NCF Nation: Adam Froman

Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl Louisville keys

December, 21, 2010
Three keys for Louisville against Southern Miss in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl on Tuesday night:

1. Establish Bilal Powell: Cardinals coach Charlie Strong calls his senior-led offensive line the backbone of the team, and he believes they can run on anybody. Southern Miss finished 13th nationally against the run this year, allowing just 113 yards per game on the ground with 300-pound run stuffers like John Henderson and Anthony Gray in the middle up front. Louisville's offense usually goes as running back Powell goes, and the more successful he is, the more Southern Miss' offense has to stay on the sideline.

2. Make something happen in the passing game: Adam Froman started the first eight games at quarterback and played pretty well before suffering a deep thigh bruise. Justin Burke took over for the final four games before getting injured himself in the finale at Rutgers. Both should be ready for Tuesday night, and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford said he expects both seniors to play. Louisville's passing game didn't do much the final month or so of the season, but the opportunities should be there against a Golden Eagles defense that ranks 103rd nationally against the pass. Whoever is in at quarterback needs to take advantage and avoid mistakes, because beating Southern Miss will probably require a score somewhere in the high 20s or more.

3. Contain Austin Davis: The Golden Eagles rely a lot on Davis, their quarterback. He has close to 3,000 yards passing and is third on the team in rushing. Play the pass too much, and he'll slip in a few big gains on the zone-read play. Louisville has done an excellent job all year of applying pressure from confusing angles in defensive coordinator Vance Bedford's scheme. The pressure has to get to Davis and not let him burst free, or he can do some serious damage.

Charlie Strong is just getting started

December, 13, 2010
Charlie Strong's first season with the Louisville Cardinals got off to an inauspicious beginning.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Strong
AP Photo/Tim LarsenLouisville coach Charlie Strong led the Cardinals to a bowl game for the first time since the 2006 season.
In the season opener, Kentucky needed just two plays to score a touchdown. Strong remembers talking to defensive coordinator Vance Bedford over the headset and saying, "This is going to be a long season."

But the Cardinals kept improving and finished with a 6-6 record that most people didn't think was possible. They will be bowling for the first time since the 2006 season when they take on Southern Miss in the Dec. 21 Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl.

Strong has received a lot of credit, and was named Big East co-coach of the year along with Connecticut's Randy Edsall. But he says the team's seniors deserve the recognition.

"The reason we're in a bowl game is because our 25 seniors decided to lead this football team," he said. "We made tremendous strides because of the leadership of our seniors. I didn't set any goals in terms of wins or losses; I just wanted to put a product on the field everybody would be pleased and happy with. Each game we got better and better."

The turning point this season, Strong said, came in the third quarter of the third game at Oregon State. Louisville trailed 35-14, and Strong said he called the defense together on the sideline.

"Guys," he said, "we're not going to get embarrassed out here, so you'd better start playing."

After that, Oregon State didn't score again, and the Cardinals got two touchdowns to get back into the game. They failed to tie it up on the final drive, but they learned that day that they could be competitive.

"You could see it right then," Strong said. "I told them, from here out, there's no reason we can't go play."

Strong couldn't say enough about his seniors at a news conference on Monday, and he has to make a choice between two seniors as his starting quarterback for the bowl game.

He said Justin Burke, who started the final four games after Adam Froman injured a thigh muscle, is the starter. But Froman is practicing, and both should be available to play against Southern Miss. He said he is comfortable with either one, or junior Will Stein, who filled in for an injured Burke in the season finale at Rutgers.

This is the first season Strong has been a head coach, but it's not his first bowl game in that role. He was interim coach for Florida after Ron Zook got fired and Strong led the Gators in a Peach Bowl loss to Miami in 2004.

"That was a really tough bowl experience," he said.

Speaking of Florida and Miami, Strong's name popped up in the searches for new coaches at both those schools. While Strong didn't say whether he was contacted by either school, he said he wasn't interested in either job and that he was "locked into" Louisville.

