Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Take The Fifth: Q&A With Louisville Bloggers

OK, I had to change a couple words, but it aint that far off. I recently sat down with Louisville bloggers Mike from The Card Chronicle and Butch from Before I Get Old to talk about this Thursday night's game between the Mountaineers and Cardinals and how they are liking the new Big East.

JR- I've told Butch before that I couldn't be happier that Louisville is in the Big East, and from what I can see most Mountaineer fans feel the same way. It gives the Big East added respectability to have another marquee name. What has been your experience since joining the Big East?

MIKE- Well we’re the number five team in the country (our highest ranking of all-time), and we’re about to host the number three team in the country with the entire nation looking on; I’d say we’re enjoying life in the Big East.

We got knocked off our high horse pretty quickly last year in both football and basketball, but I think things like playing in that epic game in Morgantown last year, and taking part in the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden gave our guys and our fans a taste of what we can look forward to over the next several decades. Football seems to be at least in the process of finally clicking with the city, and just last week the school released plans to expand Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium from 42,000 to 63,000 seats.

Although football and basketball were a bit of a disappointment, Louisville had a pretty successful first season away from the gridiron and hardwood. The Cards played for eight Big East championships, and fielded 12 different squads that were nationally ranked at some point during their respective season. This led to U of L finishing 50th in this past year’s Director’s Cup standings, our highest ranking ever.

So, yeah, I guess what I’m getting at is that we dig the Big East.

BUTCH- John, as I've said before, Louisville feels blessed to be in the Big
East. We feel that we are finally in a legitimate conference we can be
proud of. We are greatful. I wish you could have seen the 'Moving to
the Big East' celebration held downtown last year. There were more
than 7,000 fans that attended the outdoor event. And it was held at 5PM
on a weekday when most people are just trying to make their way home.

JR- It speaks a lot about the strength of you program when you can continue to win despite loosing some of the key pieces to the puzzle. How has Louisville survived all the injuries this year? What positions have been surprises that have made up for the injuries?

MIKE- The depth at positions like quarterback and running back have obviously played more than a small role, but more than anything I think it’s been a combination of how well our defense has played and the fact that we’ve played a lot of teams that are offensively challenged.

Co-Defensive Coordinators Mike Cassity and Kevin Wolthausen have adopted a scheme that entails bringing pressure on nearly every play, and the end result of this is that we’re leading the nation in sacks and are ranked 22nd in total defense. The scheme relies heavily on the quickness of our linebackers and safeties, and the ability of our corners to get the job done when they’re put out on that proverbial island. I suppose you can either attribute the success to speed and skill, or to the more humbling fact that the highest rated quarterback Louisville has faced has been Andre Woodson (Kentucky). I prefer the former.

BUTCH- Chalk it all up to recruiting. Depth baby, depth. I like to call
Hunter Cantwell (back-up QB): Hunter Passwell. As far as replacing
Michael Bush...well, George Stripling and
Kobe Smith are finally starting to contribute in a big
way. Also, tight-end Brock Nolen has really stepped up his game. And
kicker Pat Carmody has been a savior.

JR-What defense has been able to best slow down your offense this year? Was it a matter of talent or scheme?

MIKE- The game where we struggled the most in terms of total yardage was actually against Miami, but anyone who’s watched us play all seven times would likely agree with me when I say that Cincinnati had the most success in slowing us down.

The most obvious reason for our lack of production was that it was Brian Brohm’s first game back from thumb surgery. Before the game Brian said he was probably 80-85% (which knowing him means that it was more like 70-75%), and it showed. Aside from that, the most important thing Cincinnati was able to do was get to Brohm when they brought heat. Brian spent a solid chunk of the second half on his back, and as a result this was Breno Giacomini’s last game at tackle. He’s now back at tight end where he saw time last season.

The second thing Cincinnati was able to do was confuse us by occasionally dropping their ends. When people hear “Louisville offense” they think of trick plays or deep passes, but that’s not where we beat you, we beat you with six or seven yard stop routes and runs on the outside, and crossing and curl routes over the middle. When Cincinnati (and Kansas State as well) mixed things up and dropped an end, it broke up screen plays and sweeps, froze our QB long enough for pressure coming from up the gut to get to him, or baited us into throwing a pick.

Did I mention that Brohm was still pretty injured and couldn’t really th…..ok, just making sure that was established.

BUTCH- I don't think Louisville has been 'out-talented'...remember that
God-awful term? I think it's been the scheme. Kansas State certainly threw
things at Louisville that clearly it had not seen before. Geez, and so
did Middle Tennessee State... Go figure.

