Posted: 5:59 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013
Louisville stands at 4-0 for the second straight season. Expectations were unbelievably high for the team as it started the season with its highest preseason record ever. The Cardinals have flat out delivered on those expectations. The offense has made plenty of big plays while controlling the ball just how Charlie Strong likes to. The defense has been absolutely suffocating against the run and the pass and more active than we've seen since Strong and his staff have been on campus. We as fans have been left to nitpick kickoff coverage and point spreads because there really isn't much else to complain about.
Unit by unit, lets look at how everyone is doing this year:
What can I say about Teddy Bridgewater that hasn't already been said? The young man is everything you want in a starting QB. Young Theodore has started this season about as well as he could. He's showcased his entire game while protecting the ball and utilizing his ridiculous group of receivers very well. Teddy has looked much more aggressive this year which is something that this offense has needed for the past few years. Being able to hit short to intermediate plays and matriculate the ball down the field is all well and good, but this offense has the weapons to be fearsome and we are finally seeing why.
Teddy has always had a great trust in Eli Rogers as we all know. That trust is now being shown in DeVante Parker and Damian Copeland, as well as Robert Clark and Gerald Christian. That takes tons of work during the summer and tons of time watching film. We all know Teddy is a film junky, but the explosion in the passing game shows that he's expected the same from his receivers and these guys are just killing it. Competition level will always be brought up, but we have seen top teams struggle with the same level of competition all around the country. Teddy was motivated to prove something this year and he has been nearly flawless so far.
Will Gardner is has gotten the opportunity to showcase why Nick Saban wanted him before his injury in high school. Gardner is much more mobile than most kids with his size and he has already shown that he can run the same offense that Teddy has been running with no real issues. Will has come out and said that he knows that he is playing behind the best player in the nation and he is learning as much as he can. I think it is safe to say that we are in pretty good hands going into the ACC next year. I'd honestly go as far to say that the offense would be fine this season if Teddy would suffer an injury. I don't think I could say that before the season.
I'll start by apologizing to Corvin Lamb for hyping him up this summer. I did the same to Gerod Holliman last year and you see how that went, too. Lamb tore his ACL in the first game of the season and left Louisville will still the deepest backfield in the conference, and arguably the nation. Senorise Perry took a little time to regain his confidence but he has now gotten back to running hard off tackle and blowing by people like we saw last year. Michael Dyer has shown flashes of the great things he did while he was at Auburn, but its fairly obvious that he is still getting accustomed to the blocking schemes of the offense. Dyer has had a handful of runs that have ended with him running into a lineman instead of running off of the block that the lineman was making. I think we all tend to forget just how long he was out of football. We can all see that he is rounding back into game mode, though. Dominique Brown has been relegated to the low man on the totem pole so to speak and he responded to that by breaking off the longest run of his career last week.
Players at this level thrive for competition. Some more than others, but almost all of them welcome the challenge these backs have for playing time. Brown was the guy that I saw as the best suited for the crowded backfield. He has the size and ability to be the best pass blocker and he's shown good hands in the past. But Perry has rightfully earned the most touches this season. He battled back from an ACL tear in unbelievable time and he has run extremely hard once he got going. Perry has the best blend of size and power out of the three backs and he has shown that he didn't lose a step. I think Dyer will turn it on in the next few weeks, but I am not a part of the camp that thinks that he will take away from Perry's carries. It's a great problem to have though, huh?
When you land a 5-star receiver that did the ridiculous things that James Quick did in high school and he can't even get first team reps, your wide receivers might be decent. Louisville's group of receivers have absolutely killed it so far. DeVante Parker, Damian Copeland, Eli Rogers, Robert Clark, and Kai Dominguez have all scored at least one touchdown as well as having at least one catch of 25 yards or more. These guys are all pretty much interchangeable and they are showing their versatility every game. Parker is not just a jump ball guy in the redzone. He's running slant routes, deep crosses, along with deep balls. Clark scored on a wheel route this year. Rogers scored on a deep post last week. Ron Dugans deserves credit for having all of his guys ready to do whatever is asked of them at a given time.
I hope all of our fans are enjoying the show DeVante Parker is putting on right now. I doubt we will get to see it next year. Parker was already being heralded as a mid-to-late round draft pick going into the season, and he has only elevated his status. Parker has been able to show off his freakish athleticism on a couple of impressive fade routes, but its the route running and his ability to gain yards after the catch that was really an unknown outside of the Cardinal fanbase. He, as well as Copeland, have really taken advantage of the opportunity in front of them and I really see both of them having a monster game later this season.
Gerald Christian has pretty much lived up to the expectations we as fans placed on him. He has caught absolutely everything thrown his way. He has used his speed and quickness to get himself open time and time again, and he has been very good when asked to block. Shawn Watson has done a beautiful job of mixing up how he utilizes Christian. He has used him in the quick passes he calls on first and second downs as well as putting him up the seam to hold safeties and free up space for the receivers outside. This guy is the complete package and I see him being a vital redzone target when as teams continue to double Parker as the season goes on.
