All offseason conversations with Kentucky fans are rough, but let's not sugar coat it, the encounters over the past five months have been almost unbearable.
A comment about how incredible Louisville's run to the Final Four was; "Oh yeah, and how'd y'all end up doing after you got there? Go Cats." A comment about both our football and basketball teams are starting the season as ranked Big East favorites; "Were you even alive the last time Loserville won a national championship? We are Kentucky." A comment about how you enjoyed a lovely dinner with cherished friends and family? "EIGHT IS GREATER THAN TWO. GO BIG BLUE."
It's not enough for these people to derive pleasure from the pride that comes with a personal achievement. They aren't truly happy unless they feel like their joy is also causing others pain (whether that's true or not). It's because of this that we've all had to deal with interactions like the ones above constantly this spring and summer.
The first time I truly dared to entertain the thought of losing to Kentucky in football was late last week. It wasn't pretty. Sure, Louisville could have still won the Big East and made their second BCS bowl appearance since joining the conference, but the taunts...my God, the taunts.
Yes, more than anything I wanted the win for the coaches, the players and the program as a whole, but if we're being honest, I wanted the win for myself too. And if we're being really honest, I wanted a decisive win for myself. I'm fairly confident that most of you can admit the same.
I would have never said (or written) it outloud, but there was an extremely large part of me that wanted a win - one which at least covered the robust spread - which would allow for no claims of moral victory from the other side. Charlie Strong, Teddy Bridgewater and company made this happen, and as a result I slept remarkably well on Sunday night.
This isn't a win that will shut anyone on the other side up, because they never shut up. But it is a win that should shut them up, and that's all we can ever hope for.
It's nice to have bragging rights locked up after week one, but the best part about Sunday's performance is that it allows us to keep dreaming big. The most awesomely irrational thoughts of June and July are still kicking as we head into the second weekend of September, and that's wonderful.
The hipster move here would be to start somewhere other than with Teddy Bridgewater, but I can't bring myself to do that. The man was just too good.
There are a number of reasons why it looked so easy for Teddy on Sunday, not the least of which being his pregame preparation and the amount of work he put in during the offseason. The Ted appeared to be in complete control of the offense. He knew exactly where everyone was supposed to be, he knew exactly what checks to make, and he knew exactly where to start his progression once the ball was in his hands. The result was completion after completion after completion en route to a season-opening blowout.
The throw that really stood out to me was when he was fluttering to his left and just seemed to flick the ball to the other side of the field and hit DeVante Parker right in stride. That was a throw we didn't come close to seeing from him last year.
People can talk about how much time he had or how open his receivers were all they want, but when you watch all these other college football games featuring quarterbacks who aren't elite, you really realize just how much of an asset it is to have a guy like Teddy behind center. I think he has a very real shot to go down as the best to ever play the position at Louisville, and that's saying a great deal.
As tremendous as Teddy was, I'm not sure the offensive line wasn't better. The only time Bridgewater was pressured was when he was having to look to his third or fourth reads. And as for the running game...
"The holes were huge. I was excited to run through them because I didn't expect them to be that big." --Senorise Perry
The first half of last season showed us how difficult it is to have success when your offensive line is a weakness. Thankfully it appears that won't be an issue in 2012.
Whether it was on the field or in the stands, not much went right for Kentucky on Sunday.
Senorise Perry showcased a great combination of balance and speed, but to me it certainly appeared as if Jeremy Wright is the guy. And not just "the guy" in terms of Louisville's feature back, but "the guy" we've all been hoping to see since the start of last season.
Wright was a little tentative early on, perhaps the product of being too aware of his past fumbling issues or past injury issues, or maybe a combination of both. Once he got into the flow of the game, however, he looked more confident and better overall than he ever has as a Cardinal.
