Rodney Gnat, aka "Big Pretty," is coming off the best game of his career with a four and 1/2 sack performance last week against EKU. Gnat, who found Charlie Strong's doghouse prior to the season-opener against Kentucky because of poor practice habits, could play a key role for the Cardinals in pass-rushing situations the rest of the season.
"The week before he did not play at all against Kentucky because he didn't practice well," Strong said. "To see him come back and play...well [against Eastern Kentucky] was really good on his part. Guys have to understand if they don't practice well they're not going to play. I think guys are getting that message."
On one sack in the EKU game, Gnat hit the quarterback, forced a fumble and recovered it, prompting an excited chest bump from Strong after the play. Gnat, who had just one sack in 32 career games before his coming out party against the Colonels, is now the Big East leader in sacks and ranks fourth nationally.
"I took every rep [in practice] like a game - which is what you should do every day," Gnat said. "I tried to have a good week at practice and I focused on the little things like coach wants us to do and everything just started rolling downhill."
Heyman Living up to Potential?
Dexter Heyman came to Louisville with a lot of hype, but had a disappointing two seasons under former coach Steve Kragthorpe, bouncing from linebacker to defensive end. Now, the junior finally appears ready to live up to his potential.
Since Strong arrived, Heyman appears to have found a permanent slot at linebacker and had one of his finest games as a Cardinal last week against Eastern Kentucky. Heyman, who earned his first start of the season against EKU, recorded a career-high five tackles and also was credited with a sack.
"Dexter Heyman, where he was incredible, was that we lost Brandon Heath in the middle of the week," Strong explained. "So Dexter, when we go to our substitution package, which allows us to put our athletes on the field and more speed on the field, then Dexter worked at middle linebacker. He got the guys lined up. Dexter and Rodney both played outstanding.
B.J. Butler was the top recruit of Charlie Strong's first recruiting class. A former four-star prospect, Butler backed out of a commitment to Georgia to sign with Louisville. An incredible athlete for his size, Butler played quarterback and defensive end in high school.
Last week against EKU, Butler, a defensive end, made his first start at linebacker due to several injuries at that position. Though he only recorded one tackle, Butler drew praise from Strong.
"B.J. Butler is going to be an outstanding player here," Strong said. "When I was at the University of Florida we recruited B.J. Then he committed to Georgia and we still tried to recruit him. When I came here I kept calling, and calling. I knew he was going to be a good player."
Butler is one of seven true freshman to see action under Strong this season. Interestingly, Florida, Florida State, Auburn, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Miami, LSU, Alabama and Arkansas have all played more true freshman this year than the Cardinals.
"He's a big body," Strong said of Butler. "He's athletic and he can cover. You're looking at a guy that has a lot of agility."
Louisville will be looking for their first road win since a victory at Memphis October 10, 2008. The Cardinals have not played well on the road over the last couple of seasons, including going 0-6 last season.
Over the last three seasons, the Cardinals are 3-13 away from the friendly confines of Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Louisville has lost nine straight road games dating back to the victory over Memphis.
"We have to understand it's us against them," Strong said. "We're [going] into a hostile environment. How are we going to respond to the crowd?
"We're going to have to play well for 60 minutes. If you play well you always feel like you have a chance. All sides of the ball and each position has to play well."
Last season, Louisville struggled on the road on offense and defense. The Cardinals were out-scored 31.8 to 17.8 in six games and allowed 420.3 yards of total offense. The offense struggled to get going, averaging 131.2 yards on the ground and 199.7 yards through the air. The Cardinals came out of the gates slowly, being out-scored 59-7 in the first quarter and 54-16 in the third quarter.
Starting safety Terence Simien is out of action indefinitely with a knee injury. No timetable has been set for his return, but he could miss a significant portion of the season. Simien played in just two games last season because of a lacerated kidney suffered against Kentucky.
There is still no determination on offensive lineman Mark Wetterer's status. Wetterer, who seemed to injure his knee in the EKU game, reportedly will return to practice Wednesday. If Wetterer can't play, John Clark will start in his stead. Clark played three quarters against EKU after Wetterer was injured.