WHAT: The Battle for the Keg of Nails between UC and Louisville
WHAT'S IN THE KEG: (Don't tell anyone...nothing!)
WHEN: Friday night lights on ESPN at 8.
WHERE: Papa John's Cardinal Stadium
SERIES: 27-21-1 in favor of UC
LAST GAME: UC won 41-10 at Nippert last year
The first thing you notice about the 2010 Louisville Cardinals under new head coach Charlie Strong is they're better. After a disappointing 4-8 season under Steve Kragthorpe (which led to his eventual firing) Louisville AD Tom Jurich raided Urban Meyer's staff at Florida and chose the Gators defensive coordinator as the next head coach of the Cardinals.
So far, Strong's men have a 3-2 mark and their most impressive game may have been a loss. Going to always tough Oregon State, like the Bearcats did last year, the 'Ville came away with a 35-28 loss in a game that many had penciled in as a blowout.
Strong has also made his presence known in the Tri-State area as Louisville continues to filter in and snare the occasional recruit that bypasses UC for the trip down 71 by way of the Gene Snyder and/or the Watterson Expressway.
For UC to continue to hold serve in this series, this infiltration MUST stop.
The list of Cardinals with area ties are as follows: Fr. LB Preston Brown from Northwest; Jr. DT Greg Scruggs from St. Xavier; Soph. CB Darius Ashley from St. Xavier; Fr. QB Dominique Brown from Winton Woods; Jr. TE Josh Chichester from Lakota West; Fr. CB Jordan Paschal from Trotwood-Madison; Jr. LB C.J. Peake from Trotwood-Madison; Soph. RB James Miller of Covington, KY; Fr. LB Tyon Dixon of Colerain; Sr. G Mark Wetterer from Anderson; Soph. TE Stephon Ball from St. Xavier; Jr. TE Zach Meagher from Glen Este; Soph. DT Drew Davis from Beechwood; Jr. DE Zach Kiernan from Newport Central Catholic; and Jr. P Josh Bleser from Covington Catholic.
Certainly Louisville's had a decent program in the last decade or so, but for UC to continue to fare well they simply can't let anyone wearing red with a beak on it near the 275 beltway.
Enough of Scott's soapbox, let's move onto the Keg, shall we?
This is a trophy so little respected by Louisville in 2002 (when UC knocked'em off 24-14) that they had to send an equipment guy into find it. Then-coach John L. Smith was so sure of victory that he didn't even bother bringing it on the field.
From there, it's gained in respect from Louisville as after their last win (2007 at Nippert in Brian Kelly's first year) Cardinals center Eric Wood paraded it up and down the sidelines rubbing UC's nose in it. (That coming from a local Elder kid too!)
That didn't sit right with me as a fan and I know the coaching staff didn't care for it as UC's come back to win at Louisville with gimpy Dustin Grutza making plays for an injured Tony Pike and win at Nippert as Zach Collaros lit'em up like a Christmas tree last year.
Alas, it's another year. Collaros doesn't have the same personnel or numbers but still has an arsenal of weapons that can score at will when clicking. Louisville has a "Strong"-er team and the usually reliable home field advantage.
So, who does the nailing?
UC OFFENSE VS. LOUISVILLE DEFENSE
Minus the injured Tony Pike, Zach Collaros had his way with Louisville's secondary last year throwing just two incompletions (15-17, 253 yards and three TDs). Collaros surely is capable of that precision again, but now has the added running threat of Isaiah Pead as #23 is now more of a focal point of the offense. The upside for UC's backs is that George Winn might be the most worn out of the group after 19 lugs and he's third-string! Both Pead and Goebel's workdays were pretty much done at halftime after 10 carries apiece (197 yards for Pead, 68 for Goebel). That type of a running game can only open up passing lanes for D.J. Woods and Armon Binns to run crazy. Heck, Ben Guidugli was even located and found the endzone. A healthy Guidugli at TE combined with the talented wideouts and backs gives Charlie Strong a collection of talent that he really didn't see on all cylinders last January as Florida's defensive coordinator in the Sugar Bowl.
Collaros will have to look out for Sr. DE Rodney Gnat (who's just a tad bigger than that at 6-3, 253). Gnat leads the 'Ville in TFL and sacks. S Shenard Holton is the team's tackling leader and CB Johnny Patrick has picked off a pair of passes. While the Cardinal defense "threw a shutout" against Memphis last week, the Tigers are reportedly horrific. Also, despite hanging with Oregon State in Corvallis, the Beavers did put 35 on the toteboard in the win.
