tackle Drew Bailey had 11 much needed tackles to help the Cardinals pull out that snoozer last Friday.

Duke played stall ball last Friday and that did slow down the Cardinals high powered offensive attack but it has yet to be stopped. Lamar Jackson is completing 58.2 percent of his passes for 1,806 yards, 15 touchdowns and four interceptions. He has seven touchdown passes in his last three games. The top targets in the Cardinals passing attack has been James Quick and Jamari Staples who have combined for 890 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Continuing to emerge as one of the biggest weapons for the Cardinals Cole Hikutini has 21 receptions for 275 yards and three touchdowns. The Cardinals ground game is averaging 305.6 yards per contest behind Brandon Radcliff (534 yards, 3 touchdowns), Jeremy Smith (217 yards, 5 touchdowns) and Jackson who leads the way with 832 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Trying to slow down the Heisman Trophy leader and this Louisville offensive attack is a NC State defense that is allowing 18.7 points and 315.7 yards per game. Leading their defensive unit is safety Josh Jones with 53 tackles and 1 interception. Defensive end Bradley Chubb has 25 tackles with five sacks and Mike Stevens has 16 tackles with one interception. This is a solid unit for the Wolfpack and they will be another stiff test for Lamar and the Cardinals Saturday.

Like most of you that game last week put me to sleep and I hope we don’t see another one like it for the rest of the season. I think we will see a more exciting game this Saturday afternoon. I think the Cardinals are going to come out inspired and ready to put up some big numbers. The Wolfpack are coming off a very good performance in Death Valley and one that they should have won. They not only believe that they can play with the best in the ACC but now they know they can. They will challenge the Cardinals but I don’t think they have enough firepower to ruin the day. Should be a lot of train horns tomorrow. Go Cards!

Red and White Scrimmage #1 Has Me Ready for Hoops

Having a top 10 Football program and possible playoff contender Louisville fans are buzzing about the pig skin. So much so that the Louisville Basketball season has arrived like a whisper. Even the annual Red and White Scrimmage on Wednesday night was a non-televised event. Regardless it was still a really good turnout and it didn’t take long for the Louisville faithful to find their basketball groove. A very exciting style of play, and a deep, talented, athletic roster had them on their feet.

Cardinal fans are no strangers to speed. We’ve watched Lamar Jackson running up and down the field for the last few months. The pace of the scrimmage tonight was just as frantic. It was wide open from tip to towels. I was really impressed how the guys held up and they went at it. Love the depth of this group and it will be needed for the up and down style of play. It also helps to have the competition at all of the positions during practice.

I was really excited to see the Cardinals sophomore class. I have covered these guys since the Derby Basketball Festival. That week I knew that this group was going to be special. They did not disappoint. Donovan Mitchell has transformed himself into a lean mean basketball machine. He is faster and appears to be lighter on his feet. He was already extremely athletic and could jump out of the gym. He has really worked on his shot and that was obvious during the scrimmage. He hit 4 threes and was 6-10 from the field for 22 points.

Deng Adel has also made big strides by having a full off season without being hampered by injury. He has a nose for the basket and looks for ways to get his shots. He is going to be a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. This will especially be true if he can get his jump shot to fall with more consistency. He hit one three point shot and was 5-11 from the field for 14 points.
I’ve always thought that Ray Spalding had the highest ceiling on this team. With his athleticism, height, and wing span he could be a program changer. He played with a lot of confidence Wednesday night and was really active around the basket. He had 15 rebounds 5 blocked shots, and 5 steals.

If you aren’t familiar with Ryan McMahon you will be. He took a red shirt last year and it really helped him physically. Tonight Ryan had the Yum Center crowd on their feet bringing back flashbacks of Pitino’s bombinos. Folks this kid has one of purest jump shots that you will ever see. At one point he hit like three deep balls on consecutive trips down the floor and the crowd loved it. Ryan hit 6 three point shots and was 6-8 from the field for 18 points. This sophomore class showed out during the first scrimmage and McMahon was one of the bright spots. He is going to be a fan favorite and will hit some big shots this season.

I was also excited to see VJ King take the floor for the first time in a Louisville uniform. It didn’t feel like he was a freshman and honestly it was like he had been around forever. He is very poised for a freshman and really fits in nicely to the dynamics of this team. He has great size and is a really athletic kid. He will be ready to contribute game one and will only continue getting better as he gets stronger. He had 19 points.

Cardinal fans were introduced to the graduate transfer rule last season. Trey Lewis and Damion Lee left their mark on the program after just one season. This year Tony Hicks moves into that role and he is going to be just as important to the team as those guys were. He is another guy who has a nose for the basket. He does a great job at finding his shots and creating off the dribble. He is a gritty type of player. He is the type of player to have 20 points and you don’t remember how he did it. He puts his head down and gets it done. He was 10-19 from the field tonight for 26 points. Second highest point total for the scrimmage.

