Louisville will open their 2013 season against the Ohio Bobcats of the Mid-American (MAC) conference. The Frank Solich-led Bobcats had a very good start to their 2012 season, winning their first 7 games (including their opener at the 106,000+ Beaver Stadium against an eventual 8-4 Penn State team).  Ohio achieved their first ranking since 1968 during the 2012 season rising as high as #23 in the Coaches Poll, #24 in AP, and #24 in the BCS Standings. From there though, the Bobcats ended their season dropping 4 of their last 5 games, before beating Louisiana-Monroe 45-14 in the Independence Bowl.  Ohio has won 3 straight season-openers and have won 15 of their past 20 games.

Series History

The Cards and Bobcats have played 4 times, all from 1956-1959 and split the series 2-2.  Ohio has reigned over the Cards since 1959 claiming victory in their last meeting 22-15 over Frank Camp’s Cardinals.

Frank Solich at Ohio 

Frank Solich enters his 9th season as the Head Coach at Ohio, Solich was 34-15 (.694) at Nebraska, his alma mater, and spent 19 years as an assistant with the Huskers.  As an assistant under Tom Osborne Nebraska won 3 national championships, before Osborne “retired” to become Cornhusker’s Athletic Director and named Solich his successor.  Solich won 9+ games in five of his six seasons as Nebraska’s Head Coach, but was removed after the 2003 season after a 9-3 regular season (#18 Coaches, #19 AP).  Coincidentally, in the 9 years since Solich was fired from Nebraska the Cornhuskers have achieved a ranking higher than the 2003 season just once (2009).

At Ohio, Solich took over a MAC program, who had been searching for a winning identity.  Ohio went a decade winning just 17 games from 1985-1994 before Jim Grobe took over from 1995 to 2000 before departing to Wake Forest.  Grobe was replaced by Brian Knorr (now WR coach at Wake) who managed to win just 11 games in 4 seasons.  Enter Frank Solich who in his 2nd season guided the Bobcats to their first bowl game since 1968 and a 9-4 record. In 2011 Ohio won their first ever bowl game and in 2012 followed that up and now have won back-to-back bowls.

Solich has changed the landscape at Ohio, winning games, upgrading facilities, appearing on national television and also beating BCS programs. Think about this: A program that once went an entire 10-year period and won just 17 games has won 2 bowl games in a row and since 2005 owns wins over Pittsburgh, Illinois, Temple, Penn State. The Bobcats also have a few close losses to top programs:  During the 2008 season in which the Bobcats went 4-8, Solich’s sqaud played the #3 Ohio State Buckeyes tight in a 26-14 loss at the Horseshoe. In 2009 Ohio also gave Tennessee all they wanted at Neyland Stadium as they were within one score in the 4th quarter before eventually losing 34-23.  So beating the Bobcats under Frank Solich is no picnic.

Let’s take a look at the UofL vs. Ohio Stat Comparison:

