The current cable television climate reflects the importance of athletics in American society. ESPN, coupled with every other sports network, occupies roughly half of the 6,500 channels available to an average consumer. These anchors and motor mouths need filler content to bridge the gap from game day to game day. We hear it for every sport, every season: "this team needs to find its identity". As of today, scientists are still unable to understand the link between championship trophies and pinpointing a team's distinction, nevertheless, coaches, fans, and media search each season for their team's identity. Coach Petrino's calling card has been, and always will be offense, but the 2014 Cardinals were defined by a stifling defense. 10 days remain until the biggest game in school history, will Louisville find a new identity in 2015?
The six-years-and-counting Crimson Tide dynasty clings to a strong running attack, winning the turnover battle, and most importantly, controlling the line of scrimmage. Florida State lost one game through 2013 and 2014 by showcasing an ability to make the big play, and the right play, at a game's most crucial moment. Oregon is easiest to identify, yes their uniforms usually require sunglasses for viewing, but their fast tempo/score quick mentality has greatly impacted the college and professional game. In 2015, Ohio State's identity was simply next man up.
Louisville Football was destined to be carried by DeVante Parker's broad shoulders and Coach Petrino's offensive prowess in 2014, but the injury bug and subpar quarterback play altered that path immediately. The Cardinals leaned heavily on defense a season ago, more often than not relying on Todd Grantham's unit to win the game. Grantham's boys answered the call and were 6th in total defense, 1st in interceptions, 9th in sacks, 10th in rushing defense, and 5th in defensive passing efficiency.
Reports out of fall camp indicate that no quarterback has separated himself from the pack. The optimist argues Coach Petrino is forcing Auburn to prepare for four different options. I would argue that Auburn is a playoff favorite and they don't care who is under center because they believe they will dominate. If the Cardinals had "their guy" or "a guy" then the whole world would know. No amount of preparation could enable an opposing team to shut down a talent like Teddy, Brohm, Redman, or LeFors.
Personally, I expected/hoped that Bonnafon would have improved significantly over the offseason, and maybe once the season actually begins Reggie will embrace the spotlight. Most likely due to injuries and inconsistent play, Cardinal Fans should go ahead and accept that a minimum of four different quarterbacks will take significant snaps under center this season. Further, the odds favor Lamar Jackson to be the full-time starter by season's end.
In other camp news, the offensive line is improving, but depth and inexperience will be major story lines throughout the year. It appears a minimum of two freshman, Geron Christian and Kenny Thomas, may start September 5th against Auburn.
Where does this leave Louisville in their search for a new identity? Until proven otherwise, the Cardinals must conquer their schedule with defense yet again.
The offense will certainly show improvement, most of these athletes have had at least one full year in Petrino's system, and the receivers as a group should be noticeably better than 2014. No one will ever fill Parker's shoes, but the Cardinals have several big bodies on the outside including Jamari Staples and Ja'Quay Savage, and James Quick should finally be able to show some consistent star power.
The defense shouldn't skip a beat and will be relied on to win the majority of Louisville's biggest games. Is there a better defensive front seven than Louisville's? Sheldon Rankins could secure himself as a first round NFL pick, James Burgess may be the hardest hitter in all of college football, and Devonte Fields was a Big 12 defensive player of the year. How do you replace Gerod Holliman and James Sample at safety? With bigger, faster, and stronger safeties named Josh Harvey-Clemons and Chucky Williams. Charles Gaines left for greener pastures, insert Shaq Wiggins. The defense is in good hands ladies and gentlemen, and will be better than 2014.
Will the Cardinals find a new identity in 2015? Perhaps. September 5th is closing in outside our house, and when the Tigers ring that doorbell in Atlanta, Louisville Football will gladly answer the call with a plethora of elite talent. The Cardinals have future NFL athletes at almost every position and are primed to take another step towards becoming a football power house. Identity or not, Louisville is ready for championships, the only variable is time.
All Hail UofL !!