"An AD hired me and gave me the keys to this program, and I owe him a lot," Strong said. "I will never, ever chase a job. I'm totally committed to this job here.

"I don't see myself walking out on a program in one year to go chase another job. I have a really good job here."

Strong has done a really good job in just one year at Louisville. It could be the start of something big.

"We said, let's just get to a bowl game this year," he said. "And from then on, we'll take the program each year and make it better and better."
Southern Miss Golden Eagles (8-4) vs. Louisville Cardinals (6-6)

Dec. 21, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Southern Miss take by nation blogger Andrea Adelson: The Golden Eagles beat eventual C-USA champion UCF earlier this year, but a pair of one-point losses to East Carolina and UAB kept them from winning the East. Still, they have the longest active bowl streak in Conference USA with nine straight, and have one hot quarterback in Austin Davis, who is playing his best football of the season.

The problem for Southern Miss of late has been its defense, which has given up way too many points. Four times in its final five games, the Golden Eagles gave up 30-plus points. That includes the 50-49 loss to UAB in overtime. The defense failed them as well against the Pirates at home earlier in the season. One thing about this team, though, they will be playing with plenty of inspiration.

Three players were shot following a fight at a club that spilled into the parking lot after the team returned home from its 31-21 win over UCF on Nov. 13. Linebacker Martez Smith was paralyzed from the waist down, while Tim Green cannot speak after reportedly being shot in the neck. Defensive end Dedrick Jones also was shot. The team wears a decal on its helmets in the shape of a heart with their decals inside. They are 1-1 since the shootings, winning an inspired game over Houston the week after it happened and losing the finale at Tulsa.

Louisville take by Big East blogger Brian Bennett: The 6-6 record may not look impressive, but Charlie Strong worked wonders in his first year in Louisville.

Everyone picked the Cardinals to finish last in the Big East, and the team he inherited was roundly considered to have the least amount of talent in the league. But Strong and his staff got the most out of a previously underachieving group of seniors, with tailback Bilal Powell the prime example. Powell, who had never broke 400 yards in a season, erupted for 1,330 yards and 10 touchdowns behind a veteran offensive line.

It's on defense, though, where Strong truly made his mark. Despite lacking size or elite playmakers, the Cardinals finished 12th in the country in total defense while locking opponents down in the final month of the season.

Louisville was competitive in every game this season but needed to beat Rutgers in the finale to clinch its first bowl appearance since the 2006 season. Quarterback Adam Froman, who missed the final four games with a thigh injury, could be healed in time for this game. The Cardinals’ seniors are excited about playing in their first bowl, and they'll look to continue the Big East's recent domination of Conference USA in the postseason.
Louisville has made a lot of strides this year under first-year coach Charlie Strong. That much is undeniable. But unless the Cardinals can win at Rutgers on Friday, their season will end the same way it has the previous three years: at home without a bowl.

[+] EnlargeJustin Burke
AP Photo/Kevin RivoliJustin Burke will make his fourth straight start at quarterback Friday.
"Going to a bowl game would say we're taking major steps in trying to get this program back in the right direction," Strong said.

Of course, not many people projected that Louisville would make a postseason game this year. But if the 5-6 team fails to get there now, it would feel like a disappointment. The Cardinals were 5-4 after beating Syracuse two weeks ago, but since then they've dropped two straight games at home, including an overtime loss to South Florida in a game they led 14-3.

The pressure, then, is on. Strong called it "a one-game playoff." But he's trying not to put a burden on his players.

"What we have to do is prepare our guys," he said. "If we prepare our guys the right way, they'll feel no pressure."

Louisville has been in this situation before. Two years ago, it went to Piscataway with the same record, needing a win for bowl eligibility. It left with a humiliating 63-14 loss. Rutgers led 49-0 at halftime in perhaps the lowest of the many low points in the Steve Kragthorpe era.

