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Guess Who

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Who will emerge as a leader in the final four games...?

Who could have imagined that eight games into the college football season The University of Louisville would still present so many unknowns about the future? A lot of the preseason predictions and prognostications about the offense completely missed the mark; the chatter about Petrino’s firepower having to pull along a young and depleted defense is now purely comical, and trying to pinpoint on a week to week basis just who will emerge as a leader has now become a proverbial game of ‘Guess Who’ as the clock winds down on the 2014 season…

“Does your player have good hands?”

While any rational fan would stop short of pinning a win or loss on a single play, one could argue that if we field a late game punt as intended in Charlottesville, VA or avoid a wasted down in Death Valley this team has a number two greater than the six that currently resides in their win column. Point fingers all you like, but it’s not one player or coach who has hampered production this season. Look at Special Teams. I understand trying to create a big play on a change of possession, but that point quickly becomes moot if we turn the ball over. If I had unquestionable reliability in the hands of someone such as a Griffin Uhl, for example, I’d put him back there to return punts EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. and take zero return yards over the possibility of losing the ball. We currently average 7.5 yards and have zero touchdowns in our punt return game, not exactly setting the world on fire. We have to do better. In another regard, the sure-handed A.F.R.O.S. of last season have had difficulty holding onto balls not placed directly on their chest plate. Will and Reggie are not Teddy “Two Gloves”, and perfectly placed balls are a thing of the past in 2014. If you proclaim to be the best in the country, you have to pull in some difficult catches occasionally. While Quick has seemed to carry over some issues from last year, he has improved. I’m more surprised at the ongoing problem this has become for Eli, Michaelee and Gerald Christian. I’m not asking for DeVante range from everyone, but the target envelope for Will has to be expanded in order for him to be successful.

(starts knocking down various players from my game board…)

I think the wideouts work out their timing issues with Will, Petrino adds a few wrinkles to highlight the areas in which he can excel, and Gardner impresses us all in the last third of the season.

“Is your player healthy?”

Sure, one could point to drops or turnovers as a point of contention in each loss this season, but just as easily the focus could shift to injuries. You throw a healthy DeVante Parker in the game against Virginia or Clemson and you still think we travel back to Louisville with a loss both times? The same could be said for Michael Dyer, who looked like the retro version of himself against NC State earning the starting role against FSU. Before the season we knew Parker would be missed, but it seemed that we brushed off the significance due to our depth at wide receiver. We were wrong. He has not only been missed. He has been SEVERELY missed. While I could point to the emergence of Radcliff as filling the void for a deep bruised Dyer, Quick at times was the only sign of life in an otherwise stagnant offense. Having Parker back on the field is “game changing”. He minimizes QB errors, draws coverage and most importantly, makes plays. A healthy Parker, Dyer, and Reve on the opposite side of the ball, changes the complexion of this team and provides the boost we’ll need to withstand the extremely physical four game stretch that wraps up our season.

(starts knocking down various players on the game board…)

No denying Parkers impact. I think he gets his stamina back up with an extra five days off and puts on a hell of a show his last few games in a Cardinal uniform.

“Does your player shoot himself in the foot?”

Penalties stacked on top of penalties stacked on top of turnovers. It’s a nightmare game of Jenga for every Louisville fan. At a certain point this season a false start on every drive was as sure a bet as a Bobby Petrino wheel route. We couldn't get of our own way. How bad is it? Through eight games we are 101st in the country in penalties per game (7.5) and giving up over 50 yards each time we step on the field (I can already hear you mumbling about Mack under your breath, but it’s not just him). If I put a “false start” and “special teams penalty” on your pregame Bingo board, you might as well have three FREE spaces because they are bound to happen. While I was encouraged by our discipline last week against NC State (2nd least penalized game all year) the numbers show that we are not getting any better as the season progresses. Even with the nice effort last week our average penalty yardage in October is over seven yards worse than it was in September. I find it ironic that we seem to be moving in the wrong direction once again. Of course, penalties can only happen if we hold onto the ball. We currently sit at 105th in the country in turnovers lost (15), which would be brutal to overcome if our defense wasn’t sitting at number 7 for turnovers forced(18). My arm is getting sore from patting Grantham and his defense on the back so much. Holliman and Sample have been ball hawks and the front seven have made running against us an unbearable task for most opponents. Will and Reggie are very young and expecting them to take care of the ball like a veteran is unrealistic, but 15 turnovers is not acceptable and we have to praise the defense for not only getting us the ball back in certain situations but locking down the opponent when we place them on a short field consistently.

(starts knocking down various players on the game board…)

I think Holliman adds to his nation leading interception total and breaks the UofL single season record with 11 picks. Now we just have to convince him to stick around for another year.

Even with what some might consider a complete rewrite on the script we drew up before the season began, one could argue that the results thus far have led us right back to the same scenario we all envisioned. In my countdown posts this summer I asked fans to predict our record at the end of the season and the consensus seemed to be at the 8-4 mark, stealing a victory from the heavyweights (Clemson, FSU and ND) and losing a potential head scratcher along the way. Here we are. Eight weeks in, and that same ending could still play out just as we planned, even though the story lines have changed. As we prepare to face Florida State on October 30th I can’t help but to think that outsiders are beginning to view our defense as the large, strong, and terrifying Halloween costume you made as a child….and the offense as the bulky coat your mom forced you to wear over top because there was a chill in the air. They know we have something special, but at times it’s difficult to see.

If the past has shown us anything, it’s that Louisville and their fans always show up when the lights seem to be the brightest. Someone is going to end that Florida State winning streak. Someone is going to shut down that offense. Someone is going to climb back into the national discussion and someone is going to add another page into the history books of their program.

Guess Who.