Scouting the Louisville Cardinals
Sept. 17, 2009
Every Thursday prior to a Kentucky football game, Cat Scratches will provide an in-depth scouting breakdown on the Cats' opponent. Cat Scratches will provide UK fans keys to the game, players to watch for and analysis on the upcoming game in a quick-hit fashion. Want to know what's in store for the Cats? Cat Scratches will be the place to be every Thursday.
The skinny on Louisville
The Cardinals opened the season with a 30-10 win over Indiana State, and like Kentucky, had an open date last Saturday.
Now comes the chance for third-year head coach Steve Kragthorpe to make a statement. After a setback in 2008, Kragthorpe's team has a chance for his first win over Kentucky since taking of the reins of the Louisville program. No U of L team has lost three in a row to Kentucky since the Governor's Cup was renewed in 1994, so the goal for this year's Cards is to end the two-game losing streak.
Although there are a lot of new faces on Louisville's team this season, the Cardinals aren't short on talent. Playmakers are plentiful at the wide receiver and running back positions, and U of L's defense was mighty impressive in its season opener. Behind first-year defensive coordinator Brent Guy, the Cards surrendered just 101 total yards, including a measly 19 on the ground.
If nothing else, this U of L team could be hungrier than the previous two. The Cards lost their stranglehold on the series two years ago on Steve Johnson's dramatic late touchdown, and last year the Cats defense led the way to victory. Redemption is on the minds of the Cards, and sometimes that's more than enough.
Keys to the game
One of the more intriguing storylines of Saturday's game will be the return of local product Justin Burke. The former record-breaking Lexington Catholic star will be making his second career start at quarterback in a rivalry he grew up in the middle of for the Louisville Cardinals.
Obviously, a lot of the spotlight will be shining on him. In his first career start two weeks ago, the N.C. State transfer got out of the gates slowly, going 1-for-8 to start the contest. However, Burke rebounded to finish 17-of-31 for 223 yards.
Does Steve Brown and Co. sit back and force Burke to beat them, or does the UK defense pin its ears back and try to put pressure on the talented junior gunslinger? Rich Brooks wasn't overly pleased with the up-field pressure UK got on Miami (Ohio) in the opener - which, in part, could be due to the fact that the Cats started two new ends on the defensive line - so it should be interesting to see how UK's defense plans to attack.
Making a team one dimensional is often a key to a defensive victory, but trying to force U of L into running the ball might not be the best option. Tailback Victor Anderson has emerged as one of the Big East's best running backs after just one year in the collegiate ranks, and Bilal Powell chips in to give Louisville one of the most underrated 1-2 running back punches in the nation. In Louisville's first game, the tandem combined for 169 yards and three touchdowns.
A key matchup will be U of L's talented wide receiving corps of Doug Beaumont, Scott Long, Trent Guy and Josh Chichester against UK's stingy defensive secondary. Behind the play of preseason All-American Trevard Lindley, UK gave up only 126 total yards in the air to the RedHawks. Of course, as impressive as the ballyhooed "D" was - UK recorded its first shutout in 13 years - the jury is still out after Miami failed to score in its second outing of the season.
Flipping to the other side of the ball, keep your eyes glued on Randall Cobb and the Wildcat formation. College football's newest fad has made its way into Lexington, but no one in the country may have run it better in week one than Kentucky - after all, it is named the "Wildcat" formation. In three plays from the Wildcat package, the Cats scored two untouched touchdowns.
One of those came from the dynamic Cobb. It's quickly become apparent that Cobb is UK's most versatile and dangerous player on offense whether he's at wide receiver or playing quarterback in the Wildcat. Will we see more of the wildly successful formation? Brooks joked around early last week that he unveiled very little in the season opener, but does that necessarily mean more plays from the Wildcat? One reason the package is so successful is because of its unpredictability and amount of usage. If UK uses it too much, it could become easier to plan for and defend.