That Scarlet Knights team, though, was on a roll late in the season. This one has lost four straight and is coming off its own embarrassing defeat, a 69-38 thrashing at Cincinnati on Saturday. By comparison, the Cardinals have far fewer issues.

One of their glaring issues, however, is revving up a flat offense. That offense produced just three points in last week's 17-10 loss to West Virginia and committed too many mistakes down the stretch in the overtime loss to South Florida.

The attack has become too one-dimensional, as the team has not passed for more than 146 yards in its last four games. Justin Burke will make his fourth straight start at quarterback Friday in place of still-injured Adam Froman. Still, one-dimensional is OK as long as that dimension is really powerful.

"We've got to get back to our bread and butter," Burke said. "We've got to run the football."

Star tailback Bilal Powell came down with the flu bug late last week and had no yards on just four carries against West Virginia. Strong said Powell should be healthy and ready to go Friday.

Getting to a bowl game would be a reward for Louisville's 27-man senior class, which has never experienced the postseason. And with all those players leaving after this season, the 15 extra bowl practices would help Strong get a jump start on preparing younger players to take over in 2011. Mostly, though, a bowl game would be a signal that things really have changed.

"It would put some hope back into this program," Strong said.

West Virginia-Louisville kickoff notes

November, 20, 2010
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Justin Burke will start at quarterback for Louisville. Adam Froman warmed up but had a noticeable limp, and Burke took the snaps with the first-team offense in pregame.

West Virginia officials say Noel Devine had a great week of practices and looks as healthy as he has been since the LSU game. Let's see if he can have a breakout game.

The crowd is still very slow to trickle in here with only about 15 minutes before kickoff and Senior Day festivities about to begin. Hope both teams play with more urgency than the fans.

WVU-Louisville pregame ponderables

November, 20, 2010
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Greetings from Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, where it's a splendid fall day. Temperatures are expected to reach into the 60s under partly sunny skies.

It's Senior Day for Louisville, and this large class of 27 seniors has never experienced a bowl game. They can change that with a win over West Virginia, which would be the Cardinals' sixth of the season. These seniors have been vitally important to this year's improvement, from Bilal Powell to four starting offensive linemen, to quarterbacks Adam Froman and Justin Burke and on and on and on.

Speaking of quarterbacks, there's no word yet on who will start for Louisville, but Froman is in uniform and warming up, with a heavy wrap on his injured left leg.

This is a key game for West Virginia in the Big East race. The Mountaineers need to win out and get some help to take the league title. If they don't, the heat will rise to a stifling degree for head coach Bill Stewart. Fan disappointment is evident in the fact that the Mountaineers returned a large portion of their allotment to this game, unheard of for a late-season trip so close to Morgantown.

The game is officially a sellout, but parking lots were pretty empty less than two hours before the game. It could be a late arriving crowd. After all, it is basketball season here.
Losing a starting quarterback in the middle of the season is never easy. But Louisville had a nice backup plan when Adam Froman went down.

The Cardinals enjoyed the luxury of having another fifth-year senior and former starter on the bench and ready to go. Justin Burke has started the past two games and has thrown five touchdown passes against just one interception.

[+] EnlargeJustin Burke
AP Photo/Kevin RivoliJustin Burke may get the start against West Virginia if Adam Froman misses another game due to injury.
"It's pretty rare to have two five-year guys," Burke said.

Froman, who had been on crutches for two weeks while dealing with a deep thigh bruise, was back at practice Wednesday night, though he walked off the field with a noticeable limp. His official status for Saturday's West Virginia game won't be known until the Big East injury report is updated Thursday night.

But if Froman is sidelined again, the Cardinals feel comfortable with Burke, who started the first three games of last season before getting hurt. Though Burke hasn't thrown for more than 150 yards in either of the last two weeks, head coach Charlie Strong says he has done a good job of "coming in and just managing the offense."

Credit Burke for staying ready and focused. Given all he's been through, it would have been easy for him to have checked out mentally already.

