This weekend will be a brand new experience for Kentucky football; it is facing a rival at home with a new coach, new philosophies, and an explosive new offensive attack. Things are looking up, but just how far up? Sure, Western Kentucky was a “rivalry” game and it didn't pan out, and the offense dominated the game against Miami, but now it’s time to put it all together in a complete 60 minute game. It will truly be a trial by fire in this one, because nobody really knows what kind of performance the team will output
: play like it did against Western and the game will be over in the 1st quarter. But play more like it did against Miami and it’ll be a high-scoring affair that could get interesting. Win or lose, Big Blue Nation will learn a lot about its football program tomorrow.
Teddy Bridgewater (QB) —
We all know it’s the Teddy Brigewater Show for the Louisville Cardinals offense. He is posed to be the No. 1 quarterback taken in the NFL Draft, and his numbers so far have backed that up. He was one of the top passers in 2012, and this season is likely to be even bigger and better. If there is one weak link to success of Bridgewater it is his offensive line. It isn’t one to cause serious concern for the U of L contingent, but the pass rushing attack from Kentucky could do some damage to Bridgewater if the O-line, which lost two of its best linemen last season, is bogged down early
. With time in the pocket, Bridgewater is lethal.
Bridgewater enters the game throwing at a 76.7 percent clip with nine touchdowns to just one interception. He is averaging almost 13-yards per attempt to a host of high caliber wide outs, including his favorite targets, DeVante Parker and Damian Copeland.
Senorise Perry (RB) —
Coming off a torn ACL from last season, the Cardinals run game gets even better with his return and the addition of Auburn castaway Michael Dyer. Again, a suspect offensive line could temper the high expectations of Perry this season, but against Kentucky’s less-than-stellar defense, he will likely get his yards. Perry leads the Louisville three-headed rushing game with 94 yards on 26 carries, but junior Dominique Brown has 53 yards on 13 carries, and Dyer has added 70 yards on 11 carries. Each has a mixture of speed and power, and will surely be rotated in and out regularly against the Cats.
While the trio of tailbacks are all proven effective, none are poised to breakout against Kentucky. Bridgewater will be Bridgewater, and the running game for the Cards should take a backseat. And because the secondary is so thin for the Cats, it is likely that becomes exploited somewhere along the way. Perry, Brown, and Dyer are all solid backs, but Kentucky needs to key on Bridgewater — for obvious reasons.
Calvin Pryor (FS) —
The Louisville defense is overshadowed by the Bridgewater Show, and rightfully so. The Cardinals defense was not very good a season ago, but it should be much improved this time around. Nine starters return from 2012 that saw the Cards finish last in the Big East in sacks and tackles for loss. Calvin Pryor is an All-Conference defensive back and one of the leaders of the defense. He could see plenty of action if Kentucky goes all-out with the Air Raid.
Last season Pryor’s 100 tackles ranked second on the team behind linebacker Preston Brown
. He added two interceptions and seven passes defended. With the loss of Adrian Bushell, Pryor is now the top defensive back on the team.
WHO GETS BEAT
Kentucky’s defense will have to put forth an extraordinary effort against Louisville if it is going to be a game. For the millionth time: Teddy Bridgewater is good. He will not be the only elite quarterback this Wildcats defense will face this season, so they might as well get used to it. Pass rush has to be on point, and the coverage cannot afford to slip. Bridgewater can scramble and make things happen, so the secondary cannot bite if the play looks
dead. Keep an eye out for plenty of blitzing against the Cards, and attempts to find the biggest holes in the offensive line. Constant pressure against Bridgewater is the only way Louisville won’t move the ball effectively
. Simply sitting back and playing a soft zone will not work. Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot and his unit have to get after it with their best game yet.
Charlie Strong and his offense are in a great position of forcing Kentucky into a pick your poison battle. Clearly the game plan to stop the passing attack is pressure, but what about over-pursuit? The running backs have been mentioned and are well above average. Some simple draw plays or screen passes could be more than enough to slip through what could be an overly-aggressive Kentucky defense. U of L offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has an arsenal at his disposal, and though it may not be his preference, the team could easily go to a full-blown ground and pound against the Cats, or throw in just enough misdirection to draw the secondary in and beat them over the top.
The Air Raid was utilized beyond what many fans thought was capable in the second game of the season, as Max Smith and Jalen Whitlow combined for a staggering 413 passing yards to go along with the ground attack of JoJo Kemp, Raymond Sanders, Ryan Timmons, Jonathan George, and Whitlow to the tune of 262 yards. Yes, Miami is bad, but no, Joker Phillips and Co. would not have had that kind of output
. It’s a good thing what the team demonstrated, and the offense is clearly more motivated and better coached. Duplicating that game plan will be the idea, but expecting the same results is unrealistic. Establishing the ground game is crucial for success in the Air Raid, especially with as good a secondary as Louisville has. Look for plenty more of the dual-quarterback looks, and Whitlow to be utilizing his legs.
What can you say about Louisville’s offense that hasn’t already been said? Bridgewater, Bridgewater, Bridgewater. He has plenty of wide outs to throw to, and a host of running backs to hand it off too. And if he feels like it, he can take off and run with it too. Don’t expect the U of L attack to look to running the ball too much, as it surely expects to be able to throw all over the Wildcats secondary. If, by some miracle, the UK secondary performs above what many think, however, clearly the ground game will mash its way forward. After all, the team with the most rushing yards has won the Governor’s Cup the last 16 years straight.