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Five keys for tonight's game

Some of you may have been surprised with the lack of Louisville/Kentucky coverage on the blog this week, and if you were then I apologize. I opted not to wax poetic about the U of L/UK football rivalry this week because while the hatred is certainly still there, the enticing back story and recent competitiveness is not.

I also chose not to try and thoroughly breakdown the matchups between the Cats and the Cards for a number of reasons, including:

  1. I still haven't seen Kentucky play (I love college football, but I don't think I'll ever reach the point where I'm willing to pay 30 bucks to see a game involving Kent State).
  2. The offensive stats of the first two weeks are basically irrelevant. U of L and UK have each played two inferior squads and lit them up offensively, and other than that there's not a whole lot more you can gain by analyzing the numbers. I wouldn't have been so bold as to predict that U of L would rack up 723 yards of offense against MTSU, but I wouldn't have laughed at anyone who did.
  3. The teams you've watched for the last two weeks aren't going to be taking the field tonight. Regardless of what they say, both teams have saved things for this game, and you're going to see numerous plays, packages and techniques that weren't utilized in the Eastern Kentucky or Murray State games. The game may be being played on the third week of the season for the first time, but much of what we can expect to see tonight is as unknown as it has been for the last 13 years.
  4. Because of all of this, there's little to nothing I can say that you couldn't find dozens of other places.
I do, however, feel like I need to write something of substance pertaining to tonight's contest, so I'm going to be really original and lay out what I believe are the five biggest keys to the game.

But not before I go on a mini-rant.

If I have to read or here one more person say that getting consistent pressure on Brian Brohm is a big key to tonight's game, I'm going to flip. Kentucky fans (using the second half of the Rutgers game as their evidence) continue to state that Brohm struggles when he's constantly under pressure in the pocket. You know who else struggles when they're constantly under pressure in the pocket? Every quarterback that's ever played football. The miracle child of Joe Montana and John Elway would struggle if he had two guys bearing down on him before he completed his drop, and pointing this out is akin to stating that you "honestly believe" that scoring points is going to play a major role in your team's contest.  

So is Kentucky pressuring Brohm for four quarters important? Absolutely. It's every bit as important as Louisville pressuring Andre Woodson, Tennessee pressuring Tim Tebow, and Arkansas State pressuring Justin Willis.

All right I feel better. Now here's what else is going to be important inside Commonwealth tonight.

1. The philosophy of Louisville's defensive line

For whatever reason, Mike Cassity has chosen to stray from the shoot the gaps philosophy that produced 44 sacks in 2006 and a top 20 run defense in each of the last three seasons in favor of an NFL-style engage and react technique that yielded 264 yards on the ground last Thursday. Taking on the guy in front of you straight up is fine if you're getting a big enough push or your linebackers are able to get into the backfield unimpeded to make stops, but neither has happened in Louisville's first two games. I'm highly interested to see if this experiment has been scrapped and we're going to see the style that has been so successful in the past.

2. The composure of Andre Woodson

The first time I saw Andre Woodson he was a big-armed high school senior with no idea where to throw the ball who was yelling at his North Hardin teammates throughout a 43-0 defeat at the hands of Brian Brohm and Trinity. Five years later he's reinvented himself as an experienced QB with a cool head, the same big arm, and plenty of idea where to throw the ball.

Woodson hasn't had much success against Louisville, and has an even longer history of futility against Brohm. With all the hype he's received and playing in front of an adoring home crowd, he's now going to come out with all the confidence in the world, but there's still the question of how he reacts if things don't go his way early. If UK gets the ball rolling early then I think number three may very well have a career game, but if something small goes wrong here or there, or his attempts without an interception streak is broken early, does he revert to the Andre Woodson we've seen the past two seasons in this game?

3. Rafael Little's ability to get to the outside and turn the corner

I ordinarily roll my eyes at fans of other teams when they give the "he's really good but no one knew he was playing hurt last season" spiel, but Rafael Little is an absolute player, and he was nowhere near full strength a year ago. Little loves to get outside, and UK has had him moving towards the sidelines on the bulk of his carries so far this season. This is where you'd think the speed of Louisville's linebackers would come into play, but we've yet to see Jackson, Myles, Smith and company utilize their quickness to keep anyone from getting into the secondary this season. If this trend continues, then Russell, Raglin and Palmer are going to be forced to get acquainted with Raf early and often.

4. Turnovers

This sounds like a "pressure the quarterback" key, but the team that has turned the ball over the most hasn't won a tilt in this series in seven years. I think the first quarter will be more indicative of how this game will play out than it ordinarily is. If one team displays the ability to stop the other in the opening frame (not likely) then they're likely headed towards victory, but if the offenses immediately start matching touchdowns then the loser of this game will likely be the team that makes the worst mistake at the worst time.

5. Louisville's ability to weather the storm early

In the first quarter of this game the Cards are going to take as good a shot as a Kentucky football team is ever going to give. UK fans and players have been looking forward to this game far more than any other in the history of this series, and now it's being commonly referred to as the biggest game in the history of Commonwealth Stadium. The crowd is going to be insane, the players are going to be jacked, and it's a safe bet that we're going to see some razzle dazzle out of old man Rich within the first 15 minutes. The Kentucky football program has gone all in for this game, and if the Cards aren't careful they could find themselves trying to dig out of a pretty intense hole for three quarters.