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Cards-Cats Rivalry Week Match-Up: Okay, Let's Talk Linemen

College football is won in the trenches.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is a moran (click through and do a ctl-f for "trenches").

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  This pictured blogger thinks the spread offense means college football is no longer won in the trenches. 

While yesterday's preview focused on the linebackers and the skill position players as the key components of the running game, UK still relies on a traditional running game, and they have the personnel and, most importantly, the coaching to run a "power spread" offense.  Yes, Mike Summers, UofL's offensive line coach under Bobby Petrino, pulled a reverse Pitino and now coaches UK's offensive line after a few years with Petrino at Arkansas.  He's a very good coach.

How will Summers's presence at his first Governor's Cup since his last one affect the outcome Saturday?  Let's make that up as we go along.....after the jump.....

 

WHEN LOUISVILLE HAS THE BALL

Who Will Protect The Quarterback And Open Holes For The Runners?

You totally thought this was going to be about Kentucky's offensive line first, didn't you?  Always gotta be on your toes.  The biggest story of Louisville's offensive line is two seniors who should not be seniors: left guard Mark Wetterer and right tackle Greg Tomczyk.  Perhaps no one suffered more - and will hurt the 2011 team more - from being Kragshirted than these two guys.  Sure, Dexter Heyman and Doug Beaumont and Andrell Smith may beg to differ.  But offensive line is a position that 5th year seniors, especially who have been playing together for years, really can be the difference between a mediocre year and a conference-championship-contender year. 

The first and easiest place to look to judge an offensive line is size.  According to the official depth chart, our guys average 6'5.2'', 302.4 pounds, with Conrad Thomas at an imposing 6'6'', 315 pounds, which are coincidentally my measurements as well.  For as many pancakes as he got in NCAA 2010, Thomas actually didn't play last year.   In fact, he has hardly played during his entire career at UofL.  I vaguely remember reading that he had some injury problems, but I could be completely making that up. I also vaguely remember that he's supposed to be really good, but again, cannot file any links or sources, and am not a premium member on ITV. 

The other guys (Wetterer, Tomczyk, Mario Benevides at Center and Byron Stingily at LT) are all familiar, as they pretty much all started or played significant minutes last year.  I can't find penalty stats, but again, my memory is that Stingily was none too popular around these parts for his inopportune holding penalties.  In fact, he's lucky the ESPN.com game tracker doesn't spell this out in more detail, but I think it was his holding penalty that resulted in Doug Beaumont's first touchdown catch being negated. 

Again, this feels like stalling.  Experience and size are important factors, but the line didn't exactly inspire a ton of confidence last year.  Their pass protection would seem to be much less important than their run blocking because Sanford's offense will likely look to get the ball out of the QB's hands quickly.  Basically, we need to hope that the addition of Conrad Thomas, better coaching and a different scheme will make this group better than last year.  It is unlikely they will be worse.

Who Will Chase The Quarterback And Close Holes For The Runners?

The biggest news of rivalry week so far is the announcement that UK will start walk-on Luke McDermott at defensive tackle.  The 6'1'', 265 (on the depth chart, 280 according to the CJ) pound former Trinity Shamrock (honestly, whose mascot is a weed? Go X.) and confessed Louisville fan earned the job by working, eating, working, eating and working.  At 265-280 pounds, he's on the small side.  To compare, Gregg Scruggs, a converted DE who has been converted to DT mainly due to lack of options, weighs 273 pounds according to UofL, which is too specific to be exaggerated.  Tim High (hi Tim!) weighs in at a DT-like 298 pounds. 

Anyway, McDermott sounds like your basic local-boy-makes-Rudy story, and he plays with a motor and a lack of fear.  So there you go.  Next to him on the defensive line is UK's most experienced trenchman, Ricky Lumpkin, who has seen significant playing time since his freshman year.  Last year was his most productive: 13 games, 2+ tackles a game.

But the best player on the line, and the most returning tackles, are represented by one DeQuin Evans, a JUCO defensive end in his second year.  He led the Cats in tackles for loss and sacks last year, recording 12.5 (almost 1 per game) and 6 (.5 per game), respectively.  JUCO players seem to really produce in their second year, so Evans should be UK's best weapon by far on the line this season.  If Stingily gets called for holding on the first drive, it could be a long day for Froman.  And whoever is sitting near Mike.

