Sheriff's Review: Louisville vs. Cincinnati

InsideTheVille.com's resident Monday Morning Quarterback breaks down Louisville's loss to Cincinnati in the Big East opener Friday night.

On Friday night, Louisville came out and lost a hard fought contest against the two time defending Big East Champions. Despite causing 3 turnovers and giving up none, a lack of depth contributed late in the game in sending the Keg of Nails back to the Queen City for the third straight season.

Coin Flip

How is a coin flip botched like it was on Friday night? Officials signaled that the Bearcats would be getting the ball first and UC would be going from the Crunch Zone towards the open end to start the game. This would mean that UofL would have the wind in the 1st and 4th quarters (wind wasn't much of a factor, but forecasters thought the wind would kickup as the night went on), and get the ball to start the 2nd half.

Instead, officials decided to allow the preference to be changed? I'm not sure what happened here, but it seemed like it was pretty questionable. Instead UofL got the ball first and had the wind in the 2nd and 3rd quarters.

Starting the Game

All 3 phases of the game had terrible first snaps. First, Byron Stingily was absolutely abused giving up the inside for the only sack of the game. The sack essentially took the possession away and caused a UofL punt. Then the Cardinals punting unit got too cute and had way too much pre-snap movement and the play clock went all the way down causing Weedman to rush his snap and Josh Bleser's punt was his first shank of 2010 giving great field position for UC's first possession. The first snap for the defense saw Brandon Heath off-side for a 5-yard penalty, and then the first "official" offensive play for Cincinnati was a TD.

Bearcat's First TD, 7-0

Since there was only one play, this is easy to break down. DJ Woods faked a slant on Darius Ashley and Ashley bought it just enough to burn Ashley like Michael Jackson shooting a Pepsi commercial. UofL was in man coverage and Bobby Burns tried to help, but his guy was on a short stop route and was too far behind to provide any assistance. Shenard Holton was not in position to help as he bit on the fake slant too.

Missed Opportunity #1

UofL marched down the field on the ensuing possession. Josh Chichester dropped a critical pass on 2nd down and after a 7-yard 3rd down catch for Cameron Graham that came up 2 yards short of the first down, Charlie Strong sent Chris Philpott out for a 40-yard field goal, which he missed wide. Philpott needs to make his FGs when the Cardinal offense stalls, and Chichester not catching the ball made that 3rd down conversion that much more difficult. Not getting points here was critical.

Cardinals First TD, 7-7

Greg Scruggs killed a Bearcat drive with his INT. It was a really beautiful play call and execution. Zone blitz, Scruggs first step was towards LOS and then he dropped back right in front of the route and Collaros did not account for him, the ball was right in his lap giving the ball to UofL at the Cincinnati 24.

With the short field it was just a few plays before a beautiful ball from Froman to Chichester on a flag route. Froman took advantage of Chichester's height on the play.

Bearcats take back lead 14-7 and the Counter-Trap

After UofL tied the ballgame, UC came right back to regain the lead. A steady diet of Isiah Pead gradually moved the ball down the field. Throughout the day the counter trap play destroyed UofL's run defense. For whatever reason UofL could not find a way to stop this play at all. Even when they blitzed the proper gap, the Cardinal defenders could not find a way to bring down Pead. Conversely, UofL's counter was not effective at all.

After 4 rushes from Pead on the drive, and a questionable Bobby Burns pass interference call and a Rodney Gnat offside penalty, Collaros only needed a few short passes to finally find Armon Binns right underneath Johnny Patrick in the endzone to take the lead. This was a steady drive down UofL's defense, great mixing of play calling on UC's part. UofL did not have an answer this possession. Binns was too big for both Patrick and Burns and was a complete mis-match all day.

Bilal Powell answers to tie game

It is here where I'll begin to talk about my love for Bilal Powell. He is no nonsense, he cares, he plays with passion, he does not play individual football. He has been incredible in 2010. Also, it shouldn't surprise you at all that most of Powell's long runs have come from behind the left side of the offensive line. On 2nd down from the UofL 15 yard line, Powell ran hard through the line where there was not much of a hole, Stingily actually drove the DE into the hole to make the initial impact on Powell. Wetterer had his man sealed off nicely, but 6 Bearcat players had Powell surrounded. Powell kept churning his legs and was sprung by the UC safety who came in and dropped his head and hit the UC defender who had Powell in his grips, Bilal spun out and was gone. Powell still needed help and got it from Nate Nord, and then only needed to make one final nifty move at the UC 20-yard line before waltzing into the endzone. It is hard to describe how great this play really was and how much credit needs to go to Powell for keeping the run alive.

