Welcome back to Week 3 of the ‘Countdown Q&A’ where I sit down with a representative for the Cards upcoming opponent and dig in deep with extremely personal questions, address all noticeable insecurities…and then if time allows, we also talk a little football.
Today, the man of the hour is none other than Mr. Joe Londergan, who covers a myriad of topics for the SB Nation site ‘Underdog Dynasty’, one of which includes comprehensive coverage of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. Let’s see what Joe has to say about the forthcoming action against our in-state foes from the land of Corvettes and underwear, Bowling Green, KY…
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (C-USA; 0-2, 0-0)
CS: Let’s take a second Joe, if we may, and hop into a football time machine…no need to pack anything heavy; we’re just going back two weeks. As both fan bases prepare for the upcoming season here on August 30th the similarities are a bit creepy between the two teams. Both figure to be outmatched in Week 1 (WKU vs. Wisconsin) and both figure to be considerable favorites in Week 2 (WKU vs. Maine). Week 3 is setting up to a measuring stick for both programs in some regard. Do the Cards handle WKU with ease and prove they are shooting for something much larger than just a bowl appearance? Does WKU stick around and possibly pull off an upset, cementing themselves as threats for another C-USA crown in year two of the Mike Sanford regime? Well, now that we’re back in present time…I think we need an Option C. While both teams were certainly outmatched in Week 1, Week 2 seemed to indicate that they may both be outmatched in a few additional games in 2018 that many did not expect. Of course, we UofL fans know the story of the Cards this past week but WKU welcomed the fighting ‘Maine…Lobsters???’ and not only cut them a check for $300,000 but also let them out of L.T. Smith Stadium with a win. What the heck happened?
JL: The first quarter of that game, where WKU got out to a 21 point lead, was some of the best football I’ve seen them play in the last year or so. After that, I can’t really zero in on one thing or another that was the worst thing that they did between the turnovers, the penalties, and the all-too-familiar offensive line play. But Maine scored 31 unanswered points to take the lead. Then when WKU tried to tie it up, the field goal got blocked thanks in part to a rare bad snap for the Tops. The defensive secondary, which is usually one of WKU’s strong points, gave up a few too many critical plays. The play calling was questionable (looking at you, ‘going for it on fourth down from your own 15 with a full quarter left to play’). The running game was non-existent. It was a dangerous mixture of ineffectiveness and bad decisions...a phrase which reminds me of my time as a student at U of L, now that I think about it.
‘Ineffectiveness and Bad Decisions’ is a great book title. Maybe grab a trademark on that one. Speaking of ineffectiveness, one of the issues for WKU is something most UofL fans became all too familiar with the previous few seasons and that is extremely frustrating O-Line play. The Toppers have a respectable QB sitting in the pocket in Drew Eckels but the poor man is getting beat up back there with the Tops having surrendered 7 sacks in 2018, placing WKU at 113th nationally in that category (ignore the fact that Louisville is tied with WKU at 113th; 7 sacks allowed as well). Do you expect the “aggressive” defense of Brian VanGorder to have the same success the Tops first two opponents have had or is there a quick fix of sorts that can help remedy the problem?
Short answer, yes, I expect Louisville’s defense to get close to the quarterback a lot. The WKU offensive line is super young for the most part and haven’t played together all that much before this spring...so the opposite of what you want your line to be ideally, but that’s not really their fault, I guess. In that Wisconsin game, I was kind of impressed with the way that they held their own, save for some penalties. Eckels only got sacked once and hurried twice. But then they fell apart against Maine, so I can’t say I have super high hopes for them in the immediate future. Maybe this is just the kind of unit that plays up or down depending on the competition.
I mentioned Drew Eckels earlier as a solid contributor for WKU but it sounds as is he may not be at 100% come Saturday and we could see a mxture of a couple different QB’s. Outside of that position what are a couple other names that Cards fans should take note of as game day creeps closer? Do the Tops have any guys who are a legitimate problem if UofL lets them get going early?
Junior wide receiver Lucky Jackson for sure. Louisville is going to want to keep him relatively locked down, or he could be a problem. He has caught eight balls for 137 yards and two touchdowns so far this year. He could get a kick return or two in as well.
I have a feeling that Sanford is going to try to get freshman running back Garland LaFrance involved in the pass game also. LaFrance had a 75-yard touchdown on a pass play in the loss to Maine. Defensively, watch safety Devon Key. Even though he’s the young guy amidst a really experienced secondary, I think he’s their impact guy. Linebackers Masai Whyte and Ben Holt are also both inevitably going to have to make some plays if the Tops want to keep this competitive.
The WKU football program had some “adopted” Louisville fans for a handful of seasons as many enjoyed cheering for Petrino while he was running the show in 2013, likely anticipating his inevitable return to UofL, and most all Louisville fans enjoyed seeing what Coach Brohm was doing down there while he called the shots for three seasons. While it’s no easy task following two guys who many consider some of the best play callers in the country Mike Sanford’s tenure hasn’t exactly gone as planned with a 6-7 season last year and an 0-2 start in 2018. Is the seat red hot, scorching red, or…Big Red?
I’d say the seats pretty hot right now. At least as far as the fans are concerned. Following the loss to Maine, he seemed dejected but tried to come back on Monday in his presser and say how much he was looking forward to “going back to the drawing board” and embracing the challenge blah blah blah a lot of coach speak. The issue is here, I honestly couldn’t tell you right now if Mike Sanford is going to be able to turn this program around. This is his first head coaching gig, so there’s nothing really to compare it to. But he has been saying since he got to BG that he’s ready for the challenge and all that but has fallen well short of expectations.
And of course it wouldn’t be an official internet ‘Q&A’ unless I wrap it up with your prediction on how the game turns out….please provide a play by play synopsis…including all penalties.
Louisville wins this game 27-14 I think. Louisville’s receivers against WKU’s defensive secondary should be entertaining, but I’m not super optimistic right now about how that battle will end up. On the other side, Louisville’s defensive line is probably going to eat WKU offensive line alive...expect the Cards to be in WKU’s backfield or causing Western’s offensive line to commit lots of penalties.
Huge thanks to Joe for chatting it up with me. Check out his work over at ‘Underdog Dynasty’ and give him a follow on twitter, right HERE. What do I think about the game? (Wow, thanks for asking) I think Dez Fitzpatrick gets his first TD of the year and I think Jeremy Smith goes for over 100 yards. I also think the Cards fix some silly mistakes from the last couple weeks, get into a better offensive flow, and put up a point total that many anticipated seeing last week against ISU (weather permitting). If Joe’s prediction above holds true and the Cards win by less than two touchdowns…I’m officially concerned.
Come on back next week as I have a heart-to-heart discussion with our favorite Virginia blog ‘Streaking the Lawn’. We’ll talk Bronco Mendenhall, game day attire, and how the rivalry has become a little contentious the last couple years…and if they reference 0.9 seconds in any way whatsoever I cannot be held liable for what is said or done henceforth and thereafter…but, I’ll probably just bring up UMBC.