Louisville Offense vs. Kentucky Defense
The Cardinal Offense is headed by Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater, as many of you know, is a Heisman Trophy candidate and currently has the 3rd best QB Rating in the country and leads the nation with 9 TD passes. In addition, many NFL scouts have Teddy in their Top 5 selections for the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft. In their first two games Louisville’s offense is scoring 46.5 points per game and are compiling 545 yards per game. Almost all of that production has been because of the passing game (406.5 ypg, and 10 of 12 TDs).
The passing game has a host of options at Bridgewater’s disposal beginning with Wide Receivers DeVante Parker (6-3, 209, Jr.) & Damian Copeland (6-1, 188, Sr.). Copeland led the Cards a year ago in receptions, and Parker currently is 3rd All-Time in Receiving Touchdowns with 10 games remaining in his JUNIOR season. Together these two would be an incredible duo of targets for a QB, but slot receivers Eli Rogers (5-10, 182, Jr.) & Robert Clark (5-9, 173, Jr.) are just as dangerous when safeties give up the middle of the field. Other weapons like Kai De La Cruz, Michaelee Harris, and James Quick all are capable of popping up and having big games.
Bridgewater isn’t solely focused on his wide receivers. His ability to use all of his options in the passing game is what makes him so dangerous. Teddy will often check down to his running backs & tight ends on plays that normally would result in a sack or a throw away for small to medium gains. But the tight end group isn’t just a safety option for the Cardinal signal caller, Gerald Christian (6-3, 242, Jr.) has a long reception of 35 yards, and Ryan Hubbell (6-5, 227, Sr.) hauled in a 37-yarder. Also it hasn’t happened as much in 2013 as of yet, but we have seen the running backs heavily involved in the passing game in this offense.
Protecting Teddy Bridgewater is an offensive line that has done a really nice job in pass protection allowing just 1 sack in 2 games. The Cards have 7 offensive lineman who can mix and match based on situation & health: Left Tackle: Jamon Brown (6-6, 350, Jr.); Left Guard: John Miller (6-2, 321, Jr.); Center: (Jake Smith, 6-3, 312, Jr.); Right Guard: Chris Acosta (6-3, 275, Jr)/or Kamran Joyer (6-3, 282, Sr.); Right Tackle: Nacho Garcia (6-5, 347, Soph)/or Ryan Mack (6-5, 319, Soph). This is a really solid group that really has done a nice job replacing Mario Benavides and Alex Kupper from a year ago, with the biggest surprise being Chris Acosta. Acosta has been in the program for a long time and Kamran Joyer missing a lot of time during Fall Camp allowed Acosta an opportunity to shine…..and he did. The emergence of Acosta really fixed a problem for Offensive Line coach Dave Borbely, as offensive lines generally need 7-8 viable lineman to be effective over the course of an entire season.
The running game stalled in Week 2 vs. Eastern Kentucky gaining just 78 yards (-1 yard for a sack) on 28 carries. In Week 1 the Cards rushed for 199 yards on 40 carries against Ohio. Many fans panicked about the running game from Week 1 to Week 2. But I don’t put much stock into that. The Louisville Running game was straight up & down vs. EKU and very few rushes outside with a pulling guard. Still lining up and dominating EKU should be the expectation. The running back rotation is slowly coming into form: Senorise Perry (6-0, 187, Sr.) is the #1 back a year after tearing his ACL during the Syracuse game. Perry is FAST and is surprisingly very good between the tackles for his size. Michael Dyer (5-9, 215, Jr.), in my mind has moved solidly into the #2 position (if not pushing for #1). Dyer is an elite talent and is the 2011 BCS National Championship MVP (Auburn). Dominique Brown 6-2, 216, Jr.) broke out in the 2011 Kentucky game at Commonwealth, and will continue to get a great deal of carries despite missing all of last season with a knee injury.
Louisville’s offense is multiple and predicated on the passing game. As of yet the Cards haven’t consistently lined up and rushed for huge totals, but I do believe they have the potential to be that kind of offense in a crucial 4th quarter. I’d just like to see them do it in the 4th quarter before it matters. The Louisville Offensive Line has provided excellent protection in 2013 for Teddy Bridgewater and as long as that remains true the Cardinal offense will continue to put up big numbers.
Last year the Kentucky Defense was better than the numbers. We’ll get to Kentucky’s offense in a minute but the defense had to play more plays and had almost no time to recover due to the Wildcat offense’s inability to move the ball and gain first downs. This year, the Cats may actually have better personnel in their front 7 to go along with a better scheme. Still I think the Cats are susceptible to the pass and will rely on pressure on the Quarterback to cover up that weakness against Louisville.