Ryan Hubbell hasn't gotten as many targets as the rest of the pass catchers in the offense, but he has been the best blocker by far. Hubbell is an undersized guy that didn't get as much playing time as expected last year because he just couldn't block anyone. That is not at all the case this year. He is doing a great job with his kick out blocks as well as his double teams with the tackles. Just another example of a guy showing great improvement from one year to the next.
A large chunk of our fans have been pretty critical of the offensive line play due to the inconsistent running game. Realistically, the line deserves some credit. The running game is averaging two more yards per carry than it did for the full season last year. Two positions on the line have had guys swapping out for most of the season so far also. The line has been far from great and we all know that, but the blame can't all be placed on them. Senorise Perry took a little time to gain his confidence. Dom Brown didn't really look like the guy we saw in the spring game until week four. Michael Dyer is still not completely comfortable with the blocking schemes. However you look at it though, the Cards rank 31st in yards per carry, and they are third in least amount of yards lost. The line is doing a much better job than last year and it has improved greatly over the last seven quarters.
The pass blocking this year has been absolutely superb. Teddy has only been sacked three times this year and two of those sacks were because of blown assignments by Ryan Mack and Nacho Garcia, respectively. Louisville's pass protection was atrocious at times last year and it has made a complete turnaround. Teddy and Will have been able to step into clean pockets on almost every drop back and they have both been able to extend plays without being rushed. If the line can keep pass blocking like they have so far, Teddy and this offense will be hard to slow down.
The starting defensive line is finally completely healthy at the same time. Lorenzo Mauldin, Brandon Dunn, Roy Philon, and Marcus Smith have been playing out of this world so far and they have set a great tone for the rest of the defense. Dunn and Philon have been living in the opposing backfield every game and they have done a great job of keeping the linebackers free to make plays. Mauldin was hit by a car right before the season started and still has four sacks on the year. Smith has been lined up all over the place and he has used his athleticism to make plays from all over the field. Smith has been standing up more often this year and he has lined up anywhere from outside the tight end, to right next to Preston Brown. The starters go into the Temple game with a solid chance of matching their combined totals from last year in sacks and tackles for loss. That's why you've seen such better team defensive stats this year.
James Burgess has made the "leap" we sometimes see from a players freshman year to his sophomore year and its been a lot of fun to watch. Teddy and Calvin Pryor both made that leap last year and both put up gaudy stats. Burgess has been flying all over the field making play after play. He honestly looks like a man possessed out there. I know its cliche to say that, but he just looks relaxed and free. Just playing on instincts. Here's the kicker though. He's not even having the best year out of the group. That would be Preston Brown. Brown has stepped his game up more than I could have ever imagined. He is seeing the field better than he ever has and it has resulted in him making a ton of plays behind the line. Brown has made it nearly impossible to run the ball between the tackles. He and Burgess are just stoning everything inside right now.
George Durant has manned the Sam linebacker spot so far this year with Keith Brown being out. But, the story outside of Burgess and Brown has really been true freshman Keith Kelsey. Kelsey is one of the few incoming freshman to play significant minutes over the past two years and it is easy to see why. Kelsey has gone from garbage time minutes to running with the first team in spot duty in just three weeks. He is 6th on the team with 17 tackles right now and he has played all three linebacker spots so far. We should be in decent shape next year from a depth standpoint.
To be completely honest, these guys haven't even been tested yet. Louisville has only had 46 passes completed against them. There are different reasons for the number being so low, but a major reason is because of the pressure the front seven is bringing. Calvin Pryor and Hakeem Smith have been solid as usual, as has Terrell Floyd. The newcomers of the group have really stepped up and made some plays, though. Charles Gaines has overtaken Jermaine Reve at the opposite corner spot and he already has an interception and 2 pass break ups. Gerod Holliman is finally healthy and he has locked down the nickel back spot. Holliman has gotten more than enough hype from me, but I really do think that the added depth of these two guys will be needed later in the season. Reve and Andrew Johnson were support players last year and having depth against a team like Houston that really likes to run as many plays as possible will be huge. Not to mention teams like Rutgers and Cincinnati, that have a few really good receivers.
The kickoff coverage has left a lot to be desired. We all know that and the criticism has been warranted. I, however, don't agree with most when I lump all special teams together and say "they've been bad". Our field goal and punting units have been exceptional. John Wallace is nearly perfect and Ryan Johnson is booming the ball this year. Johnson would be 8th in the country in punting if he had enough attempts. The coverage unit ranks 25th in net punting so far, also. Statistically its hard to complain about too much with the special teams. It can be better obviously, but if we as fans are left to complain about one or two units of special teams, I'll take that.