UofL takes lead 17-14, RedZone TDs (or lack thereof)

Malcolm Tatum found himself in the fortunate position to backhand the ball out of Isaiah Pead's hands coming out of a spin move. Greg Scruggs was in the right place again and forced the Bearcats second turnover of the game and giving the Cardinals another short field.

Once on offense, the Cardinals got tricky throwing what appeared to be a screen to Doug Beaumont. The UC defense broke contain and Beaumont's pass back to Froman was a beauty with blockers in front. I really like taking advantage of the Bearcat aggressiveness and their overpursuit here. Had Froman not tackled himself trying to cut back he likely would have scored. Still UofL had first down from the 12. On 3rd down, I am not sure how Cameron Graham did not get a pass interference call considering he basically had a Bearcat saddled on his back and Bobby Burns was flagged for much less contact previously. I thought Graham probably still should have held onto the ball, but he rarely drops the catch. UofL settled for a Philpott field goal.

This was the second trip deep into UC territory without a TD for UofL in the ball game. To have a 1st and 10 from the 12-yard line and come up short of the endzone is really tough to take. Still to gain the lead and have a lot going for the UofL offense and defense is a big deal.

UofL builds on lead, 24-14

The Cardinals 4th straight scoring drive was especially impressive as it was a methodical drive with a healthy mix of running and passing. No one play was key, but they were all nice strong gains that added all together equaled Touchdown for the Cardinals. At this point, I felt UofL was firing on all cylinders and really had momentum. The only play on the drive for no-gain was actually a set up play for the Josh Bellamy end around. UofL hasn't run option all season, but did to set up that play. At the time the play was run I was scratching my head, but once I saw the Bellamy play it all made sense. The Cardinal drive was capped off with Bilal Powell's second and final TD of the game.

UC catches Cardinals napping, answers before halftime 24-21

Because of the mishap at the beginning of the game, Cincinnati was going to get the ball first after halftime. Getting a stop before the end of the half with UC getting the ball with 5:33 was essential. As it happened Armon Binns had a huge gain for 25 yards. On the play Johnny Patrick was in tight coverage and Binns did a fast start and stop, before the ball was in the air Patrick was picked a UC receiver, but because Binns went behind the LOS there it was a legal play and UC did a great job of setting up blocks, a defensive lineman needs to get in there and clean up the mess.

The play that was really infuriating though was the 31-yard TD. After a 16-yard Pead run, the Bearcat offense rushed to the LOS and went for a quick snap. When the ball was snapped I bet 3 or maybe 4 Cardinals actually saw the snap or knew the play was happening. Collaros could have picked either outside receiver to go to because Johnny Patrick and Bobby Burns were among the "sleeping beauties", but he went with Jacob Rogers who Bobby Burns had been charged with covering. Easiest TD given up by the Cardinals of 2010, there are guys in the parking lot who could have made that throw and catch.

My biggest problem with allowing this touchdown is two-fold. First, it isn't anything new that Cincinnati runs a hurry-up offense. Especially coming up against halftime it would only make sense that they would try to score quickly. Getting our defense set should always be a major point of emphasis, and even more so versus teams who routinely attempt to catch a defense napping. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly is that UofL went into halftime with all 3 timeouts. I cannot fathom why none of the coaches thought to call timeout before the ball was snapped when I could tell from the stands UofL was in trouble.

3rd Quarter, injuries and a long drive for UC, 28-24

The first two quarters of football saw a lot of scoring. If you look at the box score you won't think too much of it, but the 3rd quarter shaped up the whole football and led to the eventual result.

On the first possession the Cardinals defense had the Bearcats against a 3rd and 9 and called timeout. Who called timeout for the Cardinals? Charlie Strong would still like to know, because he didn't call the timeout and neither did any of his players. This was a timeout that was needlessly wasted after not using any in the first half.

