"Who are you?" Three words that have been heard 62 million times on YouTube by viewers of a recent Star Wars trailer and a question that applies perfectly to these 2015 Louisville Cardinals. This season's version of Louisville Football is in the midst of a four game winning streak and has won six of its last seven, but it is a team whose best win came against a sputtering 6-4 N.C. State. The Cardinals hold victories over five FBS teams, but four of those opponents boast 3-7 records. How much has Louisville improved? How good can they be? Who are they? It is time for our Cardinals to rise to the occasion and define this turbulent rebuilding year.
Louisville's adventure to Pittsburgh and Heinz Field is its final ACC game of the year and offers the Cardinals an opportunity to finish as the 4th best team in the 14 member conference. With Clemson and Notre Dame almost guaranteed a spot in the college football playoff, and the Tarheels of North Carolina making a move for a New Year's Day bowl appearance, if the Cardinals win Saturday they would be slotted to fill the second or third best bowl available to an ACC team. After beginning the year 0-3, if Louisville is able to make an appearance in a bowl not named for nauseating hot wings or mid-level department stores, 2015 would be considered a major success. The Cardinals should be extra motivated by these possible scenarios, but it is their job to focus on winning. Bowl berths and if/then situations can be dealt with by the fans and pundits, Coach Petrino just needs a win.
Pittsburgh presents a monumental challenge to Louisville who hasn't seen a successful or arguably legitimate team since October 17th. The Panthers are not in the top 50 in total offense, rushing offense, or passing offense, but they do control the tempo of games and rank 14th in time of possession. Pittsburgh is also an impressively disciplined team. They rank 15th in turnovers lost (11 all year) and they are 15th in the country in regards to fewest penalties. The Cardinals cannot expect the Panthers to beat themselves, they are too well coached and experienced at this point in the year.
Louisville fans should be well acquainted with Pittsburgh's leading man. Pat Narduzzi was the longtime defensive coordinator for Mark Dantonio while he enjoyed successful tenures at Cincinnati and Michigan State. With that being said, Narduzzi was the defensive coordinator in November 2004 when Coach Petrino hung 70 points on the Bearcats in one of the most enjoyable and embarrassing displays in the history of Cardinal Football. Narduzzi recovered nicely from Petrino's lashing and has his Panthers ranked 26th in total defense and 13th in total team sacks.
The storyline for Saturday will be Louisville's retooled and improving offensive line. The unit has been impressive these last several weeks and most importantly they have greatly reduced their unforced errors and miscues. Pittsburgh isn't Virginia, they certainly aren't Syracuse, and Saturday will go a long way in showcasing just how much better this front five really is.
There can be no argument that the run game and play calling is 1,000,000,000x more effective when Louisville's quarterback has an ability to crouch down and play under center. With that being said, Louisville took full advantage against the porous defenses of 3-7 Syracuse and 3-7 Virginia. Kyle Bolin had a less than average outing against Virginia and struggles mightily with pressure in his face. Bolin's numbers against legitimate competition are less than spectacular and Pittsburgh will force Bolin to beat them with downfield passing. When facing defenses ranked in the top 100, Kyle is now 49-85 passing the ball with two touchdowns against six turnovers.
Bolin will, and should continue to start, but my assumption is that there will be a lot more Lamar Jackson Saturday afternoon. The change of pace he can offer coupled with his arm strength may prove pivotal in a stagnant contest this weekend. Also, kudos to Reggie Bonnafon for continuing to make positive impacts in many difference facets of Louisville's new offensive attack. Reggie is a special kid and we should cherish his remaining two seasons.
After beginning a cautiously optimistic season 0-3, the Cardinals could have folded, quit, and listened to the suicidal bandwagon sect of our fan base. With leadership and effort, Louisville picked themselves up off the mat, escaped the basement, and are now playing for an 8-4 finish to the regular season. Cardinal Football is setting itself up for a special run and many of us will look back at 2015 as the springboard. Pittsburgh presents a threatening hurdle to Louisville's win streak and the moment is now for our Cardinals. Prove it to yourself and your coaches and define this season with success.
All Hail UofL !!