Up front the Cats upgraded the defensive end position from a year ago where just about anybody could get the edge. Bud Dupree (6-4, 252, Jr.) is a really good football player that may eventually move back to linebacker, and Za’Darius Smith (6-6, 254, Jr.) who currently leads the nation in sacks. True Freshman Jason Hatcher (6-3, 250) has also been productive in the rotation posting 5 tackles & a QB hurry thus far. It will be interesting to see if this group can maintain their edge when Louisville runs the ball while also getting the right rush lanes on passing plays.
Inside the mainstays from last season Donte Rumph (6-3, 320, Sr.) & Mister Cobble (6-0, 338, Sr.) return and will start with Mike Douglas (6-4, 288 Jr.) & Tristian Johnson (6-1, 265, Sr.) providing depth. This group attempts to take on blockers and allow their linebackers to run free.
I always say, “Find me a good middle linebacker and I’ll show you two good interior defensive lineman.” In this case of Avery Williamson (6-1, 238, Sr.) all 3 are true. I’ve interviewed Williamson on a handful of occasions and in my limited involvement with him I found him very likable. Ball carriers probably find him differently. Williamson in two games has 20 tackles, a hurry, and a fumble recovery. He is highly productive in the middle linebacker position for the Wildcats. On either side of Williamson, the Cats do have a problem. At strongside linebacker the staff still hasn’t settled on Kory Brown (6-0, 203, Jr.) which brings the questions about moving Dupree back to Linebacker. Instead the staff often opts to go into nickel with Blake McClain (5-11, 190, Fr). At weakside TraVaughn Paschal (6-4, 242, Jr.) has been productive with 11 tackles through 2 games. Overall this group is highlighted by Williamson.
Kentucky’s main weakness on defense comes in the secondary. The front 7 must apply so much pressure in the passing game to cover up for this, that they were actually very susceptible to the run against Western Kentucky. Still the Tops passed for 271 yards. Ashley Lowery (6-1, 211, Jr.) & Eric Dixon (5-11, 187, Jr.) are the safeties for the Cats and have combined for 15 tackles on the season. UK needs to get more production from their safety spot to really make a jump on defense. Right now, they just aren’t getting the type of play they need from their safeties.
At corner, the entire group should probably be wearing green jerseys. There just isn’t a lot of experience, but there is good size. Nate Willis (6-0, 180, Jr.) came in late from Junior College & Fred Tiller (6-0, 171, Soph) played in 11 games as a true freshman in 2012. Willis is good in coverage and has 2 pass break-ups, while Tiller is a nice boundary corner and is a very good tackler. But these two still leave plenty of room for a good QB to work with. With experience that will change, but for now this is what Kentucky is dealing with.
Who Has the Edge?
I don’t want to fully discount Kentucky’s Miami (OH) game where the Cats allowed just 122 yards of total offense to the RedHawks. But there is a big gap between Week 1 & Week 2 when the Cats allowed 487 yards to Western Kentucky. Where is the truth? Well I’d like to take a look at WKU in Week 2 (gained 393 vs. Tennessee), and Week 1 for Miami (gained 239 vs. Marshall). Numbers can lie, but I feel safe in saying that Kentucky’s Defense is worse than Tennessee’s & better than Marshall’s.
What does that mean????? Nothing.
Western Kentucky’s offense is more like Louisville’s than anything, and the weapons that Cards have are better than what the Hilltoppers currently have. Teddy Bridgewater and his stable of receivers is a distinct mis-match against this Kentucky Defense. I do expect Kentucky will blitz. A LOT. I also think the Cats will try to mix in a lot of different coverages, but in the end I think they will eventually go to strict man so they can try and bring as much pressure as possible on Louisville. It will become clear early, that if Teddy has time to throw the Cats will give up yardage and first downs, leading to TDs. So I believe Stoops & DJ Eliot will try and maximize the pressure.
In the running game Defensive End play will be the big factor here. The Cards like to get outside and got all that they wanted in 2012 against UK. With the emphasis on getting pressure on UK I expect the Cards to try and get some outside runs in order to protect Teddy using play-action, and also keep those Defensive Ends guessing so they have to wait on their responsibility. Of course, some of these runs will go directly into the UK blitz, but the Cards only need to break a couple nice runs to keep the Cats on their toes.
This is a big advantage for Louisville. The main thing Louisville will be concerned with is protecting the ball and staying on schedule. Everyone loves the big-hitter, and Shawn Watson even spoke at yesterday’s practice about being more explosive. But being explosive also means being patient and running the offense while finding opportunities. Patient & ready is exactly what Teddy Bridgewater is at the Quarterback position. The Cards have all the weapons here, they just need to avoid the mistakes.