LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (0-3, 0-1) vs. SAMFORD BULLDOGS (2-1)
Game Time: 6 p.m.
Location: Papa John's Cardinal Stadium: Louisville, Ky.
Announcers: Jim Barbar (play-by-play) and John Gregory (analyst)
Favorite: No line
All-Time Series: First meeting
Card March: 3:45 p.m.
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
Excitement Level: 6.3
Last home game for almost a month so I plan on enjoying myself. Still, being 0-3 heading into a game against an opponent isn't exactly the recipe for a sleepless night beforehand. Just ready to get a win. Please.
Pregame Meal: Sandwiches, cheesy potatoes, taco dip, beer
Keepin' it simple. It's all about executing and getting the job done tonight.
Game Attire: New white and red U of L polo, red Cardinal Titleist hat, jeans
The best event we've had so far this season was our Friday radio show in Atlanta on the day before the Auburn game. That being the case, I'm going with what I wore for that.
If this doesn't work then I'm completely out of ideas.
Bold Prediction: Jeremy Smith leads Louisville in rushing
The year of the bold prediction got a little bit derailed last week, but we're still perfect when the prediction is Louisville player-based.
Predicted Star of the Game: Jeremy Smith
All in on No. 34 today.
Cole Hikutini Touchdown Alert Level: Medium Chrome Green (might still be hurt, but if he isn't there's a good chance)
--Louisville is 0-3 for the first time since 1984 and is coming off back-to-back losses at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium for the first time under Bobby Petrino. Petrino is also riding a four-game losing streak for the first time in his career as a head coach.
--Samford is 3-15 all-time against ACC opponents.
--Louisville has won 19 straight games against FCS opponents, with their last loss being a 26-23 defeat at the hands of Murray State in 1984.
--Among FCS teams, Samford ranks second nationally in first downs with 78 so far this season. The Bulldogs also rank sixth in the nation in passing offense (351.3 ypg.), seventh in the nation in total offense (533.7 ypg.) and ninth in scoring offense (41.3 ppg.).
--Louisville has won eight consecutive games when kicking off to begin the game, and has lost six of its last eight when receiving the opening kickoff, including all three games this season.
--This is Louisville's first four-game losing streak since 2008.
--Louisville is 125-95-6 all-time in the month of September.
--In Samford's 58-21 win over Florida A&M on Sept. 12, the Bulldogs rolled up a school-record 752 yards of total offense.
--Samford head coach Chris Hatcher was the head coach of the Murray State team that played at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium last season. Louisville won that game, 66-21.
--This is the first time Louisville has played three consecutive games at home since 2012.
--Dating back to 2013, Louisville has forced at least one turnover in 19 consecutive games.
--U of L has intercepted at least one pass in 16 straight games, the longest such streak in program history.
--Louisville linebacker Keith Kelsey currently leads the ACC in tackles with 33.
--Louisville is 22-2 over the last three seasons when attempting at least 35 rushes in a game. The lone two losses came last year at Clemson, and in the 2015 season-opener against Auburn.
--Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 189 games dating back to the 2000 season. The streak ranks as the third longest in the ACC behind Virginia Tech (259) and Georgia Tech (227).
--Louisville is 165-9 all-time when scoring 35 or more points in a game. The Cards are also 5-100 all-time when allowing opponents to score 40 or more points.
--"I feel like we could be 3-0 real easy if we didn't hurt ourselves a few times. Regardless, whether we won the three games or lost the three games, the most important thing is what we do now and what we have in front of us." --Bobby Petrino
--"We're excited about it. We've got a great opportunity to play an ACC opponent, and to be back in the state I spent so much time in - eight years of my life - it's going to be fun." --Samford head coach Chris Hatcher
--"This game matters, and if you prepare each week the same, your production and your success are going to be the same." --Todd Grantham
--"We've got to continue to knock guys back. I feel like we still can reach those goals. We've got nine games left in the regular season, so we've got plenty of games left to rectify ourselves and get back to reaching our goals." --DeAngelo Brown
--"We've had four of the best game-week preparation practices we've had thus far this season. We've gotten over the tough defeat on Saturday. We've been practicing hard, our execution has increased dramatically, and we are going to go to Louisville and give it our best shot Saturday evening." --Samford coach Chris Hatcher
--"Those three games are behind us." --Keith Kelsey
--"We have to go up there and do a good job of doing what we do. We need to go out there and play hard. This is another game for us, and we have to go up there and we have to play well like we have the first three games." --Samford coach Chris Hatcher
--"All through the spring and starting summer camp we had the motto ‘normalize discomfort,' and starting 0-3 is as uncomfortable as you're going to get. So now that it's here you just have to keep a positive attitude and know that it can't get worse from here. The morale of the team is to move forward and not go back." --L.J. Scott
Card Chronicle Prediction: Louisville 42, Samford 20
It's not the all out, complete domination that folks are hoping for, but it's a win. Right now, that's enough.