The former Kentucky player of the year began his career at NC State but transferred to Louisville when it became clear he wouldn't start for the Wolfpack. He lost his job to Froman last year after the injury, then was beaten out in the summer for the starting duty this season. Burke has already graduated and is working on his MBA, and some nights he has to sprint out of practice a few minutes early to make it to class. But he has managed to stay sharp and supportive.

"I think I've grown a lot in the last five years, just figuring out what motivates me and how to bounce back from adversity," he said. "I'm a much wiser person.

"I handled not getting the starting job well this year. Last year, I wasn't very mature about it after the injury. But being able to deal with the ebbs and flows and ups and downs of the last five years has made me much stronger."

Burke might not have had the career he once envisioned. But he has already helped his team win a conference road game this season (at Syracuse), and he may be called on to start again as Louisville seeks a sixth victory so it can go to a bowl for the first time in four years.

"I want to put myself and the team in position to win," he said. "That's what I take pride in."

Bilal Powell practices, Froman does not

November, 11, 2010
Louisville star running back Bilal Powell returned to practice Wednesday night for the first time since sustaining a knee injury against Pittsburgh on Oct. 30, according to The Courier-Journal.

Powell, who leads the Big East with 1,067 rushing yards, didn't play in last week's win at Syracuse. His status for Saturday's game against South Florida is still unknown.

Meanwhile, quarterback Adam Froman is not practicing and was still on crutches Wednesday night with a deep thigh bruise, the paper reported. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if a quarterback is on crutches Wednesday, he's probably not playing on Saturday. Senior Justin Burke started against Syracuse and looks likely to do so again against the Bulls.
Louisville has a new look in its backfield against Syracuse, and so far that's working well.

The Cardinals are playing without quarterback Adam Froman (thigh) and star running back Bilal Powell (knee). Senior Justin Burke made the start under center, while Blayne Donnell, Victor Anderson and Jeremy Wright have played tailback.

A big defensive play -- Daniel Brown sacked Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib, causing a fumble, and Antwone Canady scooped it up -- set up Louisville in good field position midway through the first quarter. The Cardinals took advantage, with Wright running untouched for a 28-yard touchdown. Burke also had a nice completion on the drive.

Wright, a redshirt freshman, caused a lot of buzz in spring practice with his play, but he was hampered by a knee injury and then a sports hernia in fall camp. Now he's healthy and getting a chance to show what he can do.

Syracuse has allowed only three offensive touchdowns in its three Big East wins.

The Orange answered when Nassib found Alec Lemon for a 51-yard touchdown pass as Lemon sliced right through the Louisville zone coverage. This game already has produced more excitement than last year's 10-9 stinker at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

Pitt pulling away from Louisville

October, 30, 2010
I've got Jabaal Sheard winning my Big East defensive player of the year race this week, and the Pitt defensive end proved his value moments ago.

Sheard slammed into Louisville quarterback Adam Froman and jarred the ball loose. Defensive tackle Myles Caragein scooped it up and rumbled 55 yards to the Cardinals 5, where Dion Lewis punched it in for a touchdown and a 20-3 Panthers lead.

It was a huge turn of events, as Louisville was putting together a nice drive despite losing star running back Bilal Powell to an apparent knee injury early in the march. Powell was trying to get loose on an exercise bike and might return. The Cardinals will need him after Pitt has tacked on two touchdowns in the second half after going up 6-3 at halftime.

It's an uphill climb for Louisville, and Pittsburgh is in good shape to improve to 3-0 in league play and have a virtual two-game lead in the Big East thanks to its wins against the remaining one-loss teams, Rutgers and Syracuse (assuming the Orange hold on to beat Cincinnati).
Louisville and Pittsburgh came into today's game averaging more than 30 points each.

But you wouldn't guess it by the first half, as Pitt went into intermission holding just a 6-3 lead in a battle of field goals. The Cardinals have to be thrilled with their defensive effort, and though they haven't scored since the opening drive, their main goal coming in was just to keep this one close and give themselves a chance to win on the road. So far, so good.