Speaking of silent assassins and gutsy players Quentin Snider is both. He’s always been one of my favorite players and he has become one of the most important players on this team. He is the conductor of the Pitino orchestra. When a play needs to happen he is the guy that will put into motion. He has improved every season and coach Pitino said tonight that he is the only guy on the team close to reaching his full potential. He did what he does on Wednesday night and led the scrimmage with 27 points.

You can really see the physical transformation of this team. And a guy where this really stands out is Jaylen Johnson. Jaylen talked last year about giving up his ranch dressing. Well it was worth the sacrifice. For his size Jaylen really gets up and down the floor well. He didn’t seem fazed by the pace of the scrimmage. He was very active around the basket grabbing 20 boards and scoring 21 points. If I had to give out a most improved award he would win it. The best thing about it is that I think he has just scratched the surface.

I walk away from this first scrimmage very confident about this 2016/17 group. They are a bunch of hard workers and all of them have awesome attitudes. You can tell by how these guys interact in the post-game locker room that they really get along well. It is a cohesive unit. Coach Pitino is trying to emulate the style of play he had with the 96 Cats. If he is going to pull that off then he has the group to do it. This team has depth, length, athleticism and versatility. It’s going to be wide open on offense and in your face on defense. They are going to be fun to watch.

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No Hurricane Lamar, but a Hurricane Evacutaion on a Bye-Week

The loss to Clemson this past Saturday left a bitter taste in the mouths of Louisville fans. And thanks to a bye week one that will linger for awhile. Thanks to a trip to Disney World that begin last Sunday and a Hurricane evacuation this week I was able to avoid those feelings of disappointment. But now that I’m safe at home and looking through the stories I missed this week. I can’t help but feel for our guys. This group has worked hard and has paid their dues. They deserved a big win like that.

But just because you deserve something doesn’t mean it will be handed to you. And there was no way that Clemson was going to give the Cardinals anything. One of the Clemson players didn’t even want to give Lamar Jackson’s head back to him after a tackle. I digress but do want to give credit to Clemson for winning their big game. They had some guys step up. They have a great team and a great coach.

I had mentioned in my pre-game and it wasn’t a big revelation that Clemson would ride that big wave of emotion that comes with a Saturday night Primetime game in Death Valley. That place was electrifying. And their guys were amped up. This really stood out in the trenches.

The Cardinals O-Line and D-Line struggled getting beat both physically and mentally. The O-Line allowed a QB as elusive as Jackson to get sacked 5 times. And the penalties were staggering. Especially with them trying to overcome the emotion in that place. The D-Line struggled to contain Watson and allowed him and Gallman to play well above their rushing averages.

The mistakes weren’t limited to that part of the game but it did set the tone for the night. Being under pressure all night Lamar struggled to really get things going missing some throws and missing his reads. And the Louisville DB’s had their hands full with Watson getting time to deliver to his receivers. The absence of Shaq Wiggins didn’t help either.

I expected big time performances from Josh Harvey Clemons and Devonte Fields. The reason these guys came to Louisville for their second chances were for games like this. Harvey Clemons got his 11 tackles, but Fields was nonexistent with just two tackles. I think the defense really missed his presence. He can really set the tone when he’s getting to the QB.

Lamar missed some opportunities with Staples and I really thought that this would be a big night for this duo. Really thought Staples would have a huge outing. He like the guys I mentioned above came to Louisville for big games. Hope he can get it going soon. He’s got a lot of big play potential and the offense is going to need him.

The Cardinal’s lost the game but not all was lost. We got to see the Heisman Run of Lamar Jackson solidified. Clemson slowed him down but they couldn’t stop him. We got to see the coming of age of one of the best tight ends in College Football. Cole Hikutini fought through extra contact, holding and tripping for 7 catches and 84 yards. He is going to be fun to watch during the home stretch. We also got to see the emergence of guys like Jaire Alexander and Zykiesis Cannon who really made some great plays to help change momentum at times.

And finally we got to see this Louisville team take a big punch in the gut and fight to come back. They gave themselves a chance to win this game and even in defeat showed the 3rd largest TV crowd to ever watch a Saturday night football game that they do belong in the discussion this season.

It was a crushing loss and that game could have big implications on the rest of the Louisville Football season. Emotions tend to get the best of us sometimes but I was extremely disappointed to see some fans on social media bashing James Quick after the game. Without his play we wouldn’t have had a shot to win that game. No chance.

It’s all about perspective anyway isn’t it? As I mentioned above my family had to evacuate from our fall vacation due to a deadly hurricane coming across the southeast. This storm will cause all kinds of damage and loss of life. I’m so thankful we made it home safely and happy to be at home watching the storm from my TV instead of in person.

If you got so upset about a loss that you lashed out at a student athlete then you need some perspective. There were many mistakes Saturday night. But those mistakes will be corrected and nobody wanted it more than the players who have laid it all on the line.

The bye week is hard on the fans especially after a loss. It’s good for the team. Time to heal up and the extra practice time will give the Cardinals a chance to get back to work to correct things. Duke has a very good team and it should be a competitive game. Like most of you I Can’t wait! Go Cards!

Prayers to all of the folks in the path of Hurricane Matthew. Stay safe folks!