2012 TEAM STATS

  Louisville Ohio
Scoring Offense (ppg) 31.2 (50th) 31.7 (42nd)
Total Offense (ypg) 418.8 (51st) 444.8 (33rd)
Passing Offense (ypg) 296.1 (24th) 241.5 (53rd)
Rushing Offense (ypg) 122.69 (105th) 203.31 (27th)
Scoring Defense (ppg) 23.8 (36th) 24.8 (46th)
Total Defense (ypg) 340.3 (23rd) 388.8 (56th)
Passing Defense (ypg) 192.3 (17th) 229.0 (56th)
Rushing Defense (ypg) 148.00 (49th) 159.77 (60th)
First Downs (per game) 22.8 (35th) 23.2 (31st)
Opponent First Downs (per game) 18.2 (21st) 21.3 (70th)
Turnover Margin (season) +11 (18th) +15 (7th)
Time of Possession 32:58.08 (6th) 30:40.92 (45th)
Sacks (per game) 1.69 (77th) 1.92 (65th)
Sacks Allowed (per game) 2.31 (85th) 2.08 (72nd)
Tackles for Loss (per game) 4.54 (101st) 5.69 (64th)
Tackles for Loss Allowed (per game) 6.46 (96th) 5.31 (52nd)
Interceptions (season) 11 (65th) 13 (50th)
Passes Defended (per game) 4.54 (59th) 69 (28th)
Fumbles Recovered (season) 13 (29th) 12 (36th)
Fumbles Forced (season) 12 (61st) 12 (61st)
Fumbles Lost (season) 5 (5th) 5 (5th)
3rd Down Conversions (%) 49.73% (8th) 42.86% (43rd)
Opponent 3rd Down Conversions (%) 41.67% (76th) 43.90% (92nd)
Red Zone Conversions (%) 92.98% (5th) 79.03% (82nd)
Opponent Red Zone Conversions (%) 85.71% (90th) 89.47% (115th)
Field Goal % 78.3% (34th) 74.2% (53rd)
Opponent Field Goal % 71.4% (55th) 73.3% (63rd)
Punt Returns (ypr) 4.25 (111th) 9.57 (50th)
Kickoff Returns (ypr) 17.31 (122nd) 21.51 (66th)
Opponent Punt Returns (ypr) 8.14 (66th) 3.28 (9th)
Opponent Kickoff Returns (ypr) 24.65 (114th) 22.04 (78th)
Punting (ypp) 38.06 (112th) 37.32 (118th)
Kicks/Punts Blocked (season) 1 (68th) 1 (68th)
Penalties (ypg) 54.1 (73rd) 50.0 (53rd

2013 Louisville Football: “The Time Is Now” from @CrumsRevenge on Vimeo.

Breakdown-Offense

Given that Solich is in his 9th year at Ohio and he has retained his offensive & defensive coordinators for the balance of his tenure with the Bobcats we should have a pretty good idea of what the Bobcats are trying to do in terms of tendencies and schemes. In 2012, the Bobcats were highly effective scoring and moving the football particularly on the ground.  But I wouldn’t call Ohio a running team, Ohio’s offense is actually pretty cool, and they return 53.15% of their starts on offense from 2012.

Ohio uses a mix of shotgun/pistol formations.  The shotgun is fairly traditional, very Bill Walsh in short drops, quick throws multiple targets and quick decisions.  If a target does not quickly present itself Senior QB Tyler Tettleton (6-0, 198) will rush out of the pocket and is a dangerous runner.  Tettleton is highly efficient finishing with a 141.23 QB Rating in 2012 (Bridgewater 160.49), throwing for 2844 yards & 18 TDs while completing 62% of his passes and throwing just 4 INTs.  Tettleton also rushed for a net of 244 yards and 4 TDs.  Tettleton will remind a lot of Cards fans of a slightly less efficient Stefan LeFors, which is scary.  Even on LeFor’s worst day the Cards had a better chance than most to win.

The ‘cool’ part of Ohio’s offense, though is their “Pistol”.  I characterize it as ‘cool’ but by  halftime of September 1st, we will probably all hate it.  The Bobcats like to run a lot of Option Football out of the pistol, both with the zone read and the more traditional rolling option.  But Ohio is just as likely to option into a passing situation out of a pure zone read or rolling read as they are to run the football.  Ohio likes to spread defenses out and force the defense to tip their hand and take advantage of what they are being given.  Thus, the Cards MUST PLAY ASSIGNMENT FOOTBALL.  Playing a team like Ohio requires patience and discipline, getting into a hurry can get the Cards into trouble.

Out of the backfield, the main threat is Beau Blankenship (5-8, 202, Sr.) Blankenship rushed for 1604 yards & 15 TDs. (only had 38 yards in losses, a very low number) and also caught 21 passes for 182 yards and 1 TD. Blankenship is a stout runner and really benefits from a lot of great situations that his QB puts him in with the option.  Together, Tettleton and Blankenship really do a masterful job of reading each other and understanding what the other needs to make a play successful.  It’s actually really pretty to watch. Ryan Boykin (6-0, 224 Sr.) also can be a major contributor, and should be healthy for the opener. Boykin had 457 yards in just 7 games for the Bobcats while struggling with a hamstring injury.