The third quarter run where he bounced it outside, evaded a tackle, shed two more and then scampered down the sidelines for 20 yards made me more optimistic about our running game than I have been since Bilal Powell was patrolling the backfield. Potential has never been a question with Jeremy Wright, and if this is what he looks like when he's completely healthy and confident, then I'm not sure there's a Big East back who's better.
That's not to say Perry doesn't deserve his fair share of praise. He showed why he was the buzz of fall camp by scampering for 108 yards and providing the biggest highlight of the afternoon with his 47-yard touchdown score in the second quarter.
He also evoked memories of Michael Bush with this shot.
Perry is a guy who is just scratching the surface of his potential, and watching his progression as gets significant touches for the first time in his career will be one of the most exciting parts of the firs half of the season.
Our leading returning rusher and the guy who led all rushers in last year's Governor's Cup game didn't even play on Sunday. That's a fairly impressive statement.
Get better, Dom.
As for the bad, it wasn't exactly a superhuman effort from the defense. Surrendering just 14 points is a praiseworthy accomplishment, but it bears noting that UK also missed a field goal and fumbled twice when they appeared to be on the verge of putting six on the board. Those three scores happen, and obviously the tone of this post is very different.
Kentucky did what I think most of us expected them to do by spreading Louisville out and forcing their linebackers and DBs to make tackles in space. It was the right gameplan and Maxwell Smith and company deserve proper respect for executing it pretty well. The steady stream of quick hitters didn't allow U of L to make the drive-killing plays in the backfield that helped them win last year's game. The Cats also ran the ball fairly effectively up the middle, which is why I was a bit surprised that Vance Bedford continued to only bring pressure off the ends instead of up the gut.
It wasn't a dominating defensive performance by any stretch of the imagination, but when push comes to shove, the defense made the plays necessary to keep the Governor's Cup in Louisville.
All of Louisville's defensive backs played well, but I thought Adrian Bushell, Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor were especially impressive.
Bushell was all over Max Smith's early (and one of his only) attempts to go long in the first quarter. That sent a quick message that the Cards weren't going to be defeated by the big play. Smith and Pryor were the team-leaders in tackles, and also forced both of the key fumbles that stalled promising Wildcat drives.
Solid day for the Cardinal secondary.
Even though it wasn't really a game conducive to his skill set, I thought it was a solid first effort from Preston Brown in his new role as middle linebacker. He's been primarily a run-stopper throughout his career at Louisville, so covering wideouts and spying running backs in the flats isn't exactly his ideal season-opener. Still, he made big plays for the Cards when he had to, which is exactly what is needed from the leader of the defense.
I don't generally drink that much before big games because I like to be able to fully focus on the game, and because I have the bladder of a two-year-old who bongs capri sun at snack time. An exception had to be made on Sunday, because the steady downpour from about 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. just was not tolerable otherwise.
I kept getting the urge to pull a Truman Show/Forrest Gump and shout "Is that all you got!?" towards the sky, but I refrained. I wasn't drunk enough.
I know I've said it already, but major, major kudos to all the fans who showed up. I was absolutely blown away when I looked around at kickoff and saw the place packed. That was a great statement to see and I know the entire team and coaching staff appreciated it.
The big question nobody else has the stones to ask: Do I have to wear my poncho to every game until we lose now?
Ok let's be honest, I'm really just looking for an excuse to wear my poncho to every game until we lose. I think ponchos are really fun.
What does Russ Smith's tailgating attire entail? If you said giant headphones, you're off to a good start.
For all the smack talk this summer, LaRod King's cheap shot on Preston Brown early in the game was really the only time things got a little chippy. Remember, it was King who said he "absolutely hated Louisville" in an interview last month. There are better ways to display that hatred, young man. Like not losing by 18 points.
I don't like to lie to you guys, so I have to come out and say this: I was completely against benching Teddy Bridgewater and bringing Will Stein into the game that soon. And after re-watching the game, I still think it was at least a series too soon.
