In Review: Louisville vs. Kentucky

InsideTheVille.com's "Sheriff Report" breaks down Louisville's season-opening 23-16 loss to Kentucky in Saturday's Governor's Cup clash.

The Charlie Strong Era began in defeat against hated rival Kentucky Saturday. No one in the Cardinal program is going to be happy about a loss, but there are a lot of positives to take away from the first game of the new regime. In this review I focus on UK's first four possessions, other key possessions, key elements of the game, some of my thoughts, and ask some questions.

UK's 1st 4 possessions

UK scored Touchdowns on 3 of their first 4 possessions. I'll detail the breakdowns of each drive, but generally speaking the errors that led to scores were mistakes by newcomers. This is especially true on the 1st and 3rd touchdowns. Judging how the defense responded and played from the 12:44 minute of the 2Q, I believe you can chalk up the early miscues to being too emotional and guys over-thinking their assignments rather than just playing football. UK took advantage like veterans and after 4 possessions the damage was done and the score was 20-3, UofL's offense would go on to score only 16 points on the day.

UK's First Play:

UofL came out in a 3-3-5 (Savoy, Scruggs, Tatum, Daniel Brown, Marcus Smith, Heath, Patrick, Burns, Holton, Simien, and Evans). UK set up a play that appeared would be a screen to Randall Cobb like we've all seen 100 times. Instead, Hartline waited until Mike Evans was so fixated with Cobb (who Johnny Patrick was covering) that La'Rod King had perfectly snuck past Evans making a completion easy for a long gain. Evans must trust his teammates to play their assignments, and they need to be able to trust him to do his. If he is going to ignore his assignments this defense will not work. Very few defenses will work if players don't play their assignments.

UK's Second Play (touchdown)

On the second play, a simple handoff to Derrick Locke resulted in a touchdown after a long game. A series of missed opportunities resulted in this play. First, Johnny Patrick came on a blitz from the corner too sharply and Locke blew right by, still Brandon Heath was in position until he was blocked low. Before Locke had crossed the Line of Scrimmage (LOS), Scruggs was also in place to make play, except that Tim High was too busy getting blown into Scruggs' legs taking Scruggs out of the play. True Freshman Preston Brown over played his gap, and allowed Locke right through and past him. Daniel Brown was in position to make the stop after a decent gain, but was more concerned about getting blocked (which he wasn't) than making the tackle. Simien was the last resort, but had over committed and Locke was too fast for him. In this play, Daniel Brown's missed assignment was probably the most egregious.

UK's 3rd possession (touchdown)

Mike Evans missed a key tackle allowing Locke to get a 17-yard gain on 2nd play of series. Johnny Patrick jumped a route and did not come up with the ball allowing a big gain. As a corner if you gamble on a ball you have to make sure it will not make it to the WR. Otherwise you are hanging a big gain on your team. Unfortunately, this was a bad gamble. Later, Greg Scruggs missed a sure fire sack and instead, UK found Matt Roark for 26 yards down to the 1-yard line. On the eventual 1-yard run by Locke for TD, Terrence Simien came in too sharply and it was just a leisurely jog into the endzone once Simien gave up the edge. I did not see Simien on the field after that.

UofL's 3rd Series (field goal)

UofL started their 3rd possession with perhaps the most costly 67-yard kickoff return in UofL history. Lead blocker Josh Bellamy was rocked by Roark, in what appeared to be a concussion. UofL lost the services of Bellamy for the rest of the game, and before he could really get going in the offense. The most infuriating thing about Bellamy's block is that he did it to himself. He lowered his head as he came into contact with Roark and put himself in a really bad position to take on a tackler. If Bellamy hadn't taken that hit, Anderson is probably dropped at the 10-yard line.

The other interesting thing about this kickoff return was Victor Anderson's lack of pop. I was really surprised that he lacked the top end speed to beat the UK pursuit to the endzone, and was equally surprised to see him turning around seeking contact. Has Anderson lost some of his edge since the injury?

Without Anderson's big return this is an empty possession as UofL went 3 and out and settled on a field goal by Chris Philpott for UofL's first points. 13-3.

UK's 4th Series (touchdown)

Let's just talk about Cobb's 51-yard touchdown. This is a case of a player not understanding his assignment. Pre-snap you can see Daniel Brown and Johnny Patrick on the left side discussing who is marking Locke. Just before the snap, Locke goes into motion and BOTH tragically follow, once the ball is snapped Brown is out of position as he realizes his error, but it is too late. Randall Cobb fakes the handoff to Locke and goes left, BJ Butler breaks contain and goes inside thinking he has backside help. Unfortunately his help is now ONLY Shenard Holton who is an easy target for 3 UK blockers. The rest are chasing. UofL had to honor the handoff to Locke, but once Patrick and Brown followed him it was an easy TD for the Wildcats, from the Wildcat formation. 20-3.