JR- West Virginia is counting on several Freshman and red-shirt Freshman in their two deep this year. Most notably Quinton Andrews at safety and James Ingram at defensive end. How many freshman are seeing regular time on offense and defense, and is it a matter of talent or depth?
MIKE- We’ve actually been more reliant on freshmen than anyone could have possibly predicted before the season started. Latarrius Thomas has started every game and done a great job at free safety, and now holds the distinction of being the first true freshman ever to start for Bobby Petrino. Injuries to defensive linemen Adrien Grady, Brandon Cox and Zach Anderson forced true freshman L. T. Walker and redshirt freshman Michael Adams into action far earlier than most expected. Freshman Jonathan Holston was also predicted to start on the line before the season started, but he got hurt in preseason practice and is just now starting to see time on the field. He’ll likely play a bit on Thursday.
And then of course there’s true freshman defensive end Peanut Whitehead, the biggest out-of-state recruit of the Bobby Petrino era. Peanut has started five of our seven games I believe (he won’t start against WVU), and although it’s obvious at times that he’s a freshman, he’s made some big plays including a momentum turning sack two weeks ago against Syracuse.
On the offensive side of the ball there’s running back Anthony “Baby Bush” Allen who has started the last two games, but likely will play more of a limited role against you guys because Kolby Smith has finally decided to start trying. Allen’s not quite as big or fast as his nickname-sake, but he has the same bruising straight north and south style that Bush had when he was a freshman and sophomore. AA has rushed for 244 yards and five scores so far this year.
Freshmen have also taken over all of our return duties with #26 JaJuan Spillman returning kicks and #3 Trent Guy handling both kicks and punts.

BUTCH- Firstly, thanks for the heads-up. I'll be forwarding this bit of news
to the Louisville coaching staff...hehe! I was looking over the roster
and really UofL doesn't play many freshman. I think that
Deantwan 'Peanut' Whitehead is the only true freshman to see any
playing time thus far.

JR- The Mountaineers have missed having the experience they had in the secondary last year in a few games. What area or position has hurt the most this year due to graduation for the Cardinals?
MIKE- Injuries have obviously had an adverse effect on the level of experience in the backfield and on the defensive line, but as far the unit hurt most by graduation it would have the be our offensive line, which lost both Jason Spitz and Travis Leffew (who started since the day they arrived on campus) as well as Jeremy Darveau. We returned starters Eric Wood and Kurt Quarterman, and were also helped by the return from injury of senior tackle Renardo Foster, but as we all learned on our fourth-grade retreats, a unit is only as strong as its weakest link.
The line had been the most pleasant surprise of the season a month ago, but lately the number of blown assignments and laid out quarterbacks have increased. Cantwell got hit more than he should have against Middle Tennessee State, and then Brohm faced significant pressure against both Cincinnati and Syracuse. Cincinnati is forgivable, but Syracuse…not so much. As I said earlier Breno Giacomini has been moved back to tight end, and it appears that Petrino has settled on the starting five of Wood, Qurterman, Foster, George Bussey and Danny Barlowe as the guys we’re going to win or lose with. Hopefully proper adjustments have been made over the past week and a half.

BUTCH- Wow! Good question. Pass rushing. Louisville is really missing
Elvis Dumervil. He had xx sacks last year.

JR- Mario Urrutia is a name that most everyone in America should know by this point, not to mention Brohm and Bush. Who are some of the names for Louisville that no one knows right now, but will after Thursday night?
MIKE- If you asked me right now who I thought our MVP has been up to this point (Go ahead, do it), it’d take me about 1.7 seconds to say defensive tackle Amobi Okoye. AO leads the teams in tackles and sacks and always seems to be the guy who gets to the ball carrier or pressures the quarterback when it looks like the rest of the defense is tiring. He’s also, as you’ll hear no less than five times Thursday night, a senior despite being just 19-years-old. After moving from Nigeria to Huntsville, he tested into the ninth grade at the tender age of 12. In 2003 he actually played in all 13 games and recorded two sacks as a 16-year-old freshman. Great kid with a great story, you’ll hear his name called multiple times.
Junior wideout Harry Douglass is another guy who doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves. Announcers love referring to him as a “possession receiver,” but in addition to having the surest hands on the team, he also possesses game-breaking speed. He leads the team in receptions per game, and, almost amazingly, averages the exact same number of yards per game as Mario.

BUTCH- Tight-ends Brock Nolen and Gary Barnage. They're both Mr. Dependable.

JR-Que the techno- What is your prediction for the game, and would you put up your most prized possession as collateral if a bet was being made?
MIKE- I was a lot more confident about this game in August then I am right now, and honestly if this game were in Morgantown then I would go on record and pick the ‘Eeers, but I believe in the magic of Bobby Petrino, and I believe in the magic of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, and I believe that Louisville wins the game 34-31.
Please. Full-length autographed posters of Emilio Estevez know no price.

BUTCH- My prediction is: UofL 24 and WVU 20. My most prized possesion is my
1964 Fender Telecaster guitar. So....um... no, I couldn't...

Thanks to Mike and Butch for taking the time to share about Louisville. It should be an outstanding game!

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