45 John Wallace 6-0 196 P/K RS SO Cecilia, Ky. (Central Hardin)
Wallace Ready to Boot a Louisville Team Average 63.4 Yard Kickoff vs EKU
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The high-flyin' Louisville Cardinals, who are the newly crowned #7 in the AP Poll this week, have looked great in their first two games for 2013. BUT, there are two areas that the Cardinals can improve upon going into their in-state rival Kentucky's lair this Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium to challenge for the 2013 Governor's Cup.
#1 - Special Teams Kickoff Return Defense: Nationally, Louisville ranks #107 out of 123 FBS teams in kickoff return defense (NCAA.com). In just the first two games for 2013, Louisville has given up 300 kickoff return yards in 11 kickoffs, for a whopping average of 27.3 yards per kickoff. Against Ohio in the first game of 2013, Ohio's Devin Bass had 5 kickoff returns for 124 yards (24.8 yard average), and a long return of 41 yards. In the second game against EKU, returners Absanon and Thomas combined for 6 kickoff returns for 176 yards (29.3 yard average), and Absanon had a long return of 38 yards, with Thomas also ripping his only return for 30 yards. Louisville has to improve on this. The kickoff duties have been handled nicely by kickers John Wallace, Josh Appleby and Matt Nakatani, with a team average of 63.4 yards per kickoff, but Louisville's net kicking is just 39.8 yards per kickoff due to miscues on kickoff return defense.
Special teams is where you give guys that are working hard, opportunities to see playing time, who are mostly not key players in the depth chart for the offense and defense. On Louisville's special teams kickoff defense, there are key defensive players like S Hakeem Smith and S Jermaine Reve, sprinkled in with guys with less experience. I was going to ask Louisville head coach Charlie Strong about this special teams kickoff return defense issue after the EKU game at the post game press conference, but coach was really upset with Louisville's inability to run the ball against EKU, where the Cardinals only had 78 yards of net rushing. So I figured I should leave this question best asked at another time. Let's see how the special teams kickoff return defense is against Kentucky this Saturday, and watch for marked improvement.
#2 - Offensive Blocking/Running the Football: Louisville has four outstanding running backs in Senorise Perry, Dominique Brown, Michael Dyer and Brandon Radcliff, even after the unfortunate loss of a fifth key running back, Corvin Lamb who tore an ACL in the season opener against Ohio. Quality running backs at Louisville are abundant, so that is not an issue. Strong was very upset with the Cardinals inability to run the ball effectively against EKU, and coined poor blocking as the culprit. Strong stated that this is an area that Louisville needs to improve upon going into the Kentucky game. After the EKU game in post game interviews, we asked starting center Jake Smith (pictured left) about the ineffective blocking and the inability to run the ball in the contest, and Smith gave EKU their due, and stated that EKU had a good game plan for them (Louisville). EKU frequently loaded the box against the running game, making the running game diminish, but it opened up the air attack for the Louisville offense, who capitalized in the passing game with 397 yards through the air and 4 touchdowns.
The blocking was great against Ohio in the season opener with 40 rushes for 199 yards (4.98 yards per rush), but in the second game against EKU with 28 rushes for only 78 net rushing yards (2.8 yards per rush), not so much. I specifically asked Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater (pictured left) how he felt about the performance of the new additions to the offensive line at the post game Ohio press conference interviews, and he was very pleased and gave them all praise. Now I know that all the blame is going to fall on the offensive line for the inability to block, but the offensive line is just a part of effective blocking to run the ball. EVERYONE NEEDS TO BLOCK. Many hands make light work. Louisville has two bruising fullbacks in B.J. Butler and Griffin Uhl, as well as two hard-blocking studs at tight end with Gerald Christian and Ryan Hubbell. Even the wide receivers and other running backs need to help block. I am sure Strong and company will make the necessary adjustments this week before the Kentucky game in regards to blocking an opening up the running game as they did against Ohio, so don't read too much into this. The ineffective blocking against EKU could have be as simple as Louisville looked at EKU as being a scrimmage type game, being boasted all last week pregame by Las Vegas odds makers as Louisville being a 40 point favorite going into the contest.