NOD: Based on the last two games, UC's offense is beginning to gel. Plus, there's the extra motivation of showing Strong that they're much stronger as a unit than what he saw in the Superdome back in January.
LOUISVILLE OFFENSE VS. UC DEFENSE
Memphis or not, 56 points is nothing to sneeze at, and the 28 scored at Oregon State is also impressive. On the other hand, of Sr. Adam Froman's nine TD passes, four of them came last week. Ditto Sr. RB Bilal Powell who racked up 204 of his rushing yards (689) against the Tigers. Powell's been pretty consistent and he's someone UC didn't see much of last year, with the bulk of the running going to Darius Ashley and Victor Anderson. Ashley (St. X) is now a CB and Anderson's second-string.
Louisville does have some good receivers led by Sr. Doug Beaumont and Jr. JUCO Josh Bellamy. At TE, Cameron Graham has been a target and there's always 6-8 Josh Chichester (Lakota West) to watch out for with his massive height advantage.
UC will have to pressure Froman to be successful and Derek Wolfe and Dan Giordano have both been successful of late at sneaking through. JK Schaffer and Maalik Bomar's assignment will be to slobber-knocker Bilal Powell and/or Victor Anderson should Louisville try to pound the ball.
NOD: Holding Powell below 100 yards is crucial playing in Louisville's stadium. Also, a pick or two vs. Froman would go a long way toward messing with his confidence. Any momentum changers like that take the crowd out of the game which is crucial. Back in the day at Papa John's (under Smith and Petrino) the Louisville faithful could make itself heard, especially if you were heading toward the closed end of the stadium.
Louisville's receivers Beaumont and Bellamy are the primary return men, while D.J. Woods has the dual function for UC. All are capable of the big return, but none have broken free yet. The Cardinals punter is local product Josh Bleser out of Covington Catholic. Kicking is Jr. Chris Philpott who's made 5-6 and all 20 PATs.
The Bearcat kickoffs have all but ruled out long returns as Jake Rogers consistently hits the endzone. Patrick O'Donnell has a better leg than Bleser.
NOD: The return games are even. UC's got some fresh faces on the "gunner units" plus veteran Orion Woodard is a name you usually hear called every week on a special teams tackle. Placekicking goes to U of L's Philpott at home, although I can't recall the last UC/Louisville game that's came down to kicking.
THINGS TO THROW ON YOUR PIZZA
Admittedly, I'm a little biased and still not a huge fan of Papa John himself as I remember the Papajohns.com Bowl (which he's since pulled out of) when he came to the radio booth with some handlers assumably to be interviewed. When he found out he was supposed to be in the TV booth and NOT the radio booth, he left and barely acknowledged our existence. Guess which pizza I don't eat now?
IF UC is fortunate enough to jump out to a huge halftime lead like last week (and I would think this would be more competitive) I would recommend to Butch Jones to lay the hammer down in half #2. For anyone that remembers the 70-7 drubbing UC took in the rain a few years back when QB Gino Guidugli was hurt, the Cardinals DID NOT back down. Matter of fact, John L. Smith and Bobby Petrino were notorious for humiliating their opponents and I find them both classless. Not that Coach Jones will text me at the half, but I would keep scoring until the scoreboard exploded.
This is a Big East game and the Big East early on appears to be wide open. The Bearcats have made great strides in their play in the last two games and if they continue to improve you logically could see them in the same league position at the end of the year. This game will test UC's consistency. If they come out with a similar effort to the Oklahoma and Miami (OH) games, then a wave of optimism should take over.
Such optimism and support is needed as the Bearcats host a Friday game themselves the following week against South Florida. Success or not, selling another brand of football on Friday nights in Cincinnati is almost sacrilegious in a town known for it's prep football pride. Fortunately, the marketing staff did an outstanding job of selling season tickets over the summer to offset those that might opt for bleacher seat and "split the pot" in the 'burbs.
Either way, your attendance is anticipated and appreciated be it here or Louisville. A word of warning too: the Kentucky Highway Patrol is usually WELL AWARE OF when there's a football game played in Louisville or Lexington that Ohioans might attend.
Ju$t a thought.....