Photo by Laura Stovall
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The #8 Louisville Cardinals (5-0, 1-0) will get their first real opportunity to silence (or at least put a muzzle on) some of the national pundits that keep moving the undefeated Cardinals in the polls after each win. Charlie Strong’s squad keeps winning and you’d expect them to keep moving up or at the very least stay at the position they were prior to their most recent victory but that’s not the case for the Cardinals. Louisville has slipped one spot in the AP, Coaches and Sagarin polls after going to Philadelphia and dispatching Temple (0-5, 0-2) 30-7. All of the talk about Louisville’s weak schedule and the fact that they are ranked as low as 27th in one of the major polls (Massey Ratings Top 50) hasn’t detoured Strong from advertising his opinion about his team. “I tell my team every day, we’re the best team in college football. That’s the mentality you have to have.”
Using seven (AP, Sagarin, USA Today Coaches, Billingsley Top 50, Colley Matrix Top 50, Anderson/Hester Top 50, Massey Ratings Top 50, BCS Official Standings, Harris Interactive Poll and Wolfe Ratings Top 50) of the ten polls, rankings and ballots that are used for college football, the Cardinals have an average ranking of 15th. Their highest ranking is 8th which was given by the AP, Coaches and Sagarin. Their highest was 27th by the aforementioned Massey Ratings. One voter in the AP that believes the Cardinals have proven their worth even with the lack of good competition is Scott Wolf from the Los Angeles Daily Times. Wolf has Louisville checking in at No.2 behind Alabama and in front of No.3 Oregon. Strong also doesn’t spend any time worrying about what the voters think about his team. “We can’t control how anyone else does or slipping in the polls” Strong said at his press conference Monday. ESPN’s Brett McMurphy points out on Twitter that there are currently 17 unbeaten teams in FBS, but Louisville is the only one that hasn’t trailed in a game this year. McMurphy also notes that of the Cards’ 300 game minutes they have led for 260:37 and tied for 39:23. Impressive stats like that evidently don’t make much of an impression on some voters but a dismantling of a decent Rutgers team on Thursday on a national stage via ESPN could help solidify Louisville’s No.8 ranking and propel voters to think about moving them up for once.
So, for Louisville to change the perception of some of the voters that think there are ranked too high, they will need to control the Scarlet Knights from the opening kickoff and probably have to put up video game like numbers on the scoreboard like Oregon and Baylor have been doing. A win is a win but if the Cards win 24-14 or something close to that, you can expect they will stay at No.8 at the best and maybe even lose another spot in next Monday’s polls. Voters (except Scott Wolf) will need to see something like 49-10 or better to start thinking about moving the Cards up. What will Louisville need to do to accomplish this feat against Rutgers?
First and foremost the running game will need to establish success early and sustain the great numbers they’ve put up so far this season using the three headed monster attack by Senorise Perry, Michael Dyer and Dominique Brown. All three runners average 5.5 yards per carry or better. Perry leads the trio with 54 attempts, 298 yards and four touchdowns and is third in the yards per carry average at 5.5. Brown is second with 39 attempts, 250 yards and two scores but leads with 6.4 ypc. Dyer’s numbers are very solid as well with 36 attempts, 205 yards, two touchdowns and 5.7 ypc. Rutgers’ run defense is scary good, (#3 in the FBS) holding opponents to 70.6 yards per game on the ground and has the ability to cut all three heads off of the monster. Look for the offensive line, led by center Jake Smith, to take the challenge of getting the best of Rutgers’ front seven seriously and playing like their hair is on fire. “We look forward to the big challenge ahead against Rutgers and the atmosphere should be electric so we are all excited to go. We practiced hard today and look to carry that over into the game Thursday. Guys were flying around and really hitting hard and fighting a little bit so yeah, we are ready to go out there and hit the other guys” said Smith after Monday’s practice.
Secondly, the Cardinals need to continue their great performances of winning the turnover margin. Louisville didn’t turn the football over for the second-straight game and for the third time this season. In the first five games, Louisville has just turned the football over twice and is sixth in the country in turnover margin, forcing nine miscues and turning the ball over twice. The Cardinals forced at least one turnover for the fifth-straight game, notching an interception in the win over Temple. Coach Kyle Flood’s team has not been so good in that department, ranking 83rd nationally.
Lastly the Cards need to get their sack on. Rutgers is 101st nationally in giving up sacks and that bodes well for the Cardinal defense. The Cards finished 78th in the nation in sacks last season but have done a better job of getting pressure on the opposing quarterbacks this season. Through five games, the Cardinals have registered 15 sacks and 32 tackles for loss. Louisville ranks 16th in the nation in sacks at 3 per game and fourth in tackles for loss 9.2 per contest. Seven different players have registered sacks this season, with junior Lorenzo Mauldin (Lorenzo Mauldin #94 is having a great season with 5.5 sacks - Photo by Laura Stovall)
leading the way with a team best 5.5, while Preston Brown and Marcus Smith each have three. Sticking with the defense, Louisville special teams will need to play very good especially on kick offs. The Scarlet Knights rank 3rd in the nation at kickoff returns led by the dangerous Janarion Grant who had a 100-yard return for a touchdown against Fresno State.
Prediction: I think Rutgers will come into Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium with visions of upsetting the Cardinals and the 55,000 Cardinal fans that will be there but will leave with visions of Teddy Bridgewater and company repeatedly running, passing and catching passes for touchdowns. No matter what some of these voters who have not even watched probably more than five minutes of a Cardinal game say, Louisville is very good and deserving of the #8 ranking and even higher. Thursday’s beat down of Rutgers will ignite regional talk from the “experts” and pundits about Louisville’s legitimacy and start the steady ascent toward the top of the polls. Teddy beat Rutgers on the road with a broken wrist and badly sprained ankle. Teddy is now healthy and has all of his weapons back and then some. Cards win big, 56-13 behind another big performance from Teddy (24-32, 377 yds, 4 TD’s).