Remember that very warm August afternoon in 2010 when Louisville, led by new coach Charlie Strong, opened the season at home against Kentucky. I remember it because I sat in the newly expanded section of Papa John's Cardinal Stadium and the sun completely scorched my left leg and the left side of my face only and I had to go to work the next Tuesday and explain why I looked like Two-Face. What I also remember about that game was Louisville having Bilal Powell and absolutely no other weapons on offense whatsoever. Josh Bellamy was concussed on the opening kickoff leaving Louisville with Doug Beaumont, Troy Pascley (who had a brutal drop and was basically never heard from again), and not much else (Cameron Graham later became a reliable receiving threat at tight end).
Fast forward to the season opener in 2013 and that 2010 opener looks like it happened in another lifetime. Sunday's game, one of the few where Louisville will have most of the eyes of the nation upon, was Louisville finally taking the field as a team full formed in Charlie Strong's image. Save just a few players that remain from Steve Kragthorpe's final season, this is a team with seniors that Charlie Strong recruited. These are his guys, playing his style, and the results couldn't be more different than when he arrived.
I don't really have to say Teddy Bridgewater because if you watched the game you saw the throws. You saw the numbers. On Sunday, Teddy replicated the near perfect game he played against Kentucky in last season's opener. He threw with precision on short throws, on throws from the pocket down the field, on bootleg and play action, and on screens and misdirection stuff. Even his lone interception appeared to be the fault of the receiver running the wrong route. Teddy Bridgewater has now only played six quarters of his last two season openers and both games were over when he finally gave way. How much of an impression did Teddy's play make on the public?
— Sportsbook.com ® (@Sportsbook_com) September 2, 2013
You can make a reasonable case that Louisville has the best, deepest receiving corps in college football. I referenced the 2010 team in the opening paragraph and they make a nice point of comparison. DeVante Parker, Eli Rogers, Damian Copeland, Kai De La Cruz, Robert Clark, Michaelee Harris, and James Quick would all start and be the number one receiver on that team from three years ago. Instead, they're all battling for playing time and to share the 30 or so completions they're going to see per game. That's not even accounting for the tight ends like Gerald Christian who is also now clearly a weapon in the passing game. Ron Dugans has done a remarkable job with these receivers.
The defense delivered on its promise of being far more aggressive than in 2012 and it paid off. Ohio, one of the best rushing teams in the country last year, returning a 1,600 yard rusher in Beau Blankenship, was held to just 89 rushing yards for the game and was behind the chains for most of the game. Louisville fielded a fully healthy defensive line as Lorenzo Mauldin played just days after being hit by a car on his moped and both tackles Brandon Dunn and Roy Philon were at full speed. With them playing together, Louisville had no problem with the basic inside zone run that absolutely befuddled them last year in games against Kentucky, FIU, Southern Miss, and Syracuse. Linebackers Preston Brown and James Burgess were everywhere and in perhaps the most encouraging development, considering the style of offense they'll be facing in Lexington and down the road against Memphis, Houston, and Cincinnati to some degree, tackled extremely well in space to slow down the quick wide receiver screens.
Finally, the play of a number of young players should have fans excited about the future. James Burgess is just a sophomore and he was outstanding at linebacker. True freshman Keith Kelsey made a really nice play in garbage time to break up a pass thrown over his head to an open receiver, showing you some of his raw athletic ability. Fellow freshman linebacker James Hearns made a nice tackle on special teams and when he was in with Keith Kelsey, they looked like major college linebackers. Also, Will Gardner, seeing his first game action ever, looked really sharp. He displayed nice touch on a throw that James Quick unfortunately wasn't able to haul in, and then showed his arm strength on consecutive throws to Kai De La Cruz. One down the seam and then on the run for the touchdown. That touchdown throw was nicely dropped over an Ohio linebacker. It was just one game, but, it's easy to see why the coaches have always liked Gardner and why they feel good about him as the future at quarterback.
Not a ton to complain about in a game like this, but, you can't like that the kickoffs continue to be an issue. Louisville kicked kickoffs out of bounds, covered them pretty poorly, and put Ohio in scoring position two times because of it. It might be the one thing from last season didn't look improved much at all on Sunday. Second, the penalties. Four false start penalties slowed the offense down some. Penalties for kicking the ball out of bounds. A facemask. These are little things, but they're the difference in games sometimes.
Overall, if you're a Louisville fan you should be greatly encouraged by the opening effort. We saw a slew of teams lose to FCS teams in the opening weekend. We saw other teams look sluggish or sloppy in their respective openers against inferior competition as well. For Louisville to win 49-7 and allow the only touchdown when the entire starting defense was on the sidelines is a very good sign.