Louisville is looking to turn around an 0-3 start to their season with an FCS matchup against the 2-1 Samford Bulldogs. Louisville faced Murray State in their only FCS matchup last year and they will have some familiarity due to the fact that Head Coach Chris Hatcher was hired away to coach the Bulldogs. Hatcher is an offensive specialist and his uptempo offense is off to a fast start.
Every offense starts with the quarterback and Samford has a good one in Michael Eubank. The 6-5, 240 pound transfer from Arizona State has started this year very strong completing nearly 70% of his passes and seemingly understanding the offense completely. Eubank has made quick decisions and he's spread the ball around mixing in deep balls, quick screens, as well as nice crossing routes to let his receivers make plays. Eubank was tabbed as a "dual-threat" guy coming out of high school and you'll totally see why as he stands tall in the pocket and never runs the ball unless he has to. (Recruiting guys get lazy sometimes). Hatcher doesn't have read option plays in his offense and I highly doubt he would risk getting his quarterback injured just to throw in a new wrinkle. What he asks Eubank to do is to distribute the ball to the guy that should be open based on the play design and he's done well with that so far this year.
The running backs for the Bulldogs are pretty impressive from what I've seen. K'rondis Larry is the scatback/speedster type that likes to get outside and show off his speed when possible while Denzel Williams is more of a straight ahead runner with size. Both guys have plenty of speed to get a big play if they get into space. Larry also has the quickness to make guys miss if they leave their feet. I wouldn't imagine that either of these guys turns in a 100-yard rushing day like Louisville has given up routinely, but they are talented guys that might make a few plays come Saturday.
The group of Samford's receivers were the most impressive position group from what I saw. With a bunch of south Florida kids out wide it's obvious why Hatcher has mixed more vertical passes into his offense this year. Murray State had some pretty good players at receiver while Hatcher was there but he really just "dinked and dunked" the ball down the field and didn't get as many big plays as you typically see from pacey offenses. That hasn't been an issue at all at Samford as Eubank has stretched the field a lot which has helped stop teams from sitting underneath to stop crossing routes and negate the run game. True freshmen Kelvin McKnight has been a huge help for this offense as he's made a handful of big plays and is averaging 18 yards per catch. He's also given the offense three legitimate weapons as Emmanuel Obajimi and Karel Hamilton have been used as vertical threats as well as guys that can run the intermediate things that are needed. If there's a group on this team that could get a big play on Saturday it's definitely this group of receivers.
The Bulldog offensive line will likely struggle against a defensive line that just has size and speed that they haven't matched up with before. The group has done a pretty good job with protecting Eubank as well as opening holes for the running backs but they have given up seven sacks and they're not the type of sacks that you see from good coverage or the quarterback holding onto the ball too quickly. They've allowed the pocket to collapse quickly and we could see that become an issue this week, also.
KEY PLAYERS: QB Michael Eubank, WR Kelvin McKnight, RG Hayden Naumann
The defense as a whole for Samford has played much better than Hatcher's groups at Murray. The 2014 Racers gave up 42.5 points a game and if there's an area where the improvement in talent is glaring it's with the defense. Most FCS schools struggle with quality depth but the Bulldogs are deep enough that they rotate their entire defensive line mid-drive. The front is led by defensive tackle Michael Pierce who weighs in at 340 pounds and squats and absurd 725 pounds. His 4.5 tackles for loss is pretty impressive seeing as he only gets about half the snaps that most players do. The rest of the line doesn't do much to wow you, but they're depth keeps them fresh and that could be a test for the Louisville offensive line.
Samford's linebackers should provide a break from Houston and Clemson's speedy groups this week. Justin Cooper is the team's leading tackler but just like the defensive line, the Bulldogs rotate guys in at linebacker to help keep them fresh. Linebackers have had some success with delayed blitzes and backside run pressure against UofL this year. Samford doesn't have the speed others have but if they get the right play call in the right spot they could frustrate Louisville's already anemic run offense.
The secondary for Samford has been very opportunistic and caused a handful of turnovers. Louisville's size shouldn't be a major problem for them as everyone in the two-deep is 6-0 or taller. Where I think they will struggle is with running with Louisville's receivers. Samford plays a lot of zone and I think that will actually be a bigger issue for them than playing man. Having a receiver cross your face when you're not running the same direction is already hard enough when you're not dealing with guys that are more athletic than you. Samford also doesn't seem to rotate guys in the back end as much so fatigue could be a factor.
KEY PLAYERS: DT Michael Pierce, MLB Justin Cooper, CB James Bradberry, FS Jamerson Blount