(As an aside, I do a pre-game show outside of the Lindner Center before home games...I'm the guy in the booth across from the lawn where people are bouncing in inflatables and drinking cold beverages. Typically, I have some interesting guests. So far this year I've had on Jim Kelly Jr., Tim Adams and UC Sr. Assoc. AD Andy Hurley. Jim Kelly will join me early again Saturday, followed by Bearcatlair's Tim Adams. After that, John P. Wise of the website www.onegreatseason.com (spending this season going to different match-ups each week--this weekend he's here) and if "Bearcats Rising" author Josh Katzowitz gets parked in time he may stop by (if not you can catch him on this website). Naturally, the talent fees are very handsome and there's often a pretty stiff competition to decide who appears "live". Anyway, we appreciate any attention we get and we're happy to answer questions from the audience and/or guess your age and weight. As always, the throwing of fresh produce at the talent is strongly discouraged.)
Now...the preview (sure, it might have to be amended by the weekend, but I'm putting on the eye-black now!)
WHEN: Homecoming October 24, 2009
WHERE: Homecoming means Nippert (duh!)
KICKOFF: 3:30 (by order of Walt Disney)
THE SERIES: UC leads 26-21-1
LAST TILT: Bearcats win the Keg of Nails at the 'Ville 28-20
This is an odd one. It's Homecoming and everyone should be fired up.
Make no mistake, they are. However, UC fans are fired up over having the #5 ranking in the country. They're fired up to see if Tony Pike can: a) play, and b) continue to roll up passing stats that'll have him in the Heisman conversation.
What they're not fired up for is Louisville. Usually a UC/Louisville match-up is pretty intense.
Now, it seems like the end result is a foregone conclusion. To that I say, "Watch out!"
With quarterback issues and loftier opponents remaining on the schedule, it would be easy for UC to overlook this game. That would be a monumental mistake because the Louisville Cardinals have great offensive skill. Plus, they're not that far removed from being good.
To any Bearcat feeling all fat and sassy about this game, I say remember Elder's Eric Wood holding it up the Keg of Nails and egging on the fans at Nippert after a win two years ago. I say, remember the drubbings that John L. Smith gave you. Remember how Bobby Petrino's squad wiped the field with UC when Gino Guidugli couldn't play with a broken hand one rainy, miserable November afternoon (70-7). Remember the conjured up controversy of disrespecting "the bird" (the Cardinal on the middle of Papajohn's stadium).
Find what gets your motor running and use that to your advantage.
Louisville was once where the Bearcats are at and look how they've dropped. It shows how the mighty can fall. It also shows how difficult it is to maintain greatness.
Regardless of how you feel, this is one of your team's rivals. This is a game that always feels good to win. There's a trophy up for grabs and UC wants to keep it in the Bearcat family next to the Victory Bell and the River City Rivalry.
The funny thing about the Keg of Nails is...there are no nails in it. It pretty much is an empty barrel. Back in the Rick Minter era, it served as a table top for my old school Marantz cassette recorder during some of "Minter's meanderings". When UC lost it back to the 'Ville, I had to improvise and actually hold my recorder.
Prior to the return of the Keg last year, it was almost nowhere to be found in Cardinal country. When UC pulled the upset a few years back in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, they had to send an equipment guy back into their football building to retrieve it. No one knew where it was, and no one thought they'd lose.
Funny how things can take such a dramatic shift in just a few years. Where a few years back, Louisville might've had the Keg locked in a closet with some tackling dummies, now they'd probably storm the sideline as if it were the national championship trophy to get it. The key is to prevent such an embarrassing thing from happening which most certainly would spoil Homecoming for "Bearcat Nation".
How will that be done?
