Louisville’s offense in 2014 has many familiar faces that have returned since 2013. Bobby Petrino has been an offensive dynamo throughout his career in college football and the expectation should be the same here with a great deal of returning talent from the conservative 28th best offense in the nation in 2013.
Of course, Louisville is replacing Teddy Bridgewater, Damian Copeland, Senorise Perry and will be without the services of perhaps the best Wide Receiver in college football. So there is certainly legitimate reason for concern. The good news is that there are weapons on deck for the Cardinals.
Starting with Quarterback Will Gardner (6’5, 226, Soph) the offense is going to rely almost completely on the young shoulders of the Louisville Sophomore. Gardner is an athlete, timed at 4.6 in the 40 and with a canon of an arm Will has all of the tools athletically to handle the job of running this offense. Making great decisions, seeing the plays develop, and understanding schemes in the Petrino system will be his biggest challenge. The great news is that Petrino installed this offense twice in the Spring with Gardner and Will looked fantastic in the Spring Game. The extra time pre-Fall Camp this summer is most certainly going to make a difference for Gardner, but also ALL of college football with new players and new staffs.
Will has an offensive line with 4 starters from last season’s Russell Athletic Bowl in Jamon Brown, Ryan Mack, Jake Smith, and John Miller. But Center Tobijah Hughley has never played a snap of college football and just recently moved from walk-on status to scholarship player. Hughley is the unknown here, but the Cards have A LOT of veteran experience in the returning starters and moving Jake Smith from Center (where he played throughout 2013) improves the Cardinal front 5 by moving Jake into his more natural position.
I believe that the move to guard for Jake Smith is multi-faceted but the end result is a HUGE boost in the Louisville running game potential. Right now it appears that Michael Dyer is ‘questionable’ to play with a thigh contusion suffered on August 16th. The contusion must be ‘severe’ if Michael’s return is still in question 12 days after the original injury but I have a tough time believing that a deep bruise would keep Dyer off the field in the season opener vs. Miami. Petrino has said that Dyer is showing up early in the morning for treatment every day since the injury and doing everything possible to return to action. It would be good to see him on the practice field before the game.
If Dyer can’t go, Louisville has options in a deep & talented backfield. Starting with senior Dominique Brown who led the Cards in rushing last season with 825 yards and 8 Touchdowns, including 42 yards in the Russell Athletic Bowl against Miami. True Freshman LJ Scott is the real deal, and the Cards could be very aggressive with both Brown & Scott against the Miami front 7. Brandon Radcliff & Corvin Lamb also will see action in this group and I expect Lamb to make noise on 3rd downs and in Kick Returns. Without Dyer this group is still very good. With a HEALTHY Dyer this group can be outstanding.
Miami’s Rushing Defense last season was…..well…..less than satisfactory finishing 78th in Rushing Defense and allowing 178.54 yards per game on the ground. Clearly this is a big point of emphasis in this game. Will Louisville be able to exploit the Miami Defense on the ground? Has Miami shored up their deficiencies in stopping the run?
The Canes are switching to a 3-4 defense to better accommodate their athletes and they found right away their Nose Guard in Calvin Heurtelou (6-3, 315, Jr.) who joined the Canes in January from Scottsdale CC. Calvin has lost 25 pounds since joining Miami and the Canes are depending on him to hold the point of attack and allowing STUD linebacker Denzel Perryman (6-0, 242, Sr) to run free and make plays.
I spoke with Perryman at the ACC Media Kickoff in Greensboro prior to the season and he told me that he believes that Miami has made the necessary changes to improve on defense significantly. Denzel passed up entering the NFL Draft in 2014 to return to Miami after essentially being a lone wolf on the Cane defense in 2013 that finished 90th in the nation.