Once UofL gained the possession, it took only one snap for UofL to run Bilal Powell to the left side for 46 yards. Stingily and Wetterer both sealed their blocks beautifully and had Andrell Smith been leading the way rather than Josh Bellamy I think Powell would have scored. Powell took the tackler head on instead of attempting to cut to his right for open space and the defender flipped him and Powell landed awkwardly on his right side and was not the same the rest of the game. After two ineffective runs for Powell UofL tried Froman who got his bell rung on 3rd and 7 and also did not seem to be the same after. 40 yard FG was missed by Philpott his 2nd miss of the night.

UC had a chance to take the lead and they did with a 14 play, 77-yard drive. But giving up the lead wasn't the most costly for the Cardinals. Johnny Patrick took himself out of the game when he attempted to tackle Cincinnati TE Ben Guidugli, with 3:42 remaining in the 3rd quarter. I do not know the extent of Patrick's injury but he left the stadium almost immediately after coming off the field, which can not be a good sign. Losing Patrick really changed the game defensively for UofL. True freshman Senorise Perry came in to replace Patrick and Burns went over to cover the right side. It looked like UofL was favoring zone coverages with Perry in the game, but they did play some man with him. The safeties were definitely shading over towards Perry's side of the ball which made Bobby Burns' job that more difficult for him.

To cap the long scoring drive for the Bearcats Collaros found DJ Woods for his 2nd TD of the game. As much as I didn't like DJ Woods taunting after his first TD in the 1st quarter, I had a lot of respect for him after he held onto the ball after Shenard Holton turned his lights off in the back of the endzone. Great catch, great hit. Sometimes players just make plays and there's nothing a defender can do. Holton did his job coming over to help knock the ball out. Darius Ashley let Woods behind him and Hakeem Smith was late in getting there, Holton arrived just as the ball did, but Woods was not his primary responsibility on the play, Holton was to be helping Senorise Perry on the other side.

The final nail in the coffin for UofL in the 3rd quarter was Josh Bleser's 2nd bad punt of the year and game. It wasn't that bad, but it ended up awful due to the fact that Bleser's punt basically returned itself 15 yards on its own. Still Bleser is capable of better, and he wasn't his best on Friday night.

1st 4th Quarter Chance, 28-27

After losing a timeout, getting Powell dinged, losing Johnny Patrick AND the lead, and then giving up a short field on a bad punt, Louisville needed the 3rd quarter to end as quickly as possible and get something to change their fortunes. They seemed to get it from Darius Ashley who on the first play stepped in front of a Zach Collaros and pulled in the ball to give UofL a huge turnover and great field position.

The Cardinals moved ball for two first downs and got to the 14-yard line. I thought UofL would ride the Powell train at this point, but he didn't look like himself. I think he was showing some stiffness from his first carry of the 2nd half, and probably was gassed at this point. This is where not having a viable 2nd back really kills a football team. Blayne Donnell is a serviceable 3rd option but I don't think Sanford felt comfortable relying on him in key situations. On 3rd & 7, illegal shift was called, and I don't think the coaches wanted to give up the chip shot on 3rd & 12 and settled to pull the Cards within 1 point as Chris Philpott netted a 37-yard field goal.

Bearcats don't cooperate, take advantage of Patrick's absence, 35-27

Armon Binns was tough for Johnny Patrick to handle. For Bobby Burns it was even tougher. Patrick couldn't match up with Binns' size, but he was a better option than Burns. Not much else matters on the possession except for the 62-yard pass to Binns over Burns who moved over to cover Patrick's right side. Ageyi Williams (#48, not on UofL roster but I could see on ESPN afterwards) actually replaced Senorise Perry playing man coverage on opposite side on the play. Binns beat Burns on the play, and Shenard Holton did not provide help at all and was too pre-occupied with helping Brandon Heath. Maybe both Burns and Holton thought Binns went out of bounds. It was close, but I think he was in the whole way. Not a lot of excuse for letting him behind the defense like that.

End of Game, 35-27

With 9:14 and one timeout any reasonable person would imagine that the Cardinals would probably get two possessions to even the score. But UofL would only get once chance. The Cardinals converted 4 first downs on took their time moving the ball taking what the defense was giving them.

Here Powell was really looking worn and UofL had success moving the ball through the air. Once UofL got the 1st and goal at the 8-yard line, the Bearcat defense tightened up and Adam Froman seemed to rush his decision-making. I thought Sanford would still try Powell here on 1st and 2nd down and ride the horse who got you to town, but he was limping out of the huddle and to the sideline and I think they started to call the game away from Powell as the downs became more and more important because of it. Chichester seemed to pull down the touchdown only to drop it. And the final pass to Bellamy really was a desperate and poor attempt. In the end, lack of execution deep in enemy territory doomed the Cardinals. Two missed FGs and no touchdown in the final minutes killed the Cardinal chances, potentially 21 points left on the board, definitely 9 points and the difference in the game.

