Well. That was fun! Football IS FUN again! Yes, it was only Eastern Kentucky. Yes, they are an FCS team. Yes, we should expect to beat a team like that. But it had been 357 days since our last victory as a program and fan base…I think we are allowed a little celebration. It was by no means perfect, but there were tons of positives to take from last Saturday’s performance. If you reference last week’s “Keys to Victory” column, I would say the Cards were more or less successful in four of the five facets of the game I wrote about, the lone exception being that they didn’t settle on a center. That was by choice, and I have pretty much come to peace with the fact that Coach Ledford cares not for my unease with the center rotation. I have to accept that. He’s bigger than me.
Before we get into the meat of the article, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the defense for a second. A shutout against any opponent is an accomplishment. But a shutout by a defense made up mostly of spare parts from the worst defense I have witnessed in my adult life is downright admirable. Bryan Brown’s defense plays disciplined assignment football, flies to the ball, and plays to the whistle. Two big indicators this defense plays sound football (outside the obvious score). One, they completely limited chunk plays (one of last week’s Keys to Victory). The longest play from scrimmage for EKU last week was 20 yards. That shows that even when a play gets loose, the defense is able to recover and limit the damage. That’s awareness and that’s assignment football. Two, the top three tacklers on the team last week were linebackers. That’s how it should be. In a 3-4 scheme, the linemen are swallowing blockers, leaving the backers to make the plays. The last two seasons, our leading tacklers were often DBs. Not a good sign.
This week the Cards travel to Nash Vegas to take on the in-state Wester Kentucky Hilltoppers, because WHY NOT? Western has struggled a bit early in the Tyson Helton era, dropping a game to FCS Central Arkansas, and eking out a win against doormat FIU. Let’s take a look at hat it will take for the Cards to top the Tops…
KEYS TO VICTORY
- NO PLACE LIKE HOME – Coach Satterfield’s Cards are have been fortunate enough to open with two games at home, and have acquitted themselves nicely. I don’t think Satterfield could have drawn up the opening schedule any better. Big name opponent (that might be a little overrated) to act as a measuring stick and an announcement that UofL is once again fielding a functioning football team. Follow that with a lightly regarded FCS team to further emphasize those positives you drew out of the opener, this time with an emphatic victory to show for your efforts. Now the boys are faced with a slight step up in competition, and a road trip, but NOT a true road game. They will break their home routine all the same. Different teams respond in different ways to this challenge. Some play better on the road. I think it’s clear that this particular squad has drawn energy and fed off of the home crowd. While there will be plenty of Card fans in Nashville, the crowd will be decidedly less friendly, the locker room will be foreign, the showers will be oddly configured…can’t wait to see how the Cards respond.
- TAKE ADVANTAGE OF A WEAK SECONDARY – This feels like an extension of last week’s keys, but it’s worth noting that WKU’s secondary is bad. While it appears their defense has been okay (in a small sample size) against the run, limiting Central Arkansas to minimal rushing yards, and FIU to a 3.3 ypc, their secondary gave up over 400 yards passing to Central Arkansas (including an 80 yard completion from their running back). They fared better against FIU, but I think that was more of a byproduct of the Panthers’ QBs being completely ill-equipped to take advantage of the Toppers’ ineptitude. When I took a deep dive past the numbers and watched a little film, it really doesn’t seem like Western does much well defensively. I think the rushing defense numbers against Central Arkansas are fool’s gold, and FIU still managed 150 yards on the ground, despite their struggles. Long story short, the offense should eat. But we really ought to see receivers gain separation and become more involved downfield. Jawon Pass was exponentially better in the second half than the first last week, going a perfect 6/6 for 95 yards and 2 additional TDs after a rocky start. It’s no secret he sailed about 4 straight passes in the second quarter, but the second half improvement was very good to see. Of course we all saw Malik come in to the game in the 4th quarter, which leads me to my next point…
- IS MALIK READY? – It’s no secret there have been rumblings all afternoon about Jawon Pass’ availability tomorrow. As far as I know, it’s all speculation. Before today, I expected both quarterbacks to play in some capacity. Now it seems like Malik may need to be prepared for an expanded role. Malik looked great in limited action against EKU, but that’s just what it was, limited action. I don’t want to overreact to one completion and some nifty running (did I just nifty in a sentence? I truly am washed), but it’s hard not to let your mind wander a little bit. I will reiterate that this is Jawon’s job, and it should be at this point. He showed marked improvement in the 2nd half, and his decision-making ability has been night and day from last year. He just needs to execute after he chooses a course of action. If it does turn out that we see a lot more of Malik than anticipated, I don’t expect a huge deviation from the current offense, just maybe a little more flair in the execution. (I’m still having dreams of an offense powered by the speed of Malik, Tutu, and Javian Hawkins. Bless.) Malik still needs to show he can push the ball downfield, but that sideline throw was mighty impressive.
