It's difficult to believe that we're already at the midway point of the season for Louisville football. One of, if not the best seasons in Cardinals football history is flying by. With six games already in the books, Mike Rutherford, Cardsfan922, GoCardsGuy, and me, all had ourselves a little discussion about the season so far and what we expect in the second half, beginning with Friday's game with UCF. This is part I. We'll have Part II for you tomorrow.
1. What's your overall impression/grade of the team through six games?
CC: It's kind of a tough question just because everyone expected Louisville to be where it is (undefeated) at the halfway point, we just weren't sure the manner in which the 6-0 record would come about. Obviously, the defense has exceeded everyone's wildest expectations, but then there's also the issue of still not knowing just how bad, or average, the teams the Cards have beaten truly are. If I had to give a grade, I'll go B+, which still feels overly harsh. The performances against Kentucky and Rutgers keep the team out of A territory, just because I think there are teams that would have beaten Louisville on those days that the Cards are much better than.
922: Graded on a reverse curve: A-. Graded objectively: A+, obviously.
To shamelessly steal from David Foster Wallace, the best and worst thing about being a sports fan is that you can choose how to think about your favorite team, whether it's always believing that this is the year or always believing that a sucker punch loss is lurking. No matter how many times it's not the year or the sucker punch comes and it didn't help that you were prepared for it, you keep turning the TV on or walking through the turnstile.
So, this year, I have chosen to not worry about the gap between perfection and what we have done, because we are playing dominant football and it's fun to watch. I've written at length about this, but we are the 1st quarter of the UK game, the 2nd half of the Temple game and maybe 4 plays in the Rutgers game away from having played as well as we possibly could all season. Stepping back, considering the difficulty last year's team had against inferior foes, the fact that we have never really been challenged and never really been in danger of losing a game through mid-October while statistically ranking at the top of most defensive metrics, I mean, are we not entertained here?
GCG: A+ for sure. I personally think this is the most complete team we have seen at UofL. I think the offense is similar to the 2006 team in a lot of ways but the defense is a step above. There are multiple NFL players at each level of the defense and this team in general is just more exciting to me. It was great rooting for the guys that stayed through the rough years, but seeing what they helped build has been excellent to say the least.
ME: I'll give it an A, for two reasons. First, I think it deserves no less than A because the team is undefeated, is playing the best defense in school history, hasn't allowed more than a single touchdown in a game, and hasn't won by fewer than single digits in all six games. Even the closest game, Rutgers, never felt in doubt. I won't give it an A+ because there's no question the red zone play-calling has kept some games from being much more impressive than they wound up looking, and special teams, both kickoff coverage and field goals, continues to be an issue.
2. Besides Teddy, which is just too easy, who is the MVP of the team in the first half of the season?
CC: I'll saddle up with Calvin Pryor here. ESPN named him a Midseason All-American earlier this week, and I don't think there's any question that the honor is warranted. Outside of missing that tackle on Jojo Kemp's long run, he's been an absolute rock. He's also put himself in a position where a solid second half could make him a legitimate first day draft choice next spring.
922: Have to go with my favorite player DeVante Parker. Not sure if it's related but in two out of the three sub-perfect segments we've played this year, #9 has not been available. Teddy and Parker are on the same wavelength now and Teddy knows he can throw the ball to where only one guy can get, and that's been our most effective redzone strategy. He is a game-changer and other than Teddy has the largest value-over-replacement (nerd alert!) of anyone on the team.
CGC: Preston Brown has finally turned the corner and become both a great player and a great leader. The defense is dominating everyone and it has truly reached the level of "elite". We haven't seen opposing receivers running freely down the middle of the field. We don't see running backs abusing cutback lanes because someone left their gap. We're literally seeing the opposite. Preston and James Burgess are routinely making plays in the opposing backfield and he is leading this unit to great things.
ME: I have to go with Calvin Pryor. The more he plays, the more he's starting to remind me of another former Charlie Strong safety: Major Wright at Florida. Pryor is a vicious hitter and has now become a ballhawk as well. Multiple times this year he's been the one to put an end to drives with a solid tackle, a pass break-up, or an interception.
