LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (6-0, 2-0) vs. CENTRAL FLORIDA KNIGHTS (4-1, 1-0)
Game Time: 8 p.m.
Location: Papa John's Cardinal Stadium: Louisville, Ky.
Announcers: Carter Blackburn (play-by-play), Danny Kanell (analyst) and Allison Williams (sideline)
Favorite: Louisville by 14
All-Time Series: Louisville leads 1-0
Last Meeting: Louisville won 42-21 at Old Cardinal Stadium on Nov. 2, 1985
Really? We kind of just discussed the whole thing.
You still want to see it just for routine's sake? Well all right.
The only thing significant about the game was that it marked the first time that Central Florida, then a Division-II member, took on a school from the FBS. Ed Rubbert tossed three touchdown passes for the Cards, who turned UCF over five times. The game is also notable for occurring during Howard Schnellenberger's first season at Louisville.
Schedule of Events:
About Central Florida:
UCF has a pretty balanced attack that does pretty much everything at an above average level. The offense is led by Blake Bortles, who is easily the best quarterback Louisville will face this regular season. Bortles has a strong arm and doesn't miss too often. He is coming off of his worst game of the season, but it was the type of game where the broadcast did a montage of his receivers dropping wide open passes. You can't fault him much for what happened.
Bortles can use his legs to buy time against the rush or just to gain yardage if the pocket breaks down. The Knights don't put him in a ton of situations where he is asked to run, but he can run the spread option if need be. Bortles' strong point is his ability to be accurate while still taking chances down the field. He protects the ball very well also and he won't be rattled by Louisville's pressure. He's not going to make the mistakes we've seen some quarterbacks make this year. However, he hasn't faced a defense that brings the type of pressure Louisville does.
All-Name second teamer, Storm Johnson, is the primary running back for UCF. Johnson was a big time recruit coming out of high school and ended up at UCF after transferring from Miami. Johnson is a fairly big back with fairly good speed. He optimizes the offense to me. He's better than most, but he doesn't really "wow" you. Johnson has broken a few big runs this year and he's very solid in the redzone. The Knights will have to get Johnson going this week if they want to have success against the vaunted Cardinals defense. Rutgers had a few drives where they were able to move the ball last week. In each of them, they ran the ball better than they had all game. When Vance Bedford is able to dictate what your offense is allowed to do, it will be a long night.
I fully expected Rutgers' receivers to really test Louisville's secondary down the field last week, but the offense took a pretty conservative approach. I don't expect to see UCF do the same. They like their short passing game with quick outs and other plays you see in a spread attack, but they have two really good receivers out wide. Breshad Perriman and Rannell Hall can both get down the field and they can both make athletic plays that make them hard to defend. Both had a 70+ yard catch in the fourth quarter of the USC game and both catches were on 15 yard post routes. They just outran everyone after that. Calvin Pryor and Hakeem Smith will need to keep up their stellar play against those two. J.J. Worton and Jeff Godfrey are also reliable targets for Bortles.
UCF has, potentially, the best offensive line Louisville will face this year. Left tackle Torian Wilson spurned UofL for the Knights a few years back right before signing day. He helped shut down Jadeveon Clowney earlier this year and he and the rest of the line have only allowed 8 sacks so far. They don't have great rushing numbers as a team, but Johnson is averaging over 5 yards per carry and Bortles typically has a huge pocket to throw from. Louisville's defense has made a living in the opposing backfield all year. The UCF line has a tough task ahead of it.
KEY PLAYERS: QB Blake Bortles, RB Storm Johnson, LT Torian WIlson, WR Brashad Perriman, WR Rannell Hall
This defense is a statistical anomaly. To sum it up pretty easily, the amount of yards they allow is pretty close to the amount the offense gains, but they allow about half as many points. The defensive line lost their best pass rusher earlier in the week when Blake Keller quit the team. That left them without a true pass rusher right before they matched up with the quarterback with the best pocket presence in the country. Not really a good sign for the front four. The line has done a good job of holding up blockers and allowing the linebackers to make plays. But not much else.