Pitt came in extremely worried about Louisville's running game, and though Bilal Powell is on pace for slightly more than 100 yards, the Cardinals have been balanced. Adam Froman has completed 10 of his 14 passes, but for only 59 yards. Doug Beaumont has six of those catches. Big plays have been hard to come by for either team.

Dan Hutchins badly missed a field goal near the end of the half for the Panthers, and the way things are going, points could be at a premium. Pitt exploded in the second half last week against Rutgers, but can it happen again against a Louisville team playing smart, disciplined defense?

Pitt is also going to be without fullback Henry Hynoski, who's been diagnosed with a mild concussion. Hynoski is a key part of the running game and the passing game for the Panthers.
Louisville's Doug Beaumont had a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown called back because of a holding penalty in the second quarter of Saturday's game against UConn. Not to be denied, Beaumont took another one back 74 yards for a score in the third quarter, this time without any yellow laundry on the field.

That was only a brief measure of Beaumont's resiliency. The senior receiver had to undergo knee surgery after the third game at Oregon State, but he missed only two games before coming back at full strength against Connecticut. Beaumont took home a device that put air pressure on his leg, sleeping with it on every night. Then at 6 a.m., he'd report to the team trainers for treatment.

[+] EnlargeDoug Beaumont
AP Photo/Garry JonesDoug Beaumont returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown against Connecticut. He missed the previous two games after having knee surgery.
"I woke up early every morning so I'd make sure to be in there first thing," he said. "When I had class, I'd go to class and then be right back in there."

Head coach Charlie Strong didn't expect Beaumont to return so quickly but said that the receiver "wore our trainers out."

"He's special," Strong said. "He's driven and he works so hard. That's why I always say, just give me 10 Beaumonts, and I'll be fine."

Strong hasn't figured out any cloning mechanisms just yet. But while he doesn't have 10 Beaumonts, he may have the next best thing: A large senior class that was willing to follow a new head coach.

Strong could have come into Louisville and shaken things up completely, deciding to go with young players and fresh recruits instead of the guys who'd been a part of the previous three non-winning seasons. But he saw that the Cardinals had a 27-man senior class that could be their best attribute this year.

"Anytime you have seniors play well, you always have a chance," he said.

What's impressive is that Strong and his staff have, in many cases, gotten these seniors to play the best football of their careers. For example:

  • Running back Bilal Powell has already passed the 1,000-yard mark, shattering his career single-season high of 392 yards;

  • Quarterback Adam Froman has greatly improved his efficiency and proficiency in his second year of starting;

  • The offensive line, featuring four senior starters, has paved the way for the best rushing attack in the Big East;
  • On defense, linebacker Brandon Heath, cornerback Johnny Patrick and defensive linemen Malcolm Tatum and Rodney Gnat are all playing key roles;

  • Beaumont, who had never scored a touchdown before this season, now has two scores.

"They are a veteran team," said Dave Wannstedt, whose Pitt Panthers host Louisville on Saturday. "I think they've all bought into what Charlie is trying to do, and he's getting most out of them."

Strong plays down his role in getting these seniors to reach new heights. But he laid it at their feet to break Louisville out of its losing ways this season, and he and his staff have put those players in better positions to succeed. He says he didn't have to do much to convince them of that.

"They wanted to win," he said. "And they felt like our staff knew enough about winning that they could buy into it. I put it on them and gave them the leadership opportunity to go and lead this football team."

Those seniors are a big reason the Cardinals have already matched last year's win total. With guys as hungry and resilient as Beaumont, they might not be done yet.

Louisville romping over UConn

October, 23, 2010
I predicted in the preseason that Louisville would finish last in the Big East and that Connecticut would be a strong contender for the league title.

Shows what I know. The Cardinals are dominating UConn 26-0 in the fourth quarter, and if it weren't for the Huskies' red zone defense, the score would be embarrassingly bad for the visitors. Instead, Chris Philpott has four field goals.

