Mike did a great job putting tomorrow's game against UConn into historical context. There is simply no reason for us not to beat UConn at football. But I'd like to focus more on the future. For this team to go bowling, we have to get three more wins in our next six games. This is doable, but not certain. Other than West Virginia, there is no team left on our schedule that scares me. Including Pitt. I give us a 40-50% chance to beat Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse (yes I said it) and a 50-60% chance of beating USF. I'd say it is 30-40% we beat WVU, but for some reason we always play them close no matter how good they are (or bad we are).
That means that if we lose tomorrow (which I don't think we will) we have to win three out of our last five games, and we will likely be underdogs in 4 of them. Exorcising* the demons? Great. Getting a bowl in Charlie Strong's first season despite losing to UK and Cincinnati? Awesome. After last week's crushing loss, and an extra day of practice, I expect the team to come out ready tomorrow. Winning a close game is a big step forward, and I think Charlie Strong is ready to take that step.
Finally, some thoughts on the Cincinnati loss. First of all, totally my fault. While watching with hothot, I pointed out, sorta in jest, that Bobby Burns hadn't had his name called much because I don't think a lot of teams had thrown his way. Jokingly, I said that maybe the guy is really good. Cinci proceeded to start throwing at him, but either his WR would drop it or he'd bat the ball away. There was even a crappy pass interference call that looked like a good play. Doubling down, I started calling him "Burns Island" and saying "You can't throw on Bobby Burns!" every time they would try. This led to hothot's halftime post that Burns was better than Patrick. Of course, four touchdowns and a crushing loss later, Bobby Burns is who we thought he was: not Louisville's best cornerback. I take full responsibility for the loss.
Second, this may be blasphemous to say, but Charlie Strong looked nervous, or at least uneasy, in the second half last Friday night. As great as he has been at the recruiting, program building, inspiration, etc., in-game management as a college football coach is a hard thing to do. We see it every week with some of the "best" coaches in college football mismanaging timeouts, calling terrible plays or just generally sucking at late game situational coaching. Heck, it seems like even the NFL can't find 25 head coaches who could successfully beat Madden on the highest level. So perhaps even more than getting a win for the players, Charlie Strong successfully coaching an end-game situation (not burning timeouts, good play calls in the red zone, when to take points and when to go for it on fourth down, etc) would be a huge long-term boost for the program and Charlie's long-term prospects as a head coach.
And third, Burns Island jokes aside, the secondary has had trouble all year defending the pass. We can hit hard, we can stop the run pretty well, and we can tackle in space, the final frontier, but the other teams' guys always seem to get open and they always seem to beat our guys for the ball. That's mostly a talent thing, I hope. I fear the Cincinnati game will not be the last wherein the other team has its way with us through the air. Also, our defensive line gets no pressure whatsoever, so that makes it a lot harder on an already challenged secondary. Thanks, Krag.
Now that I've got that out of my system, onto the predictions:
First Play From Scrimmage: Powell, always Powell. Last week we started off with a pass play that resulted in a sack. Don't think we'll be doing that this week.
Second Play From Scrimmage: Powell, out of the pistol. Best player, get him the ball early and often.
Third Play From Scrimmage: If third down, a pass to Cameron Graham, who is the best third down possession receiver in football, which may be the source of his angst. Seriously, anyone follow him on twitter not feel like the guy needs a hug like every day? Leigh, do your thing. Or Card_G6. Whoever. If first or second down, look for Bellamy.
Cardinal Offensive MVP: Josh Bellamy. UConn's run defense is better than its pass defense, and by this point, everyone knows Powell, Powell, Powell is the offense, especially with Vic out with an "upper extremity" injury. UConn gives up yards in the air, and with Beaumont back and Andrell Smith playing reasonably well against Cincinnati, as well as UConn focusing on Powell, hopefully Froman looks for Bellamy early and often.
Cardinal Defensive MVP: Burns Island.
No, Seriously: Shenard Holton. UConn was a run-oriented offense before they kicked their QB off the team in the middle of a game week. Jordan Todman is no Bilal Powell, but he is damn good. He is averaging 152 yards per game, 6.2/carry and has 8 TDs, including a 66-yarder against Rutgers. Like Powell, he will have to shoulder more of the load as his main back-up, Robbie Frey, is out, apparently because his leg is in a million little pieces, or so he would have you believe. Holton will play up more and be responsible for always marking Todman, I predict with no real technical understanding of defensive schemes. The defensive line needs to close gaps (look for more 4-3) and the LBs need to be sure tacklers, but Holton will be the star and a really, really, really important part of containing Todman. Hakeem Smith will also help, but mainly Holton.
First Cardinal Touchdown: DOUG BEAUMONT BABY. Like a bad sports movie, Beaumont waits three years and a game to get his first college touchdown, then gets hurt. Well, maybe we get a Disney movie ending and Beaumont goes on a tear the last 6 games of his collegiate career before being drafted in the last round by Bill Belichick. Seriously, tell me he would not be perfect as the slot receiver who thrives in New England who no one ever saw coming.
Specific Vision: Half-empty stands a few moments before kickoff. Family obligations will likely have me leaving at halftime, so I don't have much room to talk, but the weather is going to be gorgeous tomorrow and a 3:30 Saturday start time in the fall is a recipe for a slow-arriving crowd. Look, this isn't and will never be the SEC. Turning down family events, children's sporting events, weddings, funerals, work obligations, etc. for a college football game may be normal in some towns because everyone else is doing it too. But tell someone around here you are missing a kid's birthday party for a UofL home football game? On a Saturday afternoon? They look at you like you have three heads. Throw in the B&W Club, the PNC Club and the beer/hot dog pavilion with a view of the game, and you will have lots of empty seats even if the game is sold out. So, the prediction is that the crowd won't be there at the beginning, but will be loud.
Trick Play? They didn't really use one on the same level as the one that worked perfectly against Memphis, going instead with a Beaumont pass back to Froman for a decent gain. Wish they would have done that against Memphis and the other one against Cinci. Whatever . Anyway, expect some more trickeration in this game, but a play that is really designed for the end zone.
UConn Trick Play? Guaranteed. Maybe even the first play of the game. These guys cannot be trusted. And we'll be keying on Todman early.
Husky You Will Learn To Hate: Michael Box. A red-shirt freshman starting his first game? Should just be a "game manager" who hands the ball off to the team's best player, right? Wrong - he will throw the ball around as much as possible, and because Todman will be the focus, the few times he's called upon to make a big play, he will make it. You will hate this guy. Also, just look at him.
Final Score: Louisville 27 - 21 UConn. Todman held reasonably in check, Box makes a critical mistake late in the game, Powell runs and runs and runs, Bellamy and Beaumont both score, and Charlie Strong gets his first Big East win. Big game. Show up, cheer loud. Go Cards.