Other Key Possessions:

UofL's 4th Series

UofL drove down to 5-yard line and hold by Wetterer decreased odds of TD. Still Pascley dropped a would be tough touchdown pass on 3rd down. Settled for Chris Phillpott FG. 20-6.

UofL's 2nd possession

You can't really call this a "drive" because it was only one play. Bilal Powell took a handoff 80 yards through the middle then down the sideline for UofL's only touchdown. Previously, Powell had success twice with a run on the outside of left side of the line. On this play, he faked that run and instead countered inside, found the seam and used UK's overreaction against them. It was perfect timing for a TD, and could have been huge in winning the game.

UofL's Final Drive

On the final drive, down 10, it was imperative that UofL get points. They took their time sustaining a 7 minute drive getting a FG. However, there was only 3:16 to go in game at the drive's conclusion.

From the 30 yard line with 6:25 remaining Adam Froman completely missed a W-I-D-E open Doug Beaumont in what would have easily been Beaumont's first TD and brought UofL within 3 points with plenty of time remaining in the game. Instead Froman found Blayne Donnell for a one yard gain in the flat. This was so obvious from the stands, very unfortunate miss.

The drive was completely dead on 4th and 17 as Froman's pass fell incomplete but Ridge Wilson decided to hit Froman well after the play. That incredibly ignorant and selfish mistake allowed UofL to continue their drive. However, UofL came up short again and finally settled for a field goal in what would be the final score 23-16. I felt like the FG was the right call with 2 timeouts remaining and 3:16 left on the clock. Also, agreed with kicking off to UK rather than onside kick, however they earned two 1st downs and sealed the game.

QB Play

Charlie Strong said that he thought Froman played "outstanding". A lot of folks were clamoring to see someone else get a chance under center for the Cards. On the day, Froman made some decent plays, and even had a nice run along the sideline to set up a FG. He doesn't seem to have the innate instincts and vision of a top level QB as he missed several wide-open receivers v. UK. Froman seems to excel when the decision is made for him pre-snap. On plays where he has multiple options he appears slow in his decision-making. Maybe his comfort level is not there yet, and maybe losing Josh Bellamy and Michaelee Harris put a wrench in his confidence. Also, he does not seem to want to throw much to the left side of the field. Drops by receivers aren't doing him any favors.

A coach would always want his QB to be cool under pressure, but while Froman is taking his time in the pocket, it seems more like a frenzy than someone waiting for the right moment to get rid of the ball. Making the right read at the right time is beyond critical. A great example of this is going for the deep ball on a well covered Troy Pascley rather than hitting a wide open Andrell Smith on a shorter route that would have surely resulted in a lot of YAC. He became increasingly inaccurate and rushed in the final drive.

I expect Froman's play to improve over the course of the season. He is 2-6 as a starter at UofL.

Wide Receivers:

As quarterback play goes, they can't do much when receivers aren't catching balls. On the day, I actually felt like the route-running was superb from the UofL WRs corps. Unfortunately, UofL WRs only caught six passes on the day. Troy Pascley has taken a lot of criticism from the fan base after dropping 4 balls, all of which would have been key (3 first downs, 1 TD). Two of Pascley's drops are totally inexcusable, the other two would not seem as bad if the others had been caught. Still you would expect your WRs to come up with these balls. Beaumont and Graham seemed to only get the look in crucial situations while it seemed Froman was favoring Pascley for a large part of the game until he lost confidence in the receiver.

The production of Pascley is puzzling. He does everything right. He runs crisp routes, he has speed and athleticism to separate from defenders he just has consistently not been able to pull the ball down. As a Cardinal fan you love all of your Cardinals, and there isn't a better person on UofL's team than Troy Pascley. But as a football player he needs to do his job. His drops played a big role in preventing UofL from making a comeback.

Defense:

As a UofL fan you have to be encouraged with how the defense came together as the game went along. You could see the progression of the players going from a thinking and reactionary defense to a confident and aggressive unit that knew their assignments and just played football. The coaching staff made excellent adjustments throughout the game. Also, there were mistakes that happened after the 3rd UK TD, the difference was that the Cardinals began playing fast. Before a lot of the guys were over thinking their assignments during the first 4 UK series, but they re-grouped and just played football and that was all the difference.

Turnovers:

Turnovers are never fun for an offense. But UofL can take solace in the fact that none of their miscues led to points for Kentucky. Both were drive killers. Froman's INT was pretty bad. He threw off his back foot into double coverage. There was no zip on the ball and it was an easy INT for UK. The most infuriating thing was that Cameron Graham was open short for a 1st down and would have moved the chains and a fresh set of downs.

Bilal Powell's fumble was terrible timing. There was plenty of time, and you could feel the offense starting to click. I only saw Powell on the field once after his fumble, as his shoulder seemed to be bothering him. Great strip by Wyndham, but terrible kicking by Tydlacka all game, and he came through on UK's ensuing possession by missing yet another opportunity to put points on the board for the Wildcats.

