There's been a lot of talk about Cardinal football this week but there hasn't been much discussion about Louisville's homecoming game against the Golden Eagles. Speculation about Steve Kragthorpe's future at UofL has taken over sports talk in this town since a 35-10 loss to Pittsburgh last Saturday.
That loss – UofL's eighth straight to a Football Subdivision opponent, and their sixth straight Big East defeat – dropped the Cardinals record to 1-3 this season and has created a feeding frenzy of rumors about Kragthorpe's future as the Louisville coach.
Louisville has their own injury problems to worry about. The Cardinals are banged up at several key positions. Starting linebacker Brandon Heath, starting strong safety Terence Simien and reserve scatback Darius Ashley are out for today's contest.
Another big concern for the Cardinals is the status of leading rusher Victor Anderson. Anderson, according to Kragthorpe, nursed a groin injury that limited him in practice prior to the Pittsburgh contest and received just 12 carries for 51 yards – he also caught four passes – last Saturday.
"We've got to get more carries for Vic, he's been a little banged up," said Kragthorpe.
The Cardinals are also fighting injuries in the secondary and at linebacker. Besides Heath and Simien, linebacker Antwan Canady is also nicked up. With a key injury or two in the secondary, the Cardinals moved starting safety Chaz Thompson to cornerback against Pittsburgh and Kragthorpe said true freshman Shenard Holton could see action for the time against the Golden Eagles at safety.
"[We're] a little chipped up in the secondary and we had to make some moves and rotate some guys around..particularly [moving] Chaz to corner," said Kragthorpe. "We can maybe play Shenard Holton a little bit and pull the redshirt off of him."
"It's kind of the same thing at linebacker. We're a little bit chipped up," said Kragthorpe. "Brandon [Heath] will probably be out again this week. Hopefully we can get him back for Uconn. Antwan's a little beat up so Horace got a little time in there."
After holding Pittsburgh to just seven first half points, Louisville's defense fell apart after halftime giving up 28 unanswered points. The Cardinals were beaten deep several times by the Panthers, including 37 and 71 yard touchdown passes in the third quarter.
Poor secondary play wasn't Louisville's only glaring problem. The Cards offensive line gave up six sacks against the Panthers and struggled to open holes for the running backs. In UofL's past two games, the offensive line has given up 10 sacks and the Cardinals have averaged just 2.5 yards a carry.
That will probably lead to some changes up front this week. Don't be surprised to see Jeff Adams, who started all 12 games last season as a sophomore but missed the first four games after dropping 20 pounds from the flu during fall camp, make his first start of the season replacing Byron Stingily. Kragthorpe also said that junior college transfer Joe Evinger, who arrived late into fall camp, could see action as a reserve guard.
"We've got to be able to protect the passer better than we did," Kragthorpe said. "We'll look at a couple different combinations. Jeff Adams is getting healthy and I think he's getting back closer to full strength. And Joe Evinger has a pretty good grasp of what we're doing. So we'll probably mix those guys in and give us more of a rotation on the offensive line."
It's not hard to understand why the Cardinals are a home 'dog' against a team playing without their starting quarterback when you look at the numbers. Louisville ranks last in the Big East in six categories, including scoring offense, sacks allowed, rushing defense and sacks, and second to last in four categories: total offense, rushing offense, scoring defense and pass efficiency defense.
Louisville's defense will receive a strong challenge from a Southern Miss offense that ranks in the Top 40 nationally in total offense, scoring offense, rushing offense and pass efficiency offense, and returns their best running back – Damion Fletcher - and wide receiver – DeAndre Brown - from injury. Neither Fletcher or Brown played in the loss to UAB. And while the Cardinals seemingly catch a break with Davis sidelined, Southern Miss head coach Larry Fedora has confidence in Martevious Young, who will be making his second start against Louisville.
"Martevious has not changed at all to be honest," Fedora said. "He has been committed since day one in preparing himself as hard as he can. Being the backup is one of the toughest jobs because mentally you have to be into it and you may not get a snap."
Fletcher leads Southern Miss in rushing with 371 yards and four touchdowns, while Brown has caught 13 passes with one touchdown in three games this season. Kragthorpe also realizes that Young will pose different problems than Davis for his defense.
"Fletcher is one of the best backs in the country and Brown is as good a receiver now as there is in the country," Kragthorpe said. "They lost their quarterback but the guy that will replace him is very athletic, he's got a strong arm and an intelligent guy. He probably runs around a little bit more than [Davis] so we'll have to be prepared for that."
With Davis out, USM will rely on their defense to come away with a win over the Cardinals. The Southern Miss defense is ranked No.1 in C-USA in total defense, passing defense and sacks and the Golden Eagles are allowing just 23 points per game. Last week, Southern Miss held UAB to just 245 total yards, including only 23 yards passing.
"They've done a nice job pressuring the passer and haven't given up big plays," said Kragthorpe. "They're not a big blitz team but the do a good job with their four man pass rush. They're athletic and a veteran group in the secondary."
That sort of defensive pressure could cause huge problems for a struggling Louisville offense. The Cardinals have been plagued by poor line play, crucial mistakes and lack of production on third down. Besides allowing 10 sacks in the past two games, UofL has turned the ball over four times, been penalized 15 times and converted only 8 of 29 third downs.
"Penalties and lack of third down production [are hurting us]," Kragthorpe said. "We got ourselves in some third and long situations after penalties and it's tougher to convert those."
Adam Froman will make his second start this season for the Cardinals.
Date October 10, 2009
Kickoff 7:30 p.m.
Location Papa John's Cardinal Stadium
Radio 84-WHAS AM
Series Southern Miss leads 18-8-1; Louisville won last meeting in OT 20-17 in 2002