From there the Cardinal defense was in the unenviable position of not giving up two first downs with only one timeout. UofL had a tough time with Isiah Pead all day with the counter trap and on the final drive it was no different. 5 rushes and two 1st downs sealed the deal for the Bearcats.

Observations

-I thought this was a pretty evenly matched game. Comparable yardage totals, but UofL dominated time of possession and forced 3 turnovers and gave up none. In my eyes that spells a win. The most telling stat is this: 5/13 on 3rd down for UofL, compared to 6/9 on 3rd down for Cincinnati. UofL needs to get more short 3rd downs the average failed 3rd down yardage was 11.25 yards (12, 9, 7, 15, 7, 16, 12, 12).

-Really disappointed with Josh Bellamy in this game. Especially in final drive. There is no excuse for the primary receiver of any defense to only have 2 catches for 10 yards. The way the Cardinals were running the ball there were opportunities. Froman takes part of the blame here, he dropped his eyes as the game wore on and missed Bellamy wide open a few times.

- Bilal Powell probably will be fine. I'm sure he is still a little sore and possibly bruised, but I think he'll be back to 100% for UConn. The big question is when will Victor Anderson return and if it is going to be prolonged will Jeremy Wright's role grow Does UofL have a #2 running back without Anderson?

- Nate Nord is really starting to play well. His blocking has continually improved this season and he is showing that he is another weapon at TE along with Cameron Graham.

- Speaking of Cameron Graham, he is still a 3rd down converting machine and it's almost too obvious that Froman favors him on 3rd down. Especially when Bellamy decides to be absent.

- Greg Scruggs played well early on and was disruptive. But the UC running attack was abusing the middle of the Cardinal defense. This is not entirely Scruggs' assignment, but he is among the abused. I know he is undersized, but it was mostly assignments. Linebackers need to be filling these voids and helping.

- After the game, I don't think there is one linebacker I could praise. Safeties are making too many tackles on running backs and Darius Ashley (nickelback) is the leading tackler for the second game in a row. Even when our LBs would blitz the right hole they wouldn't make the play all game. Really frustrating game for the linebackers.

- Thought it was interesting to see Sanford add an extra lineman on WildCard formation vs. Cincinnati. Ryan Kessling was the choice after getting injured the week before, and Kessling even got time in replacement of Tomczyk at RT. Why was Tomczyk out? Is Jeff Adams completely out of the rotation?

- Chris Philpott needs to make his field goals, but also he was not driving the ball into the endzone like he has all season. I wonder if there is something wrong with him, didn't seem like the ball was leaving his foot like it has in the previous 5 games.

- No sacks for UofL defense?

- Bobby Burns had some nice plays, but also gave up some too. Anytime a defense gives up 5 touchdowns passing you can't be happy with the secondary. Darius Ashley is among those making plays but also giving up costly mistakes. I don't know who the coaches will turn to in replacement of Johnny Patrick next week. If Mike Evans is healthy he might come back in at nickel and they could move Ashley over to CB, but that is an entirely different position that Ashley would have to learn. Nickel and CB are similar skill sets but he would have to learn the calls, signals, and just the position in general.

- Malcolm Tatum is an important part of the UofL defense. He is steady and plays multiple roles, but I seriously wanted him off the field after he senseless personal foul. Savoy made a great play, but he gave them first down needlessly hitting Collaros like that. We don't need that on our football team. Tatum is a good player, I don't ever want to see that again.

- Anyone know why the band is playing when UofL is on offense? Anyone know why the fans are cheering while UofL is on offense? Make noise when UofL is on defense. Please, this is not a difficult concept.

-You know you are in the Big East when the officials are all over the place. Phantom flags, botched coin flips, phantom timeouts, inconsistent pass interference. I guess I should just get used to it the rest of the way. The first five games I thought the officials did an excellent job, this game not so much. They weren't biased, they were just bad.

-Isaiah Pead and Armond Binns are outstanding weapons for Cincinnati. Obviously they have other players, but these two standout and are real difference makers.


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