Another surprising element was the lack of turnovers for UK. Charlie Strong's defenses are universally known for causing turnovers, and the absence of them is glaring. The two best chances for a turnover was Bobby Burns volleyball spiking a Mike Hartline softball toss instead of picking it off and Randall Cobb's botched punt which he quickly recovered. Bobby Burns' had an easy INT, I couldn't understand why he didn't just catch it. I felt like since UofL didn't have a men's volleyball team he decided he'd go out for football or something. As for Randall Cobb's botched punt, the moment was brief, Doug Beaumont made the right play by going for the tackle, but the ball was there and how big would it have been had he come up with it??

Moving Forward

UofL did not get the win that it sought, but this was not a deflating loss for the Cardinals. I think the players really saw and acknowledged their own development throughout the game, and the fans should as well. No one is happy with the early hole that was dug, but first game coming off of a disappointing season with a new coach, there are bound to be early mistakes. There is no preseason. It is very important for Charlie Strong to keep an even keel and stay the course with his team,focus on the positives, and make improvements as you go along. The offense is usually behind the defense at the start of a season, but the offense needs to progress next week v. EKU before heading to Corvallis.

Interestingly enough in 1998 when UofL opened a new stadium with a new coach UofL lost to UK and headed out west where the Cardinals fell to Utah and afterwards the famous "Get on the Bus" speech occurred.

Extra Points

-Powell seems to be the choice in the Wildcard formation. Interesting considering Dominique Brown is almost custom tailored for the role.

-Not happy with the way Victor Anderson is running. Seemed cautious and tip-toeing at the start of his runs and returns.

-Thought Josh Bleser punted very well. Angled his punts and had good height when needed. Didn't allow one return yard for Randal Cobb which is huge.

-Felt like Mike Evans was out of his element to start the game. Played a limited role after first 4 UK possessions. Mostly in nickel, which is where I thought we'd see Darius Ashley. I was not impressed with Mike Evans in the least. I felt he was completely out of place. Was he too excited? Did he have too much responsibility?

-Would like kickoff coverage to keep returns closer to 20, but was happy keeping Locke in check.

-How nice is it to actually be able to rely on a kicker again?

-Have a hard time believing Mike Hartline is 3-0 as a starting QB in this game.

-Hakeem Smith really played well in replacing Terrence Simien.

-Malcolm Tatum and BJ Butler were very disruptive as a DE tandem. Brought good pressure together. Tatum is the most complete product at the moment, but you can see the flashes of brilliance in Butler, but he still needs to learn. Butler's play needs to improve against the run more than anything.

-UofL had the most success running the ball to the left side of the offensive line.

-Offense seemed most effective when direct behind the LOS rather than the slow developing plays. I understand that offense as several teams have success with it, but the delayed handoffs and action behind the LOS just wasn't working on Saturday and caused some TFLs and wasted downs. UofL abandoned these types of plays for the most part as the game went on.

-Cameron Graham played really well. I think we have to find more ways to get him the ball. He runs reliable routes and has great hands. You have to be impressed with him. Nate Nord also got his first catch!

-Dexter Heyman was disruptive for a spell in the 3Q, UofL has to find ways to get him comfortable and more consistent.

-Victor Anderson looked to have gotten the worse end of a helmet to helmet hit by Martavious Neloms in the 3Q.

-I don't think there is any doubt that Shenard Holton is the Free Safety from here on out.

-Great atmosphere for the game, the stadium expansion is beautiful, Card March was awesome, and 55,327 fans!! I remember when critics said that UofL would never sell out 42,000. Moving CardMarch into the parking lot is a stroke of genius. Fans did an excellent job of getting into seats before kickoff. It will be interesting to see if our fans are committed to being big-time college football fans or if they will revert to their old habits next week. Also, still very confused on why our fans insist on making noise when UofL is on offense and quiet on defense.

-Hartline is the king of the throwaway.

-Preston Brown is the going to be a good player. On Saturday it appeared that he was in great position but was still adjusting to the speed of the game and needs to make more plays when he is there going forward.

Questions

-After the benching of Terrence Simien after his missed assignment, Hakeem Smith played a great game for UofL. Does the freshman get the nod v. EKU? Or does Charlie Strong go back with Simien at SS for the next contest? Simien hadn't been full contact until fall camp began, meanwhile Hakeem Smith has been full speed the whole time, is Simien still playing catch-up?

-What is the timetable for Josh Bellamy's return? Concussion? I think it is safe to say he won't play v. EKU, but would be a key component against Oregon St. Another question is whether anyone will teach Bellamy to keep his head up while making a block?

-Using Blayne Donnell on UofL's final drive begs the question: When will Jeremy Wright be available?

-Why did Strong not use any of his first half timeouts? Especially during the 1st 4 possessions that resulted in 3 TDs and there were several breakdowns and amped up nerves. To be fair, a lot of the breakdowns did happen during the play or as the ball was being snapped.

-When does the cast come off of Brandon Heath?


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