Upfront, the Bobcats lose Eric Herman, Skyler Allen and Vince Carlotta. But they return 4 offensive lineman who started games in 2012 including 3 seniors and a junior.  Herman is perhaps the biggest loss as he was drafted by the New York Giants with the 225th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.  But I wouldn’t expect the Bobcats to have much of a weakness in the protection department.  Their offense is predicated on drawing the defense into a bad position with a lot of movement.  Ohio’s lineman are plenty mobile and possess high-level size. Ohio’s Tight Ends also are a big part of the blocking scheme, departed senior Troy Hill caught just 14 balls, which led Tight Ends, for 174 yards in 2012.

Tettleton spreads the ball around to his WRs but Donte Foster (6-1, 200, Sr.) stands out. Foster  caught 59 passes for 659 yards and 8 TDs in 2012 and had 22 more catches than any other Ohio receiver. Behind Foster, the Bobcats lost their #2 & #3 receiving targets to graduation but do return Chase Cochran (6-2, 185, Jr.) who was able to haul in 22 catches for 377 yards and 4 TDs.  I think it is safe to say that with Ohio’s style someone will step up, in particular Landon Smith (5-10, 184, Jr.) who really didn’t meet expectations in 2012 and is OUT for the Louisville game.

Ohio had 596 rushing attempts (59.7%) and 402 passing attempts in 2012. The amount of rushing is really because of the Pistol formation where the Bobcats run so much zone read.  There are plenty of opportunities to pass, but with Tettleton and Blankenship Ohio is plenty effective on the ground.  However when Tettleton does read to go to the air, usually there is plenty of room for him to work with.  One thing Ohio DOES NOT DO:  TURN THE BALL OVER.  The Bobcats only gave up the ball 10 times (5 INTs, 5 fumbles lost). This is a dangerous offense that doesn’t make mistakes, it is going to take quite a bit of prep time for the Cards to get ready for it.

Breakdown-Defense

In 2012 Ohio’s Defense was very middle of the road in terms of production, and will have to replace 52% of their starts on defense for 2013.  Almost all of that, is at Defensive Line and Linebacker as the Bobcat secondary returns relatively intact.  Ohio will be replacing almost all of their defensive line starts from 2012, and also the highly productive linebackers Jelani Woseley & Alphonoso Lewis.  Unlike their offense, Ohio’s defense is very regular in the 4-3 base formation.

Ohio does return Keith Moore (5-11, 220, Sr.), their leading tackler at Will Linebacker who had 98 tackles in 2012.  It will be interesting to see if Moore can continue that production with almost an entirely new defensive line in front of him in 2013, but given that Moore is basically the only significant returnee to the Bobcat Front 7 I think the entire defense will be based around him.  Antwan Crutcher (6-2, 300, Jr.), Tony Davis (6-3, 285, Jr.), and Nic Barber (6-3, 230, Sr.) do return upfront for Ohio, but all 3 were role players in 2012 totaling just 58 tackles between the 3 of them. Crutcher had 40 on his own, with 1.5 sacks.

The secondary however, is almost entirely back with Gerald Moore being the only significant departure taking his 45 tackles with him.   Strong Safety Josh Kristoff (6-0, 195, Jr.) returns after a 60 tackle season along with his safety counterpart Nate Carpenter (5-9, 200, Jr.) who tallied 53 takedowns to go along with his 6 TFLs, 2 INTs, and 2 fumble recoveries. Thad Ingol (6-0, 223, Jr.) can also fill some snaps at safety and will probably play some nickel when necessary.

At corner Larenzo Fisher (5-11, 174, Jr.) is suspsended and perhaps the Bobcats most experienced corner. Ian Wells (5-11, 197, So.) started nearly every game for Ohio last season and combined for nearly identical production to Fisher. Together totaling 95 tackles but ZERO interceptions, and just 15 pass break ups. Veterans that did a decent job of patrolling the  air as the 56th best pass defense in the nation, but not a lot of takeaways or PBUs none of which were against an elite level quarterback.  Still I think the experience needs to be respected, and Solich feels good about his corners going into 2013.