Terrance Plummer is one of the better linebackers in the conference and he leads the team in just about everything. He's a high energy guy that runs extremely well and brings bad intentions when he gets to where he's going. He was responsible for knocking USC quarterback Conner Shaw out of the game in their matchup. One thing that Plummer can't do is make up for the loss of Willie Mitchell. Mitchell was suspended early this year and his replacements are two guys that, according to this week's depth chart, don't even weigh 200 pounds. Needless to say, the defense has been gashed for big runs and the tackling at the second level has been suspect at best. Louisville will try to expose the issues with the linebackers with outside runs and play action coming off of those runs. Plummer and the defensive staff have had a bye week to try to fix some issues. It'll be interesting to see what changes they've made.
The secondary is the key element of this defense. They are all long and athletic guys that do a great job of making the window a quarterback has to throw into as small as possible. They don't make a ton of big plays or even break up a lot of passes. But they make it very hard on quarterbacks to complete passes down the field. The defense is designed to keep everything in front of it and stop the big play. They will give you the 3 yard pass and come up and make the tackle. The big battle in this game will be the Knights' third down defense against Teddy and his receivers. The best third down offense in the country against one of the best third down defenses is always fun to watch if you ask me.
KEY PLAYERS: MLB Terrance Plummer, S Clayton Geathers, S Brandon Alexander, CB Jordan Ozerities
Excitement Level (1-10): 9.5
This might be as high as the meter goes until the bowl game, and that's understandable. Weeknight games against quality opponents with the rest of the country watching are what we spent the summer dreaming about. Let's enjoy the next several hours to the fullest.
Game Attire: Jeans, red and white Cardinal bird hat, red Cardinal shoes, New Red Louisville Football Shirt under red U of L zip-up with white stripes on the sleeves.
The zip-up, a Christmas gift last year, has never seen a Cardinal football game, which naturally has me a bit antsy. But his in tact PJCS virginity doesn't mean he hasn't been tested. The zip-up made several appearances during the second half of last basketball season, his crowning achievement coming when he got the call for the Elite 8 game against Duke.
He's seen some ish...I'm just sayin'.
Pre-Game Meal: Burgers, hot dogs, chips, dip, pasta salad, dessert, beer.
We're busting out the grill for the first time this season and I couldn't be more excited. I made a "Grill Gardner" joke during our weekly tailgate email thread and it got zero response. It was the second worst moment of my week, just behind the realization that two giant speed bumps had been put in on the road leading out of my neighborhood.
Predicted Star of the Game: Teddy Bridgewater
Because it's time, dammit. It's time for a performance that's going to have everyone talking up until the start of the first wave of games tomorrow afternoon.
Griffin Uhl Playing Alert Level: Cornflower (Weaker than the Cohen's marriage in season two).
Bold Prediction: James Quick scores a touchdown.
I've been eerily good at these in recent weeks, and two times they've been predictions that went against the Cards. We need a crowd-pleaser to get back on track, and this would definitely do the trick. Also, Quick's going to play a lot tonight if Kai DeLa Cruz can't go, which seems to be a likely scenario.
Motivational Opposing Player Tweet(s):
The UCF players have been on their best behavior all week both publicly and on social media, so we'll have to settle for a fan helping.
--Friday night's game will be the 100th Louisville has played inside Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. The Cards are 74-25 at home since PJCS opened in 1998.
--U of L has labeled tonight's game as a "Red Out" and is encouraging all Cardinal fans attending to wear red. The team will also be wearing red tops and bottoms.
--Central Florida is 3-0 on the road, marking the first time in program history that the Knights have started a season by winning their first three away games.
--Teddy Bridgewater has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 18 consecutive games.
--Central Florida (No. 6) and Louisville (No. 8) both rank in the top 10 nationally in turnover margin.
--Louisville has scored at least 20 points in 22 consecutive games. The last time the Cards were held below that mark was back on Nov. 12, 2011 when they fell to Pittsburgh, 21-14.
--U of L has allowed just 44 total points in six games and continues to lead the nation in scoring defense.
--When scoring 20 points or more in a game under the direction of Charlie Strong, the Cardinals' record is 30-6. Louisville is also 20-3 under Strong when holding opponents to 20 or fewer points.