3. What do you think was the best single moment of the first six games?
CC: I can't think of a best moment, so I'll go with the biggest and say DeVante Parker's touchdown catch against Kentucky. It was probably the best individual play of the season so far, and also might have been the most important. If Vante doesn't come down with that and Louisville is forced to settle for another field goal, then the crowd at Commonwealth stays into the game and maybe the Cards start to press a little bit. That one play gave U of L the breathing room it desperately needed at that moment.
922: I'm not sure if there's been a defining play yet. The Parker TD against UK where he jumped and then sorta did another jump in mid-air is probably the coolest one, and Teddy's back-shoulder TD to Copeland in the Ohio game comes to mind as a top "wow" moment too. Dyer's run against Ohio was pretty cool but would be much cooler if he had done it like 4 more times. So I think because no play has really changed any game and been a defining moment, I'll go with the Harris TD in the FIU game: considering what he's battled through, that was really cool to see, especially how excited everyone was for him.
GCG: Michaelee Harris scoring his first touchdown in two years. Rarely do we get to see college athletes come back from major injuries and look like they did before said injury. Harris, by all accounts, has been a great teammate and leader while working his way back from his knee injuries. He didn't shy away from the locker room and didn't lose the personality that made him a favorite among teammates. Being able to witness the team's reaction when he finally made it all the way back was a special moment.
ME: To me, it was Senorise Perry's 36 yard touchdown run against Kentucky. It put the game out of reach at 27-6 and it signaled that he was back for good. It seemed in the offseason that the pursuit of Michael Dyer and the refusal to really name one starting back meant that they weren't sure what they would get from him. That touchdown run really seemed to me to be a statement that he wasn't going to let himself get buried by Dyer and Dominique Brown.
4. Your biggest disappointment so far (player, game, or single moment)?
CC: The obvious answer is the red zone offense, and that's the one I'm going with. It's been a disappointment not just because of all the weapons U of L has at its disposal, but because of how successful the Cards were in those same situations last season. Even with Parker healthy, I'll never understand the third and goal fade. You have the best quarterback in America - a guy whose biggest strength might be his mental grasp of the game - and the most talented group of receivers in Louisville history. To limit yourself to one option in that situation just makes no sense to me.
922: Gah, the obvious answer here is playcalling in the Rutgers game in the red zone but that's super nitpicky. For me it's James Quick not being more involved - the idea of Teddy-to-Quick is something that's been around since 2011, and for that window to be closing in another 7 games is disappointing. I understand there are a ton of guys above him, and there's not one WR who is playing bad or doesn't deserve to play so Quick can, but still, as talented a local kid as we've ever had, I'd at least like to see him return kickoffs.
But really the playcalling is just still nagging in the back of my head, and only because I'm afraid it evidences a stubbornness or a little too outdated thinking about the relative importance of running the ball. But who knows. Maybe we are saving everything for Bama in the championship, where we finally go 5-wide no huddle, pass 80% of the time and win by 3 TDs.
GCG: Hard to call it a disappointment, but I wish we could work James Quick into the rotation. I knew he wasn't going to play this year when I went to the open practices, but I held out hope that he could get a little more playing time than he has. With the injuries we've seen it has finally happened, but I just wanted a little more I guess. I honestly don't think he deserves to be out there over any of the guys he's behind right now, which is why its hard to label it as a "disappointment".
ME: Oddly, even the things that most are upset about haven't bothered me quite as much. My biggest disappointment has been the injury bug. We haven't had a chance to see DeAngelo Brown or Jamaine Brooks at defensive tackle at all this year. We've seen very little of Keith Brown or freshman James Hearns at linebacker. The offensive line has missed players. Even some of the true freshmen who had a chance to maybe see a little playing time, like Terrence Ross, went down in the preseason. And of course, DeVante Parker, a future NFL receiver, could miss the two biggest games of the season. It's weird to think, but the team might be even better if those guys are healthy.
Tomorrow we'll have part II of the roundtable that focuses on the second half of the season.