I undersand the rationale behind giving Stein meaningful snaps. He's one of the prominent leaders of this team, he's a senior, and this was his last game against Kentucky, the opponent against which his career as a starter essentially came to an end last season. That said, the game was not completely in hand at the time Stein was brought into the game, and had UK not fumbled on that possession in the fourth quarter things could have gotten very tight.
Also, and I'm being honest again, I really didn't want the final score to make the game look any better than it actually was.
Wanking motion? Grow up, Joker.
It's safe to say Kai Dominguez's run as Louisville's punt returner got off to a tumultuous start.
In all fairness to Kai, I understood what he was trying to do. Fielding a bouncing a punt and going straight to the ground is generally the right play and can save a team 10-15 yards. That said, you have to be aware of the fact that the halo rule doesn't protect returners after the ball has hit the ground, and Dominguez needed to realize that Martavius Neloms was streaking right towards him.
The result was Scott Radcliff quickly resuming his role as the safe returner. It'll be interesting to see who gets the call next week with Charles Gaines done serving his one-game suspension.
Louisville is better than Kentucky at football.
After consistently being listed as one of the team's major concerns, you have to tip your cap to the kicking game for the way it performed. John Wallace put two kickoffs through the endzone, drilled four extra points and knocked down his only field goal attempt. Ryan Johnson and Josh Appleby also made solid strikes on both of their punt attempts.
The pregame stuff is generally a work in progress by the time the first game rolls around (think Buble Disaster '11), but the folks at U of L did a great job this year. The pregame video was short and intense (necessary Charlie shot to get the crowd going), then you cut to the live video of the team walking through the tunnel, then top it all off with a time-tested warrior like "Sandstorm."
Sometimes you can overthink these things, and credit the powers that be at U of L for not doing that this year.
It's been said many times by this point, but the Teddy toss to Damian Copeland on the first third down of the game couldn't have been more important. The throw and the catch have received their due praise, but how Copeland managed to stay in bounds while running his route is the thing that amazes me the most.
It was a big day overall for Damian, who led Louisville with four catches for 51 yards. Also notable is that three of his four catches came on third downs and resulted in the chains moving.
With Copeland healthy and making plays, former Mario Urrutia jersey holders can rejoice and know that they don't have to go out and make a purchase to support a new, more relevant, number. They haven't had this much cause for celebration since Willie Williams made his brief appearance on the roster as No. 7.
Interesting to see that James Burgess Jr. was the freshman linebacker who saw the field the most in game one, especially since Keith Brown began fall camp taking some reps with the first team. Perhaps Burgess' game was just more suitable to the style Kentucky was presenting.
Equally interesting was that Jermaine Reve, and not freshman Gerod Holliman, was the man fulfilling the sixth DB role. To his credit, Reve was absolutely flying around the field every time he was out there, and finished with three stops and a tackle for a loss.
Terrell Floyd had his jersey rolled up during the first defensive series of the game. I saw his dreads, I saw what appeared to be a No. 18...and let's just say I got a little too excited.
You're still killing the sock game, Titus.
Kenny Carter sprinting on the field and jumping on Jarel McGriff-Culver after he stopped UK's fake punt was worth the 15 yards...you know, for me, as a fan. Coach Strong probably found the sequence less hilarious.
I'm going to go out on a very slight limb and say that Sunday was the best environment that Papa John's Cardinal Stadium has seen since the blackout game against West Virginia in 2006. Do I think that has something to do with the absence of J-Bone? There's not one semblance of doubt in my mind.
Also, I fully expect that fact to change before the end of the season. The best environment one, not the J-Bone one. J-Bone comes back and I'm spork stabbing somebody.
The best part about playing on Sunday is that now we have a short week until we get to do it all again. Quite frankly, it's difficult for me to think about anything else.
The dominating win over Kentucky earned bragging rights for the program and the fans, but more importantly it set the table for something special to take place over the course of the next few months. I couldn't be more excited to find out if it does.