By Andrew Phelps
"It ain't over until it's over." A phrase that has defined sports for decades, but for some reason fans must always be reminded of its truth. Our baby birds took the field on a Friday night in October, possessing a 2-4 record and on the brink of a disastrous and disappointing season. Three games changed everything. The end zone is open for business, the offense has been resurrected, and the baby birds appear ready to depart the nest. Coach Charlie Strong has proven he is the man for the job and has the Cardinals taking flight once more.
The University of Louisville has not won in Morgantown in almost two decades. Strong played 17 freshman and 14 sophomores last weekend and successfully disappointed 55,000 fans. Florida v. Georgia is known as the world's largest cocktail party, but West Virginia home games take the title of world's largest family reunion, sorry Lexington. The defense was tested by a real quarterback for the first time in 2011 and the statistics paint an ugly picture. However, plays were made when needed and thank God for Dexter Heyman, our linebackers and defensive line. 18 year old Teddy Bridgewater proved again he is worthy of the hype and this kid will be a Cardinal legend before his last walk off that field.
This win was enormous. Not only is West Virginia our biggest rival in the Big East, but they have always been the measuring stick for conference programs. Our youngins went toe to toe with their high powered offense and made the plays to win late in the 4th quarter. West Virginia tallied 533 yards of offense, the exact same number they amassed against world number one, LSU. Cardinal pride exploded after the victory, and the locker room video of Charlie Strong has me as ecstatic as I've been since January 2007.
Saturday brings the final home game of 2011 and public enemy number one, Pittsburgh. Pitt's backroom dealings, bold faced lies and servitude to ESPN's every wish has dismantled the Big East. The Cardinals are 2-0 so far on the revenge tour, and Pittsburgh is last on the hit list. The Panthers stand at 4-5 and are fighting for bowl eligibility in Todd Graham's inaugural season. (Graham coached with Klownthorpe, another reason we should hate Pitt). I am personally happy Pittsburg is moving on. They are an overrated program in a city where the Steelers are the only thing that matters. Second fiddle is something the Ville knows nothing about.
The Panthers boast one impressive victory, a 44-17 dismantling of South Florida and are coming off an impressive showing against Cincinnati. They are a very average football team and don't do anything particularly well. They rank 80th in total offense, 47th in total defense, 70th in points for and 49th in points against. Their greatest attribute is their running back Ray Graham, who did not play last week and is out for the season with a knee injury. Our stout defense should make a strong resurgence and will be key in ensuring a 4th straight victory.
Shawn Watson has given the UofL offense a new face and a new identity. Bridgewater is playing like a seasoned veteran and the offensive line has found cohesion, as they continue to eliminate the mistakes of their early season play. Watson has earned the coordinator position and his balanced play calling has been nothing but impressive. It appears each week the playbook adds another page and the attack mentality has almost fully returned. Credit goes to Coach Strong for making a difficult mid season decision in firing the incompetent Sanford.
Watching our offense is nothing short of excitement and anticipation of the future. On many scoring drives recently, the only players to touch the ball have been freshman. If Teddy can continue to manage the game Saturday and make the plays when timing is right, the Red and Black will send a loud message that the Cardinals have arrived and the future is now.
2011 could have been remembered as a disappointment and a setback for the University of Louisville football program. The Cardinals were 2-4, the Big East was crumbling around them and touchdowns were more scarce than a honest bone in Calipari's body. Three straight wins have turned 2011 into a season of possibilities and defining moments. The birds are back and Charlie Strong has this program, university and this city believing again. Youth is being embraced and talent is taking flight. Go Cards!