Is the defense improved? Louisville simply wasn't good on defense last season. That's why an entirely new staff of defensive coaches, led by new coordinator Ron English, is now in place. The Cardinals gave up tons of big plays and looked unprepared, disorganized and uninspired much of last season. Will English's new staff make a difference right away for the UofL defense? The Cardinals must replace six starters on defense, including all three linebackers. Questions abound everywhere. Will Louisville be able to generate an effective pass rush this season after recording just 18 sacks in '07? If not, opposing teams will continue to torch the Cardinals with the pass. Louisville's defense allowed 31 points, 416 yards per game, including 250 through the air, and struggled to stop the run (165 ypg) last season. Can the defense make dramatic improvement with an entirely new set of coaches and several junior college transfers dotting the depth chart?
blow to Louisville's offense?
Will Scott Long's injury slow UofL's offense? Losing Harry Douglas, Mario Urrutia and Patrick Carter was a big blow to Louisville's wide receiver corps. The off-season dismissal of JaJuan Spillman was another hit to the Cardinals stable of wide outs. When Trent Guy was shot a few days later, the situation didn't look good. Then Scott Long's foot injury in fall camp that required surgery meant that Louisville will head into the season opener with only one wide receiver (Chris Vaughn made two receptions in '07) who caught a pass last season – unless Trent Guy is able to play. While Vaughn has some experience and there's a chance Guy could play, a young corps of Louisville receivers led by Doug Beaumont, Josh Chichester, Troy Pascley and JUCO transfer Maurice Clark will be forced to step up and make plays immediately in the passing game.
Are the JUCO's ready to make an impact? To address Louisville's weaknesses, Steve Kragthorpe brought in a slew of junior college transfers during the off-season. On offense, the Cardinals are hoping that JUCO transfers Maurice Clark, Rock Keys, Cameron Graham and Bryon Stingily can provide immediate help at wide receiver, tight end and offensive tackle. Clark has been solid in fall camp, while Keys, Graham and Stingily will be counted on to provide depth. On defense, Jon Dempsey, Antwon Canady and Chris Campa could all start for the Cardinals at linebacker. Tyler Jessen will provide depth at defensive tackle, while Josh Wiley and Justin Matthews were brought in to help solidify the safety position. Will Kragthorpe's junior college experiment pay immediate dividends on both sides of the ball?
Special teams still special? Not only does Art Carmody's departure create a major question mark for Louisville's kicking game, but the dismissal of kick returner JaJuan Spillman and the uncertainly of punt/kick returner Trent Guy's availability for the season opener create huge questions for the Cardinals return game. Carmody was nearly automatic on field goals and extra points for four seasons. Now, either Purdue transfer Tim Dougherty or true freshman Chris Philpott will be counted on to make the clutch kicks, something that could be extremely important in what is expected to be a close game against the Wildcats. If Guy can't play against Kentucky, Louisville will be breaking in a new punt returner in the opener. Bilal Powell, who averaged 25.6 yards per kick return last season, is the only experienced kick returner on the UofL roster outside of Guy.
Questions Kentucky must answer:
weapons to lead UK to a win?
Can Kentucky make enough winning plays on offense? Kentucky has found out during fall camp that replacing offensive stars like quarterback Andre Woodson, wide receivers Keenan Burton and Steve Johnson, tight end Jacob Tamme and running back Raphael Little won't be an easy task. That group accounted for nearly all of Kentucky's 460 total yards and four of the Wildcats five touchdowns against Louisville last season. After being shutout in their first scrimmage of fall camp, it remains to be seen whether or not Kentucky has the offensive weapons this season to take advantage of Louisville's suspect defense.
Is Mike Hartline ready to lead Kentucky to victory? Is Mike Hartline ready to lead Kentucky to a big win over Louisville at PJCS? The jury is still out. Hartline, who will make his first start at quarterback against the Cardinals, has never been in a situation like he'll find himself next Sunday against Louisville. He also won't be blessed with the type of surrounding offensive talent that Andre Woodson had at his disposal last season. While Hartline threw more passes than Louisville's new quarterback Hunter Cantwell did last season, Cantwell has proven he can lead Louisville to the winner's circle with a 3-1 record in four career starts.
Will Kentucky's rebuilt offensive line do the job? Kentucky's offensive line has been, perhaps, the most disappointing unit for the Wildcats this preseason. Thought to be the strength of the UK offense heading into the season, the Wildcats offensive front appears to have major question marks at both guard positions and at center, where Jorge Gonzalez is struggling to replace Eric Scott. If the Wildcats don't quickly shore up the middle of their offensive front, Earl Heyman, Adrian Grady and L.T. Walker could have a field day teeing off on quarterback Mike Hartline.
Can Kentucky stop the run? Kentucky improved significantly on defense overall last season, going from No. 108 in total defense in 2006 to No. 67 last year. And while the Wildcats were solid against the pass, UK simply couldn't stop the run – allowing 191 rushing yards per game (94th in the nation). With question marks at wide receiver, expect UofL offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm to test Kentucky on the ground with his talented trio of backs - Brock Bolen, Bilal Powell and Victor Anderson. If Louisville is able to run free on the ground they'll have a great opportunity to win the Governor's Cup Trophy for the eighth time in the past 10 years.