--UCF and Louisville have a mutual opponent in FIU, whom the Cardinals defeated 72-0 and the Knights disposed of 38-0.
--Charlie Strong is 5-0 at Louisville against teams "also receiving votes." Overall, U of L has won nine straight games against teams receiving votes in either the AP or coaches' poll.
--Central Florida is 9-5 all-time in Friday games, a mark which includes their win over FIU this season.
--Louisville is 45-27-1 all-time in Friday games. Their last appearance on Friday night came in last season's 34-31 overtime win over Cincinnati.
--A win would send Louisville to 7-0 for the second straight season and just the fifth time in 46 years. --When ranked in the top 16, Louisville is 19-0 at PJCS with an average score of 47-17.
--Louisville is 36-9 vs. teams making their first visit to PJCS with an average score of 39-22.
--Louisville has failed to cover the spread in each of its past two games. The Cards have never failed to cover in three straight games under Charlie Strong.
--Dating back to 1980, Louisville is 139-14 when scoring 30 or more points in a game.
--"It's a great opportunity for UCF and Louisville. Everybody is complaining about Louisville as far as (its strength of schedule), but Louisville is winning the games they're supposed to win. They could beat a lot of teams in this country. I think we overrate a lot of conferences in this country. There's two or three teams, maybe four at best, in each conference that deserve the adoration they get. The rest are just teams." --UCF coach George O'Leary
--"This game is a big one. Central Florida was able to go to Penn State and win on the road in Happy Valley. Then they played South Carolina close. Everybody sees what they have done, they see the record, they think it is going to be a really good matchup. It should be and I expect it to be." --Charlie Strong
--"Everybody knows that in the locker room. Everybody knows that in the stands. This is a big game coming up and Coach O'Leary has been preaching that since Memphis. Everybody's going to be ready, everybody's going to be pumped for this game and we want to give it the best chance we've got." --UCF RB Storm Johnson
--"They're not just a good team by the media; they're a good team on film, too. It's going to be a long day. We need to bring our lunch and be ready to play." --Brandon Dunn
--"Coach said this is for all the marbles, mostly because they're a top team. We're trying to be the top team. It's a big game because it's the next game, but they're at the top of the conference right now and we need to take them down. That's why this is so big." --UCF LB Terrance Plummer
--"I think they're a really good football team. Similar to us, a very solid team. I look at them on offense, they have a quarterback, we have a quarterback. They have receivers. And the thing they have is a lot of their players are like our kids, they're from the state of Florida, so they are going to be familiar because of a lot are temamates from high school. The match-ups are going to be fun, probably going to be a lot of talking because they know one another. And defensively we're probably a little more aggressive than they are, but they're solid. They're gap-sound and they're not going to make mistakes on defense to give up the home run play. They're going to keep everything in front of them, tackle the ball and go play the next down. And special teams very solid." --Charlie Strong
--"It always gets us pumped up knowing this is a big opportunity for the school and the program finally getting to a BCS bowl bid being in this conference. The way we get there is winning the conference and Louisville is in our conference. So it's exciting. It's much-needed for the school, (and) much-needed for us as a team to measure ourselves against the best." -- UCF LB Terrance Plummer
--"In order to reach our goal we have to win this game. This is why this is the most important game right now." --UCF S Brandon Alexander
--"Bortles is not going to get rattled at all. I just look at the Penn State game, and in front of that tough crowd and how well he played. He won't be shaken when he comes in here. He does a great job at managing their offense. He is also not afraid to pull the ball down and run with it. With (Gary) Nova, we could keep him in the pocket. The thing that Bortles has is great pocket presence." --Charlie Strong
--"The tell-tale [sign] of great players is seeing who really relishes the competition. I think that our kids have to relish the competition and go out there and put their best foot forward. When it comes down to a big game with lots of implications, you really hope to see each individual plays at a higher level because of increased competition, increased competitive desire, increased competitive focus. Those kinds of environments and that kind of competition will bring out the best, and that's what we're hoping to get - the best out of our guys." --UCF DC Jim Fleming
--"We're going up there to win." --UCF DB Sean Maah