Defensive End Anthony Chickillo (6-4, 282, Sr) does return with 46 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, and 3.5 sacks from 2013. Chickillo had just 2 tackles in the RAB and will be backed up by highly touted freshman & former Louisville target Chad Thomas. Olsen Pierre (6-5, 300, Sr.) will also factor in the middle rotation, returning with 33 tackles and playing in all 13 games in 2013. Al-Quadin Muhammad (6-4, 245, So.) appears to have won the rush end spot in Fall Camp returns to Miami after just 8 tackles last season. Tyriq McCord would figure to beat out Muhammad instead as he at least at 13 tackles and 4 sacks off the bench last season and freshman Trent Harris may also be an answer here. Beyond Chickillo, Miami is S-E-A-R-C-H-I-N-G for a productive group of players they can count on. There are bodies here, but not a history of production in this group. Young players and new blood was much needed here, but it is also one of the reasons why the Canes are switching to a 3-4…it’s one less problem to solve.
As mentioned before Miami DOES have linebackers. Perryman is legit and must be accounted for in every play. Because Miami’s defensive line really couldn’t handle Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl, Perryman was limited to just 4 tackles with no superlatives despite the Canes defense being on the field for 38:32 of the game! If Miami can’t keep Louisville’s guards & centers from getting downhill and reaching Perryman it will be a LONG night for Miami and the Cards won’t need a passing game to win their 3rd straight over the Hurricanes.
But as poorly as Miami stopped the run in 2013, the passing defense was worse. Miami allowed 249.8 yards per game in 2013, 92nd in the nation. Tracy Howard, Deon Bush, and Ladarius Gunter return for the Canes after starting the Russell Athletic Bowl. Miami lost both of their 2nd & 3rd tacklers behind Denzel, with the most productive returning player after Perryman on defense is senior CB LaDarius Gunter with just 46 tackles and 3 INTs including 6 tackles and 3 pass break-ups in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
But Miami doesn’t really need returning players from a bad passing defense. They NEED fresh blood to find playmakers who can actually make a difference in pass defense. Corn Elder has broken into the starting group, and Antonio Crawford and Artie Burns both also return from a year ago. Burns you might remember as ‘the guy DeVante stood over’.
Speaking of DeVante Parker, he’s out after a broken 5th metatarsal sidelined him 6-8 weeks (starting after his surgery on Monday 8/26). Louisville’s….and perhaps College Football’s best Wide Receiver will miss the season opener against the Canes. To help the running attack the Cards MUST stretch the field. Kai De La Cruz will certainly step into the Parker’s role, but James Quick MUST fulfill his potential to help the Louisville passing game.
Miami is likely to play a great deal of man coverage. Historically when that happens Bobby Petrino likes to run the football and work crossing routes with guys like Eli Rogers, Michaelee Harris, and Gerald Christian. Petrino also likes to run off a side (either with a stretch or leave a side empty with a crossing pattern) and throw to the back in the flat. Also in these situations it will be interesting to see how much of a Green Light Will Gardner has to take off and run.
If Miami fails to pressure Will Gardner, it will be a long day for Miami. If Miami can create pressure on Will and limit the Louisville rushing attack they have a chance to slow down this Louisville offense. But it all starts with the new Miami defensive front.
Last season, Miami’s biggest problem on defense was that they just could not get off the field on 3rd down, finishing 90th in the country in Opponent 3rd Down Conversions allowing 42.42%. As a result, the Hurricanes were one of the worst Time of Possession teams in the nation controlling the ball just an average of 25:58 (120th). In addition, Miami’s 2nd best defensive player last season was Punter Pat O’Donnell who reversed fields with a super impressive leg, Miami was one of the worst punt coverage teams in the nation last year however, allowing 12.25 yards per return (110th).
Bobby Petrino is an offensive mastermind. He’s had plenty of time to get his guys up to speed and despite some injuries to some top play-makers the Cards have replacements who are highly regarded. Unless Miami is greatly improved on defense from a year ago, this is a big….BIG advantage for the Cards.
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