- TURN THE TOPS OVER – Tyson Helton was the Quarterbacks Coach and Offensive Coordinator under Jeff Brohm at Western, overseeing the development of Brandon Doughty into a record-smashing quarterback. He isn’t shy about having his signal caller toss that rock around the yard. Unfortunately for him, Steven Duncan is no Brandon Doughty. While Duncan has managed to throw for a fair amount of yardage, he is reckless with the football. This ought to lead to numerous opportunities for the Cards’ much-improved secondary to pick off a pass or two. UofL has yet to record a pick, the one thing missing from their early season defensive renaissance. To date, Duncan has thrown for 545 yards, 2 TDs, 4 picks for a QBR of 28.2. That’s just slightly below the Brock Osweiler Line (it’s like the Mendoza Line for quarterbacks…get it? Ah, you don’t care.) I expect the boys in red and black to get their mitts on the biscuit a few times.
- NEUTRALIZE GAEJ WALKER – Gaej Walker is the closest thing to a superstar the Tops have on their offense. And he’s pretty damn good. He’s run for 252 yards through two games (although it was a bit of a grind vs. FIU), and has looked very good doing it at times. Louisville’s defensive front has been solid to this point. While they sometimes bend, they rarely break. Jones had a very good game for Notre Dame in the opener, but the biggest liability in the running game to this point for the Cards has been QB scrambles. That *shouldn’t* be an issue against the Tops. Louisville needs to stay disciplined up front and keep those 2-3 yard runs from becoming 4-5 yard runs. Get the Tops off the field and on ice and let the offense go to work.
WHAT BISCUIT’S WATCHING
- Jordan Davis returns from suspension for tomorrow’s game. It will be good to see him out on the field, and interesting to see where he fits in the tight end rotation, especially with redshirt freshman Marshon Ford stepping up huge. Stay tuned.
- The Center rotation…because I am stubborn and firmly believe they need to settle on one going in to conference play.
- Rodjay Burns, because this man has taken to his new position incredibly well. He flies around the field and makes plays. Period. He leads the team with 2 sacks, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him notch another one tomorrow.
- HOT CHICKEN BABAY…I love Nashville hot chicken and I am going to find an outlet for these culinary desires, come hell or high water.
- Tailgating scene. Our friends at Collision Course Tailgate and Red Rage Tailgate are both making the trip, although RRTG are going incognito (without their signature trailer) because Dave has kids that participate in sports or something and his truck’s got the tow package. NO EXCUSES PLAY LIKE A CHAMPION.
- The timeout referee. That sonofabitch. Making time go slower and whatnot with his sorcery.
- I noticed on the participation chart that Adonis Boone got some clock. Not sure if that was on extra point set or in actual game time. I will try to be more vigilant in monitoring late game O-Line substitution patterns. That all depends on how cooperative the beer is tomorrow.
- Big Red. Because outside of our beloved Louie, he is my favorite mascot in all of college sports. Both of his Sports Center commercials were solid gold.
- Slot receiver rotation, because LJ still gets twitchy when Keion Wakefield gets passed over for some of the other options on the roster…
- Javian Hawkins 100 yard watch. Get on the train.
This is a dangerous one for me. Because the more film I watch, the less I really thought of Western Kentucky. And honestly we are in no position to take ANYBODY lightly. Louisville has a hard-fought loss (still by 18) to a good team and a dominant win against a bad one. No reason to inflate the accomplishments.
That being said, Western is just not a great defense, and the Cards should move the ball pretty well on Saturday. I expect the game to be a little messy in the first quarter (especially if Jawon can’t go), but receivers should be open all over the field and the passing game should thrive as a compliment to the rock-solid running game. Cards pull away in the second half, Javian hits the century mark again, speed kills the Tops.
Louisville – 34 WKU – 13
Go Cards. See you in Nashville.