The other names you need to know: Taylor Wyndham and Collins Ukwu will split time at the other defensive end spot.  Both sophomores, Wyndham had a better season in 2009 but Ukwu has apparently passed him on the depth chart.

The final name UK fans all know but we generally don't because we are sick of the practice all-star hype coming from Lexington (and have our own buzz-worthy players to worry about) is Donte Rumph.  Rumph, a literal giant from South Carolina, spent two years at Hargrave Military Academy after high school, and is finally eligible to play for the Cats.  I think 6'3'', 315 qualifies as giant, no?  He's one of Cosby's "Five Players You Will Know" (I still can't believe he managed to slip six players into the "five players you know" section.)  Rumph and fellow late addition, LSU-cast off Elliot Porter, will both probably have more of an impact as the season goes on than they will contribute Saturday, but when you see them in the game, you can impress the people around you with their backstories.

So where does all of this leave us?  I have no idea, and I don't think many other people do either.  Evans and Lumpkin are both solid players, and defensive lineman often make a big jump in their senior year.  They aren't exactly Myron Pryor and Jeremy Jarmon, but they are good.  And our offensive line is good, but not awesome.  What they lack in awe-inspiring stats they make up for in experience. 

Overall, I don't think this is the most important match-up, and I don't think either unit has enough of an advantage to be the decisive factor in this game Saturday. 

WHEN KENTUCKY HAS THE BALL

Who Will Protect The Quarterback And Open Holes For The Runners?

Mike Summers joining UK sucks.  He's a good coach, and usually switching sides in a rivalry like this is cause for one-way personal animosity from bloggers to coach, although if he got to know hot hot, I'm sure Mike Summers's hate would be two-way.  But, like Joker Phillips and Rich Brooks before him, the current generation of UK football coaches are not that unlikeable.  I'm not saying I like Joker Phillips or Mike Summers.  Just that, they are not really villains like, I dunno, say, another UK coach.....UK Women's Rifle Coach Harry Mullins:

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Feel the hate.  via grfx.cstv.com

Summers will no doubt make UK's offensive line better, as he did for our guys while he was here.  His method seems to be more metaphysical than physical:

"The offensive line has to be a team within the team, and that's what they're becoming," Phillips said. "Coach (Mike) Summers is building that."

In his first season at UK, Summers — who built a reputation for constructing potent lines at Louisville and Arkansas under Bobby Petrino — has instilled a we-first mentality that he said has been crucial to his unit's preseason progress.

"We have to be able to communicate in a very short amount of time," Summers said. "Understanding what the guy next to you is thinking, what he's doing and reading his intentions elevate your ability to have success. I don't think you can do that unless there's a relationship between all those guys."

Under his system, the personnel doesn't matter as much, although it helps having NFL quality talent and size.  UK does not really have either.  Some names that will be familiar to devotees: Billy Joe Murphy, Brad Durham and Stuart Hines are all Kentucky-born prospects who were on UofL's radar, and in the case of Brad Durham, even committed to the old regime.  UK's line is smaller than ours: 6'4.2'' and 298.6 pounds across.  Not exactly SEC sized, much less NFL.  The center, who is usually the quarterback of the offensive line, although I think we should start calling the quarterback the "middle linebacker of the offense", is a guy named Matt Smith.  Smith won the job by being "more consistent" in practice, but apparently his backup has a lot more nastiness.  Between Smith and Hartline, sounds like Joker wants slow/steady as opposed to the high risk/high reward Newton/Nasty Center combo.

Summers's skills are why UK's line might be better this year than last, despite losing four starters.  And again, it's not so much about being crazy physical:

Summers spends an extraordinary amount of time focusing on technique, fundamentals, and body and hand positioning, and once the players master it they can just go out and block.