UC's offense vs. Louisville defense
The big question here will be who your Bearcat quarterback is as Tony Pike's departure from the USF game was broadcast to the nation. He returned to practice Monday, but had a surgical procedure Tuesday. So it looks like it will be a gametime decision as to whether or not he'll take shotgun snaps and march the 'Cats downfield in precision-like fashion against Steve Kragthorpe's Cardinals. If not, Brian Kelly's been preparing both Zach Collaros and Chazz Anderson. While he claims it wouldn't alter the game plan, realistically the available plays for the back-ups are reduced. In the end, Kragthorpe doesn't know for sure which quarterback he'll face and Kelly wins the mind game by not revealing his hand and forcing the Cards to be ready for all three. The wild card in this is you don't know whether to prepare for a scrambling quarterback (Collaros) or an empty backfield guy (Pike). I wouldn't be shocked to see both, if not all three in this game and then there's the "Bearcat formation" with Travis Kelce that's been temporarily shelved. Could four quarterbacks take snaps in this one? However it plays out, the Bearcats still have dominant receivers and running backs that can alternate from passing game to ground control. Louisville's defense has given up 31, 30, 35 and 38 points to Kentucky, Utah, Pitt and UConn--all offenses that don't (in my opinion) have the firepower of UC's.
Nod: Too much for the Cards to prepare for, especially when you don't know for sure what you're preparing for. Each game has had it's own little wrinkles.
Louisville offense vs. UC defense
The UC defense has been the unsung hero in a lot of games. Despite not being able to bring down B.J. Daniels at times, they got to him eventually and hurried him enough to impact what USF was trying to do on offense. Louisville has started Adam Froman of late and Justin Burke before that at quarterback, and neither of them comes close to being as "feisty" in the backfield as Daniels was. The Cards do have a couple of good runners in Victor Anderson and Balil Powell (St. X's Darius Ashley hasn't received a lot of carries for a variety of reasons--word is, he's unhappy). Scott Long has been the go-to guy so far among the receivers, and local fans will recognize 6-8 Josh Chichester from Lakota West on the field. I think with UC's improved defensive line play and the maturity of the secondary, the Cardinals could be in for a long day if the 'Cats step it up like they did in the second half at USF. The key to all of this is stopping Anderson in the run game which then forces U of L to focus more on throwing (Froman does OK, but the Louisville pass game pales in comparison to UC's).
Nod: This is a fragile Louisville team that'll need to be shut down early. If not, they do have enough talent to put some points on the board and could keep hanging around.
Jake Rogers took Big East Special Teams Player of the Week honors for his field goals, punts and kickoffs against USF. I'm frankly surprised that Rogers is still punting, given that the redshirt's been burned on freshman Patrick O'Donnell, but Rogers has been fairly consistent with his punting. Mardy Gilyard is always a return threat for UC and probably is about due to break one. On the other side, Louisville's got a good return man in Trent Guy, but I would hope UC's seen enough tape on him to have a plan in place. Ryan Payne's been OK on field goals (7-10) but did blow a couple PAT's last week. Cory Goettsche is the punter and is someone UC fans will hope to see quite a bit Saturday afternoon.
Nod: Good return games for both squads, Rogers is back at home so we'll assume the Big East honors have restored his confidence and he'll be good to go on both ends of the kicking game. With Trent Guy returning kicks, WHERE Rogers deposits his punts and kickoffs will be important.
Throw It Out And See Where It Sticks
At the risk of saying "trap game"...well, I guess it's too late. UC's riding their biggest wave of popularity and has pretty much stolen the Big East football spotlight--a light the folks down I-71 had not all that long ago. THEY were going to the Orange Bowl, and THEY were ranked high. When UC went to play them, the 'Cats were huge underdogs. Now, it's all flipped. As I alluded to before, UC has to drudge up all of the old, unpleasant memories they have of Louisville and use that to their advantage to win this one. Frankly, I'd run the 70-7 drubbing tape over and over to show them the purposeful humiliation that was inflicted upon them that year. I'd haul Craig Carey's brother Collin in to speak to them about how Louisville repeatedly pounded him into the mud. Or, bring in Gino Guidugli who had to watch the waxing since he couldn't play with his hand broken. As a fan, I'll remember that game forever until a UC team administers the same type of beating the Bearcats took there a few times under both Bobby Petrino and John L. Smith. Heck, I even have trouble eating Papa John's pizza to this day!