My Prediction

OHIO is a GOOD FOOTBALL TEAM.  The Bobcat offense is really well put together and I’ve been calling it ‘neat’ all off-season.  Now that it is game week, “neat” is now “annoying”.  Ohio’s offense makes their opponent pick their poison. It’s really a well-designed and well executed scheme.  Louisville’s Defense MUST be disciplined in all aspects of their game, including maintaining shallow rush lanes, watching the football, not biting on fakes, and remaining in coverage until Ohio shows their hand.  I think Vance Bedford will try and time his pressure (especially early) and see if he can get the Bobcats to make some early mistakes.  The further away from the goal line Ohio is, the more effective their offense will be.  If UofL brings too much pressure Ohio will break off some long gains.  Bottom line, I expect Ohio to move the football.  But I also expect for the Louisville Defense to find a groove and make stops.  Ohio will not turn the ball over easily and I don’t expect to get any gifts for a short field.  The Louisville defense is going to have to earn this one, Ohio’s offense is unique with very capable personnel.

Louisville’s offense should find room. There is a lot of well-schemed football in the MAC on offense so I expect a Frank Solich led team to be sound on defense.  In the end though, Louisville has the elite QB in college football in Teddy Bridgewater, an offensive line ready to prove themselves, along with a loaded receiver and running back unit.  Ohio is replacing almost ALL of their Front 7 from a year ago and I expect some early growing pains, especially on the ground.  Fans will want to be dazzled by Teddy Bridgewater’s arm, but I don’t expect Shawn Watson throws Teddy much until the secondary gives him some room after he’s pounded the line of scrimmage with running backs.  Then I expect Teddy to be unleashed in a very balanced attack that will keep the defense on its heels.  Passing right out of the gate would play right into Ohio’s hands (similiar to Louisville vs. Florida in the Sugar Bowl). Louisville’s offense should have a noticeable advantage on Sunday.

I think Louisvlle fans will leave PJCS on Sunday a little concerned about the defense, but I think that concern will be unwarranted.  Ohio is going to score. Louisville is going to score but in the end I think Louisville’s defense stops Ohio at a much higher rate than the Bobcats can halt the Cardinal offense.  I think Louisville wins 38-20. 

Notes

-Louisville is 11-4 in season openers since 1998.

-Louisville is just 1-4 playing against their first FBS opponent of the season since 2008.

-Charlie Strong is 12-8 at home as Louisville’s Head Coach.

CARDMARCH

The University of Louisville football program has announced changes to its annual CardMarch tradition prior to all home football contests.

Beginning approximately two hours and 15 minutes prior to the announced (example 1:15 p.m. for Sunday’s 3:30 p.m. kickoff), the Cardinals will arrive at a new location for the 2013 season.

The team buses will drop the players off at Floyd Street at the south end of the stadium, which is the entrance to the Bronze D/E lots. After exiting the buses, the team will proceed to enter Gate 4 and then head into the stadium.

Fans are encouraged to arrive early and greet the players with the assistance of the UofL marching band, cheerleaders, and Ladybirds. Fans should take note, if there are any bad weather conditions during the scheduled CardMarch times, that the team will proceed to the back of the Howard Schnellenberger Football Complex and will not travel to the designated CardMarch location.

Attending/Listening/Watching

-The 3:30 Game is sold out.  But we do have a few season ticket packages that individuals have posted on our ‘Tickets’ page. Card fans bought a record number of season tickets for 2013 for a final tally of 45,627.

-As ever, the game will be broadcast  by the Louisville Sports Radio Network with Paul Rogers doing play-by-play, Joe Tronzo providing color, and Doug Ormay from the sidelines.

-The game will also be broadcast by ESPN with Joe Tessitore in the booth with Matt Millen and Mario Taylor on the sidelines.

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@UofLSheriff50. Louisville native, University of Louisville Business School Grad c/o 2004. Co-Founder of TheCrunchZone.com

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