This week I decided to go a different direction with the Key Matchups. Kent State doesn’t pose much of a threat to beat Louisville and Bobby Petrino has stated that he intends to get some young players on the field. So for this week (and possibly next week) I’ll take a look at the matchups as position battles instead. Which young players could get on the field Saturday and stay there?
RUSS YEAST VS. TRUMAINE WASHINGTON
I admitted last week that I’ve probably been harder on Trumaine Washington than anyone. Some of it has been fair and some of it is due to the fact that teams have decided to pick on him. Ronald Walker has already been moved into the “boundary” cornerback spot which is where you typically play your number one guy. That leads me to believe that the coaches aren’t too happy with Washington’s play either.
In my opinion, these next two weeks are when you get bold with personnel and getting Russ Yeast out there and letting him comfortable is the right move. This is especially true if Louisville is going to continue to play three corners in passing situations like they did at time against Clemson. For the record, I’m a Cornelius Sturghill fan and I think he is better than what we saw on the long touchdown he gave up. However, sometimes your first impression can loom large and Yeast probably deserves the chance to be the number two corner at this point.
TRESEAN SMITH VS. KHANE PASS
This matchup is actually indirect. TreSean Smith has played at deep safety some this year and had an impressive interception against Purdue. When Smith has been in the game, Zykiesis Cannon has slid down to Star where Khane Pass starts. That might be best for the defense as a whole.
Khane Pass has played very well as a hybrid linebacker/safety but he has really struggled in coverage. His play against the run has been great and I think he is needed from that standpoint. But, Cannon is also exceptional against the run and he’s better in coverage. I wouldn’t be stunned to see the coaches make this move even though it’s somewhat drastic and a risk with Pass playing well.
COLIN WILSON VS. REGGIE BONNAFON
Reggie Bonnafon was moved to running back because a lack of depth at the position but it hasn’t totally worked out for him. I think Reggie has played well at a position that he’s not really accustomed to but in reality he needs to be on the field and Malik Williams has passed him up. Colin Wilson was injured after arriving on campus late and I could see him moving into the role of backup.
Reggie and Williams will both be gone next year and Jeremy Smith and Dae Williams will be returning from injury. Wilson is an injury away from being needed this year and this is a good time to see what he can do. I think he will do well and at that point Reggie will be used as more of a “offensive weapon” type of player due to his versatility.
CJ AVERY VS. STACY THOMAS
So, C.J. Avery is not taking Stacy Thomas’ position. Let’s get that out of the way. What Avery could do is give Peter Sirmon some flexibility with packages. Thomas was rated by Pro Football Focus as the best linebacker in coverage in the country last year. We saw his pick-six against Purdue. But, Thomas isn’t great when it comes to blitzing. He’s also not the fastest guy in the world and might have trouble in coverage against some receivers.
What Sirmon could use Avery for is in a dime package where he has six defensive backs on the field. He could also pair him with London Iakopo in passing situations with the hopes that Avery is a better blitzer than Thomas. Iakopo has shown the ability to time his blitzes well and to get past blockers. Having two guys out there that can get after the quarterback would give Sirmon options and unpredictability. Louisville's defense can be big and slow at times. Putting some speed on the field in passing situations could help improve the porous pass defense.
COLE BENTLEY VS. KENNY THOMAS
I chose Kenny Thomas for this matchup but it could really be Robbie Bell or even Lukayus McNeil if we’re being honest. I think the offensive line has played well this year and I honestly think these next two games could get them over the hump to the point that we stop having to talk about them at all. Cole Bentley has to play, though. Developing depth is always important. Bentley arrived on campus this spring and by the end of spring practices he was set to start at guard. Mekhi Becton came in over the summer and things changed quickly.
I don’t know that Bentley will take a starting spot away from Thomas, but it is possible that Louisville could shuffle things around if they somehow have some offensive struggles later in the season or if a starter goes down. Geron Christian practiced at center this fall. Bentley also got some reps there. McNeil could move back out to tackle if they needed him to. That would open up a spot inside for Bentley. It’s a long shot, but I’ve learned that anything is possible in college football.
JOSH JOHNSON VS. TRAVEON SAMUEL
Fans didn’t get much time to see the new guys this fall as the team decided to only open one practice this year. Even with that one practice it was obvious that Josh Johnson was the most impressive freshman out of the skill position players. Louisville is pretty set at wide receiver but if Bobby Petrino’s motto is “Feed the studs”, I’d imagine he’d want as many studs on the field as possible.
Johnson might not unseat Traveon Samuel in the slot but Louisville could look to play both in four and five receiver sets. Johnson could also be an option as a punt returner with Jaire Alexander out. Jaylen Smith wouldn’t be my first choice to return punts but that’s the direction they’ve gone. Johnson is very quick and has good speed. This is a good opportunity for him to be able to show the coaches he’s the best option back deep.
KEMARI AVERETT VS. JORDAN DAVIS
My favorite thing about the one open practice the team held was just how comically large Kemar Averett is. He literally looks like a power forward that went to the wrong practice. Averett is a guy that Petrino mentioned a lot before the season and he was listed as the third tight end in the initial season depth chart. Obviously that wasn’t the case as Jordan Davis caught the first touchdown of the season.
Kemari Averett won’t likely push to be a starter because he’s not the blocker that Micky Crum or Charles Standberry is. I do think that he could move into the role as the third tight end so that they can get him some in-game experience this year. Averett is in a spot where you would have to wonder why they wouldn’t redshirt him if they’re not going to play him. Davis hasn’t played poorly but he’s the odd man out in this situation.
OTHER YOUNG PLAYERS I’M LOOKING FOR ON SATURDAY
- COREY REED. Reed was the targeted receiver on the interception that Lamar Jackson threw last week. I think that the coaches like what they’ve seen but I don’t expect him to take Seth Dawkins’ spot.
- ANTHONY JOHNSON. Louisville needs depth at cornerback and they also need to build some experience for next season when the entire secondary will be new. Johnson is long and he plays with the confidence you want at the position.
- CHRIS TAYLOR-YAMANOHA. CTY is a guy that came to Louisville with high expectations but he hasn’t been able to get on the field yet after redshirting. He hasn’t really lit the world on fire at practice but I think his move back to wide receiver will be a positive thing. My hope is that he’s a guy that plays better in games than he does in practice.
- TOBIAS LITTLE. Louisville wanted to use a fullback this season but they really haven’t done that much outside of short yardage plays. Little is a physical specimen and I honestly felt that he looked good during open practices. Little hasn’t gotten on the field yet but I think this would be a good game to see if the transition from linebacker has really worked for him. Can he make the right block? Can he catch the ball?
- CALEB CHANDLER. I still stand by my initial assertion that Chandler looked better as a defensive end in high school than as an offensive linemen. I think he had the motor and fire you need as a 3-4 end but Louisville kept him on the offensive side of the ball which is where the recruiting services had him also. Either way, I think that Chandler will turn out to be a very good player for Louisville and I hope he gets some good minutes this week.
- EMONEE SPENCE. I’m bullish on Spence even though he hasn’t gotten on the field yet. Spence absolutely flashes at practice. He looks every bit the part of a top receiver as he’s quicker than everyone else and has plenty of speed. For whatever reason, that hasn’t translated to him being on the field. He’s listed as Seth Dawkins’ backup but, as I pointed out above, Corey Reed was the next man up when Dawkins lost a shoe. Personally this is the guy I’m hoping breaks out more than just about anyone. If there’s a guy you’re excited to see on the field this weekend, throw it out in the comments.