He's like Ron Burgandy.  He's not sure if it is pronounced yogging or jogging.....apparently you just go out and block.  But Summers has a lot to teach in a short amount of time.  In addition to all the new starters, the second most important spot on the line, left tackle, will be manned by a converted defensive lineman, Chandler Burden, who was named for a Robert Penn Warren character I believe.  Here's Cosby objective take, of which I am in 120% (or 6/5th) agreement:

All eyes will be on Burden as he moves from defensive end to protecting the quarterback's blind side at left tackle. Burden has the strength and athleticism to handle the position, and if you go by the track record of new offensive line coach Mike Summers, Burden could be an eventual star.

Fair enough.  Again, not much proven talent here, but Summers's track record gives UK two ways to beat you with the running game.  The spread/Cobb/screen version, discussed at length already, and the straight forward, "downhill" running game that wears down opponents, moves the ball and engages the linebackers to free up space for the occasional shot downfield.   UK's offensive line may not be their strength, but it is probably good enough to make a difference on Saturday.

Who Will Chase The Quarterback And Close Holes For The Runners?

Luckily for UK, their offensive line has some time to gel and gain some gray hairs in game situations, as their first opponents line is undersized, not very talented and lacks quality depth.  Unfortunately, I'm talking about us.  It' s not that the defensive line is terrible, just that an era that saw a long string of superstars on the line has basically ended because of Steve Kragthorpe. 

Greg Scruggs is a team leader and moves over to defensive tackle from end.  Scruggs has been working hard, according to his Twitter (who would lie to their tweeps?!?) and amazingly escaped death after impersonating Charlie Strong. 

 

 

The other defensive tackle spot will be manned by Tim High (hi...okay, that joke is done), a JUCO who played some last year, assisting on two tackles, and that's about it.  Looks like he got Kragshirted - a lot of DNPs and two random games (Cincinnati and Syracuse) although maybe he wasn't red shirt eligible.  At 298 pounds, he is unfortunately the biggest guy on the line.  Roy Philon and Randy Salmon, two younger guys with promise, back him up and should see time and give Cards fans hope for 2011 and beyond.

On the ends, William Savoy gets the start at "Fox End", and he sounds like my kinda guy: obsessive and a hard worker.  I'm very obsessive, in case you haven't been able to tell.  But I've been working on these posts for months, so not sure how hard working.  Early leader for worst nickname, "Bill-Bill" led the defensive line in sacks at 5 in 2009, although he only started four games.  What a weird coach we had.

On the other end, JUCO senior Malcolm Mitchell appears to have beaten out Rodney Gnat, a guy whose promise as a young player were very exciting, and it sucks that he's now a senior and wasted his career with Krags.  Tatum played a ton last year, and played well, but generally flew under the radar, probably because of his JUCO status.  He is actually our leading returning tackler on the line, and has apparently beaten out Gnat in August camp.

BJ Butler is the Cards highest rated incoming prospect, and will back-up Savoy at one end.  Brandon Dunn is the other freshman who will see time on Saturday and likely all season. 

Overall, the defensive line is not outstanding and probably won't have a breakout star this year, but it will work its balls off, and there are some young guys who will benefit from Charlie Strong and the upgraded defensive staff.  Maybe not in time to make a difference Saturday, but soonish.

If the past is any indication, Hartline will be handing the ball off a lot and won't take too many shots downfield.  A really interesting game-within-the-game will be how must Joker/Sanders trust the line to pass protect, and how early they call plays that require the line to give Hartline a lot of time.  If Hartline is going downfield early in the first quarter, and has time, that's another really bad sign for us. 

If Locke gets 3-4 yards up the middle every time he touches the ball before anyone touches him, that's also a really bad sign.  The most important thing our defensive line can do against UK is stop the run.  They won't pressure Hartline much, and I wouldn't be surprised to see a clean sheet for Hartline. 

UK's offensive line will have an advantage over our defensive line, but as long as they can at least keep them engaged and the linebackers are making plays, and don't just let Locke et al. get into the second level untouched all afternoon, they will keep us in the game. But as good as Summers is, four new starts are four new starters, so the Cardinal defensive line doesn't have to be spectacular and no matter what they aren't going to win us the game.  They just have to fight enough in the trenches to not lose it.