Quarterback Mike Hartline received nothing short of an A-plus in the first start of the season, so how will U of L counter after his triumphant opener? Things have become significantly easier for Hartline now that he has game-changer in Cobb and a human stilt in Chris Matthews split out to the sides. But has Hartline done enough in his career to convince Kragthorpe and his staff that UK can beat U of L in the air alone? Probably not.
One of the reasons UK's aerial attack worked so efficiently against Miami is because of UK's balanced stable of running backs. Derrick Locke, Alfonso Smith, Moncell Allen, Coshik Williams and Donald Russell were all very impressive in Paul Brown Stadium, and UK's total rushing yards fell just short of 250. Jon Dempsey and the U of L running defense were impressive against Indiana State by allowing just 19 yards on the ground, but expect Kragthorpe to put an extra player or two in the box to make UK one dimensional. If they do that, look for balls over the top to Matthews and Cobb.
And finally, the kickoff coverage will remain a key component to UK's game for the foreseeable future. Brooks did his best Jim Mora impression at Monday's news conference when he once again voiced his concerns about UK's kickoff unit. After Lones Seiber booted the opening kickoff to the 2-yard line in week one, UK barely got one past the 10. That puts a lot of pressure on the kickoff coverage, and against stronger teams like U of L, it could haunt the Cats.
Keep an eye on...
Justin Burke/QB/Junior/No. 13
Justin Burke put up record numbers at Lexington Catholic High School, where, according to Brooks, he threw for "nine million yards," and all eyes in the Bluegrass will be on the local product. The majority of his family has UK blue in its veins, but Burke transferred to Louisville after a season at N.C. State.
Scott Long/WR/Senior/No. 84
Long can, well, go long. He gives the Cards a deep threat, a dimension they didn't have last season after Long went down with a season-ending knee injury. The senior wide out rebounded in his first game in nearly a year with four catches for 68 yards.
Victor Anderson/RB/Sophomore/No. 20
Pound for pound as good of a running back as UK will face all season. The reigning Big East Freshman of the Year possesses game-breaking ability, and Brooks sounded highly concerned about his ability to take it to the house on any given play. Anderson ran for 93 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries against Indiana State.
Trevard Lindley/CB/Senior/No. 32
You can have Eric Berry of Tennessee, Joe Haden from Florida or Taylor Mays of Southern California. I'll take Trevard Lindley. I'm as convinced as ever that he's not only the best cover cornerback in the nation, but the best defensive back out there. Miami rarely threw his way, but when it did, the ball-hawking Lindley was almost always there to break it up. His only knock so far is his inability to capitalize on interceptions. Although he picked off one and took it to the house in Paul Brown Stadium, he could have had at least two others.
Randall Cobb/WR/Sophomore/No. 18
As mentioned above, Cobb is the most dynamic and versatile player on UK's roster. The sophomore do-everything caught seven balls for a career-high 96 yards and a touchdown in the opener. Cobb also added 11 yards and a score on the ground, marking the first time in his career he's scored a receiving and rushing touchdown in the same game.
Derrick Locke/RB/Junior/No. 20
UK is going to need its stable of running backs this season, but Derrick Locke could emerge as the home run threat. Any questions about his knee should vanish after an explosive season opener. Locke ran eight times for 61 yards and a score, but more importantly, he looked faster and shiftier than ever.
What's on the line for UK
A Kentucky Governor's Cup first. Since the rivalry was renewed in 1994, no UK team has ever beaten Louisville three times in a row. Not even three years ago, Louisville was considered the premier program in the state. That title still remains in the balance, but a third straight UK victory would certainly tip the scales the Cats' way.
One thing Brooks and his team knows, though, is just how quickly the tide can turn. As quickly as Steve Johnson and the Cats changed their fortunes two years ago with the dramatic upset in Commonwealth Stadium, U of L could do the same back.
It's hard to tab a rivalry game, especially one as special and as even as the Governor's Cup, a must-win game, but UK needs a victory in Saturday's game. With Florida, Alabama and trips to South Carolina and Auburn on the horizon, wins could be hard to come by in the next few weeks.