Denny Crum, Rick Pitino, Nick Saban, Bill Belichick, and Geno Auriemma have more in common than current or future Hall of Fame status. Each of those premier coaches believe in a common phrase uttered consistently among legends of the sidelines: great players make great coaches. Being a great coach is easily observable, and certainly an accomplishment, but elite talent can't always overcome incompetence. That being said, without great players and premier athletes, no coach could ever reach the peak of their career.
After Louisville's first two games of 2014, one thing shines clearer than any other. Louisville Football has become a premier program because there is elite talent at every position, and more importantly, that talent and ability doesn't diminish when Coach Petrino moves down the depth chart. Coach Strong was successful at evaluating talent and stocking the Cardinal cupboard with championship type athletes. As evidenced by his NFL player resume, Coach Petrino may be the best at evaluating roster needs, locating the necessary athletes, and maximizing the full potential of those athletes. Strong had created a solid base, but Petrino is exactly what Louisville Football needs to reach the ultimate goal of winning a National Championship.
Dominique Brown outperformed and upstaged first team All-ACC running back Duke Johnson in week one. In week two, Coach Petrino opted to rest Brown after the first quarter, and L.J. Scott and Brandon Radcliffe decided to let the country know Louisville has two other running backs that would start for most teams in the United States. In case you weren't aware, 2011 Championship MVP and former five star recruit Michael Dyer will make his first appearance Saturday in Charlottesville.
All Cardinal fans are aware that local legend and future first round draft pick DeVante Parker is out until October. The Cardinal quarterbacks have undoubtedly missed his presence, but that hasn't stopped 13 different players from recording a reception and four different receivers crossing the goal line. Will Gardner has done his job in the first two starts of his career; he's 2-0 and constantly learning. Petrino also threw freshman sensation Reggie Bonnafon to the wolves and he responded by doing his best Teddy Bridgewater impression.
Almost every starter was given the second half off on Saturday against Murray State. No bother, the offensive line reserves managed to propel the Cardinal running attack to 154 second half rushing yards. The defense has certainly been the most impressive unit through two weeks of football, and the amount of playmakers is staggering. I have been diligently following Cardinal Football since the mid 90's and I have never seen such speed and swarm tackling by a Louisville defensive unit. Little league soccer is always entertaining because all 22 kiddos give it their best chasing around the ball in unison. Louisville's defense took a page out of the local youth league's playbook because when our Cardinals hit and tackle an opponent, it isn't one Cardinal delivering a punishing blow; it's always five or six.
Saturday presents another opportunity for Louisville to prove they belong next to Florida State as the best of the ACC. Virginia is still relatively unknown in 2014, as are most teams, but one thing is evident about the Cavaliers. Virginia clings to its defense and prays it can keep their team in the ballgame. If not for three defensive touchdowns by UCLA in week one, Virginia would have claimed its biggest victory in almost a decade.
The biggest challenge for Louisville entering this game is focus. The defensive coaches and players have certainly read their press clippings after two successful outings, but the Cardinal defense must eclipse their week one and two performances in Saturday's conference showdown. Louisville's offense hasn't quite hit full throttle in 2014, and Lorenzo Mauldin, Sheldon Rankins, Charles Gaines, Keith Kelsey, James Burgess, and co. must deliver against the Cavaliers.
The Cardinal offense isn't yet a juggernaut, but the O isn't far off either. Will Gardner's confidence continues to grow, but he must settle into the pocket. Will has shown some happy feet from time to time, and according to our head coach has missed some downfield opportunities. If UofL can score fast and early on Saturday, it will force Virginia out of their comfort zone and lead to a comfortable Cardinal victory. I expect Coach Petrino to move deeper into the playbook in Charlottesville, and we should prepare for a heavy dose of Dominique Brown and Michael Dyer. Establishing the run early will allow Gardner to settle in utilizing play action to make easy throws. I expect Will to play better away from PJCS, and showcase the arm strength the rest of the country has yet to witness.
Louisville can take another step towards their October gauntlet Saturday, and continue to occupy first place in the ACC by moving their league record to 2-0. The national pundits are beginning to take notice of the Cardinals and deservedly so. Louisville has championship talent at every position, and these individuals will only continue to flourish under Coach Petrino's unrivaled instruction. Focus is the key word for week three, and superior talent will allow the 2014 Cardinal Conquest to march on.
All Hail UofL !!