LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (1-1) vs. WESTERN KENTUCKY HILLTOPPERS (1-1, 1-0)
Game Time: 4 p.m.
Location: Nissan Stadium: Nashville
Announcers: Josh Appel and Jordan Palmer
Favorite: Louisville by 10
All-Time Series: Louisville leads, 20-12
Last Meeting: Louisville won 20-17 on Sept. 15, 2018 at Cardinal Stadium
Louisville Depth Chart:
About Western Kentucky:
Louisville will travel for the first time this season to take on Western Kentucky in Nashville. The Hilltoppers are coming off a close win against FIU after an embarrassing loss to Central Arkansas in week one. Tyson Helton took over this program after Mike Sanford failed to gain any traction but the early returns have been a mixed bag for him.
WKU started last year with questions at quarterback after their starter was injured early. They seemed to find their guy against Louisville with Davis Shanley but Steven Duncan finished the season as the starter and held off everyone this year to win the job. Duncan is a big quarterback with strong arm but he has a tendency to throw interceptions. Duncan enters the game tied for the second most interceptions in the country and they have all been on bad passes. He has a pretty quick delivery which has helped him in this new offense as they will look for quick screens pretty often. He can also use his size as a runner in short yardage situations.
The new staff did a good job of identifying Gaej Walker as a running back when they took over. Walker was recruited as a back but played defensive back last season. Walker scored on a 68 yard run on the first play of the season and he’s been a consistent option since. He is ranked 11th in the country in yards per game. The running game for the toppers is a little similar to Louisville’s as it works best with a speedy guy who can get through gaps in the line quickly. Walker has shown that ability and he doesn’t god down on arm tackles. Louisville definitely has to be sound in their gap discipline and guys have to run through the tackle. It will be a good challenge for the defense.
I was really impressed with the Hilltopper receivers last season and they brought just about everyone back. Lucky Jackson is the top receiver of the group and they use him in different ways. He’s made plays as an outside receiver and he’s even been used on a jet sweep. Jahcour Pearson and Jaquez Sloan are the other top options at wide receiver and both are very quick and elusive. Western hasn’t stretched the field as much as I expected but they have done well to get these guys into space on quick throws as well as intermediate throws like wheel routes and deep crossers. Tackling will be just as important as coverage this week.
The tight ends have been a big factor in the offense so far. Kyle Fourtenbary and Joshua Simon have combined for 9 catches so far with Fourtenbary being a good safety valve for Duncan. Simon is an interesting player as he’s a little smaller and quicker and could pick up some yards after the catch if he gets space.
The Hilltoppers have been impressive up front so far with their offensive line doing well to open holes for the running game. They have also looked really good in their pass sets. They have that ability to move as one unit which is so key when it comes to offensive line play. While the schedule has been fairly easy so far, the group still has taken care of business in their area. WKU does some zone blocking up front with their outside runs and the line has done well to get to their blocks but I think that’s an area that UofL’s speed could present a problem.
New Western Kentucky coach Tyson Helton decided that he doesn’t like depth charts so every position on the team’s depth chart just has all of their players in number order. Tyson Helton also lost his head coaching debut to a FCS school that went 6-5 last year. The depth chart thing is dumb and the idea that players don’t understand roles and won’t practice hard if you label them as backups is dumber. Instead, the coach and his staff should make sure that backups understand their role and know that they will be relied on throughout the game as rotation guys, packaged players, or the guy that they will rely on if they have an injury. Yes I am super annoyed about this whole thing.
As I don’t know who all of the starters are for Western’s defense, I’ll try to highlight the few players I’ve seen make plays or get named by the commentators in their games. The best player on the defense is one of those guys in DeAngelo Malone. At defensive end, he has shown a great ability to bet blocks in the run game to make plays in the backfield. Malone has also done well as a pass rusher getting around the edge and also using moves to work inside. Malone is on the right side of the line a lot from what I’ve seen, so we should see a fun battle with Mekhi Becton.
Kyle Bailey leads the Hilltoppers in tackles and he appears to be the starter at linebacker alongside former Card, Malik Staples. Bailey being the starter is a little surprising because Western got a waiver for Georgia transfer Jaden Hunter to play right away. Hunter only has two tackles on the season but one would assume that a talented player like him would see the field more at some point. No linebacker on the roster has been credited with a tackle for loss at this point so Louisville could make some big plays in the running game.
Western’s corners were dominated by Central Arkansas’ receivers two weeks ago. I’m not exaggerating when I say that, either. UCA threw for four touchdowns and three of them were to a receiver beating a corner in man coverage. They also completed 21 total passes for over 400 yards and hit on nearly 75% of their throws. Western also only broke up one pass. UCA receivers put on a show against these outside corners and Louisville has to be able to do the same.
