In preparation for the Louisville game, I'm doing a Q&A with Louisville Courier-Journal blogger Tom Heiser over at his blog, The Cardinal Fan, and he's been kind enough to join us for a couple electronic drinks to discuss Louisville football and the game.
1. Might as well get the elephant in the corner out of the way. Talk about the defense. No one I know of saw this coming. When was your first inkling of things to come?
TH-When the Cards pummeled Murray State 70-7 in the opener, there were some early signs that the defense was out of sync. This was a freshmen-laden Div. I-AA school that moved the ball fairly easily. But the next week's 58-42 win over Middle Tennessee State left no doubt. MTSU ripped off massive chunks of yards and turned what should have been an easy win into a struggle late into the fourth quarter. The run and pass defense were utterly exposed.
2. Seems to me that you have a pretty decent stable of backs, yet your ranked 68th in the country in rushing. As opposed to last year where you were ranked 12th in yards per game. Is it as simple as having to play from behind, or has the rushing game been deemphasized this year?
I'd say that playing from behind has been the main culprit. Double-digit deficits to Syracuse and Utah left the Cards no choice to to air it out in order to get back in the game. That doesn't explain the loss to Kentucky and, most recently, UConn, where the Cards were firmly in the lead and couldn't run clock because of the running game. There have been a bunch of injuries (Brock Bolen, Anthony Allen, Sergio Spencer) and disciplinary setbacks (JaJuan Spillman, George Stripling). Consistency has really been lacking.
3. If you were going on stats alone, Brian Brohm would still be in the mix for the Heisman. Any indication from him that coming back wasn't such a good idea? Or did he feel like he had something to prove as far as making it through a season without injuries, shot at the title, etc.?
He's been a real trooper through this very difficult season. I'm sure his ultimate goal was to get the Cards into the title game. Now, while I don't think this was ever a reality (margin for error was too narrow), I think he felt that with the returning offensive starters getting back to the BCS or beyond was within reach.
4. What do you see from West Virginia this year that you didn't see last year that worries you? Flip the coin over and tell me what you see from West Virginia that makes you think you've got a good shot Thursday night?
I've seen the Mountaineers four times this year; to be honest, I can't say that I've seen anything unexpected. The addition of Noel Devine is certainly terrifying for all Cardinal fans. Thursday night doesn't look propitious for the Cards. U of L's defense has been porous; the offense has been sluggish. Those two factors don't give me too much reason for optimism. That said, if Coach Kragthorpe is as good a coach as athletics director Tom Jurich says he is, I can only hope that they've pored over all the available film and have come up with some tricks that will reopen the suddenly stagnate offense.
5. Let's talk a little Big East now. Who is this UConn team, and what did they do with the team I was expecting to see this year? Obviously Dixon at running back has been a big surprise, and Lorenzen has proven himself. But I was not impressed with their defense or offensive line last year. What the heck is going on around here? (Feel free to "cough, cough, fair catch, cough cough")
Look, I think they're a good team -- one that has been underestimated. But the Cards had them down (even with the bad call on the punt return; the lead was 10 with under 10 minutes to play) and couldn't stop them on their final two drives. They've had the good fortune to have played key games at home (So. Florida, Louisville and Cincinnati). My guess is that they will come crashing back to earth when they go to Morgantown.
6. Likewise, South Florida. Wins against Auburn and WVU, and then they just fall off the face of the Earth. Does USF have an identity crisis or what? Is it a matter of depth?
I thought that they were a very good team, but Matt Grothe was suspect. In the WVU game, the Bulls' defense was impressive, but the offense was just marginal. They took advantage of WVU mistakes and Pat White's injury. Their running game has also been underwhelming. With U of L facing the prospect of not going to a bowl game unless they win two of the next three games (WVU, South Florida and Rutgers), I have been more optimistic about winning in Tampa and at home against Rutgers.
-Clock rules changing back. Happy or ecstatic?
Seems right. I'm more worried about U of L moving the ball with some semblance of urgency.
-Big East coach of the year?
Randy Edsall. Hands down.
-Coach on the hottest hot seat?
Look no further than my own backyard. Can it get any hotter under Steve Kragthorpe?
-If you could have one WVU player on UL, who would it be and why?
Steve Slaton. Not only is he a great runner, he's a potential game-breaker each time he carries it. A back with his speed has the same effect as a long Brohm-Douglas pass.
-If you could have one UL player come over to WVU, who and why?
Any of the U of L secondary. I'd feel better about Thursday night.
I'd love to see a 45-44 thriller that the Cards pull out in overtime. (Wouldn't that be ironic!) But I can't see how a 42-21 Mountaineer win isn't staring me in the face.
Cheers to Tom for coming over and talking with us!