Devon Key returns at safety for the Hilltoppers and will need his size and tackling ability in run support. Key had a very good game against Louisville last year with a tackle for loss and two pass breakups. Key is a big safety at 210 pounds and should be the extra guy that we see in the box when WKU looks to stop the run. Louisville should look to exploit him in pass coverage as Western plays a lot of man coverage.
Excitement Level: 7.9
Before the season I was worried this would be a sub-7 score, but we’re damn near an eight thanks to all the enthusiasm the previous two weeks have generated. The game being played on an actual television channel might have been enough for it to pick up that extra tenth of a point.
Game Attire: Red Lamar leap t-shirt
Game two of the baby era at CC Headquarters. Comfort is key.
Pregame Meal: Some frozen casserole
We have like 35 frozen meals at the house right now, which is awesome. One will be consumed at some point.
Bold Prediction: Louisville never trails in this game
We nailed the Notre Dame bold prediction, took last week off, and are looking to stay perfect in week three. The dream of an 11-for-11 (12-for-12?) bold prediction season is alive.
Ty Tyler Sack Alert Level: Bittersweet (solid)
Our guy has played in both games and his only stat to date is a quarterback hit. That means we’re close.
Predicted Star of the Game: Javian Hawkins
He’s been the star of stars on offense through the season’s first two weeks. He saves his best performance to date for Nashville.
—Louisville has won 10 consecutive games against Western Kentucky, its longest active winning streak against any opponent. The Cardinals have not lost to the Hilltoppers since 1975.
—Saturday’s game will mark the first time that Louisville and Western Kentucky have played on a neutral field.
—Louisville is in the midst of a six-game losing streak in games played away from Cardinal Stadium.
—Louisville is 2-0-1 all-time in games played in Nashville. Most recently, the Cardinals defeated Texas A&M in the 2015 Music City Bowl.
—Western Kentucky is 2-1 all-time in games played at Nissan Stadium, beating Kentucky there in 2013 and losing to the Wildcats in 2011.
—Louisville recorded five sacks last week against Eastern Kentucky, its most since recording seven versus Wake Forest in 2016. The Cardinals had just 11 sacks all of last season.
—Javian Hawkins is the first Louisville running back with back-to-back 100-yard games since 2016, and just the third freshman running back with back-to-back 100-yard games in U of L history.
—Western Kentucky punter John Haggerty ranks 2nd (among players with 7+ kicks) in the FBS with a gross average of 50.9 yards per punt.
—Louisville has scored 14 points in the first quarter of each of its first two games this season. It’s the first time the Cards have achieved that feat in back-to-back games since its final two games of the 2017 regular season.
—Western Kentucky running back Gaej Walker leads Conference USA in rushing through two games, totaling 252 yards on 46 carries. He ranks 11th in the nation in rushing yards and seventh overall in carries.
—In its 42-0 win over Eastern Kentucky last week, Louisville set a new school record for the largest margin of victory in a game where it failed to force a turnover.
—Through two games this season, Western Kentucky has allowed just one sack of quarterback Steven Duncan.
—Louisville’s victory over Eastern Kentucky last week snapped a 10-game losing streak, the program’s longest in over two decades.
—Since 2010, Louisville is 28-12 in September and has won 11 of its last 16 contests in the month.
—Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 239 games dating back to a 31-0 loss to Florida State during the 2000 season. The streak ranks as the third longest in the ACC behind only Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.
—Louisville is 184-13 all-time when scoring 35 or more points in a game. The Cards are also 5-113 all-time when allowing opponents to score 40 or more points.
—“I love that we’re going down to Nashville, I love that it’s at Titans Stadium, I love that it’s an in-state opponent. I make no bones about it, I would love to play a Louisville or Kentucky every year, for nothing more than I think it’s great for the state, for college football. I know that’s not the case, but just the opportunity to play against a really good opponent.” —Western Kentucky head coach Tyson Helton
—“You know, so we’re just excited to get that win, having for our guys and then you know we’re excited to get back going this week against Western Kentucky who we know who’s a good football team that looks improved to me. Last year their record wasn’t great and it looks like they’re playing better this year. You know, they lost to Central Arkansas, which I think is a pretty good football team watching their film they have good talent and then go on the road and beat FIU this past weekend. So, we know we will get their best shot they’ll play extremely hard you know we have to have a great week of practice to go get another win.” —Scott Satterfield
—“Not even close. They’re not the same team.” —Western Kentucky defensive coordinator Clayton White on this year’s Louisville team compared to the one that played WKU a year ago
—“Those guys are fast and physical. They hit the hole and they go. We’ve got to be very disciplined with our eyes and play our assignments well and do our job and what we need to do to stop the run.” —Western Kentucky LB/Louisville grad transfer Malik Staples
—“It’s a big opponent, an ACC opponent. Going to have to be a very physical game and we have to be prepared and our task is to pound, pound, pound because we’re going to need it because they’re very tough up front and we’re looking forward to it.” —Western Kentucky DB Antwone Kincade
Card Chronicle Prediction: Louisville 28, Western Kentucky 14