Through three quarters, Connecticut had just 128 total yards. This is a team that had a bye last week, though of course its plans had to change in a hurry when Cody Endres was suspended in the middle of game week. As little as the Huskies have done on offense, you have to wonder if Randy Edsall would have been better off starting Zach Frazer instead of Michael Box. At least Frazer has experience. Frazer finally came in during the fourth quarter after Box struggled badly.

It might not have mattered, though, because Louisville is playing extremely well on defense. UConn has actually held Bilal Powell somewhat in check -- 72 yards in three quarters is in check for him -- but Adam Froman has spread the ball around to four different receivers. Doug Beaumont also had a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter after having one called back earlier.

So Louisville will be 1-1 in the Big East while UConn will fall to 0-2. In this year's Big East, there's nothing surprising about that.

Big East helmet stickers: Week 6

October, 10, 2010
Chas Dodd, QB, Rutgers: Making his first career start, the true freshman completed 18 of 29 passes for 322 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-24 win over Connecticut on Friday.

Delone Carter, RB, Syracuse: The senior ran for 105 yards on 26 carries as the Orange beat South Florida 13-9.

Adam Froman, QB, Louisville: Froman threw four touchdown passes on just 16 attempts, all in the first half, in the Cardinals' 56-0 thrashing of Memphis.

Bradley Starks, WR, West Virginia: Starks had four catches for 100 yards and three touchdowns in the Mountaineers' 49-10 win over UNLV.

Isaiah Pead, RB, Cincinnati: Pead ran 10 times for 197 yards and a touchdown, all in the first half, in a 45-3 win over Miami of Ohio

Big East stock report: Week 6

October, 6, 2010
Stock up

1. Ray Graham: Yeah, a 277-yard running day will make your stock go up. The Pittsburgh running back is averaging a whopping 9.5 yards per carry, and his 164 yards per game ranks third nationally.

2. UConn's second halves: In the past two weeks against Buffalo and Vanderbilt, the Hu have outscored their opponents 50-7. Now if UConn can just put together two halves like that in the same game.

3. Adam Froman: The Louisville quarterback has had two solid games in a row and now leads the Big East in total offense despite having several inexperienced receivers to work with.

[+] EnlargeRay Graham
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicRay Graham rushed for 277 yards and three touchdowns against Florida International last week.
4. Jeremy Deering: The Rutgers true freshman had four catches for 66 yards and was one of the lone bright spots in the loss to Tulane.

Stock down

1. Jon Baldwin's production: Baldwin had only two catches for 14 yards against Florida International and has just 15 catches for 211 yards on the season. It seems like he should put up those kinds of numbers every game, not over a four-game span.

2. Rutgers' offensive line: The Scarlet Knights have already allowed 13 sacks and have been a main cause of the school's continual offensive struggles.

3. Eric Schwartz: The USF kicker is just 1-of-5 on field-goal attempts this season and has now lost his job to Maikon Bonani.

4. D.J. Shoemate: Even with Robbie Frey injured, the USC transfer can't move up to No. 2 running back on UConn's depth chart right now.

Player of the year race: Offense

1. Jordan Todman, RB, Connecticut: Has more than 150 more rushing yards than the next closest player in the Big East.

2. Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh: At this pace, he'll make a serious case.

3. Zach Collaros, QB, Cincinnati: Leads league in passing yards; will need big finish.

4. Noel Devine, RB, West Virginia: If bone bruise is healed, he should keep putting up stats.

5. Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse: Top-rated passer in the league; schedule about to stiffen.

Player of the year race: Defense

1. Robert Sands, S, West Virginia: Back on top after idle week.

2. JK Schaffer, LB, Cincinnati: Leads league in tackles, is as steady as it gets.

3. Joe Lefeged, S, Rutgers: Drops a bit because of poor team performance.

4. Derrell Smith, LB, Syracuse: Leader of a solid defense that needs to prove it in league play.

5. Jabaal Sheard, DE, Pittsburgh: Stepped up his game with Greg Romeus out.

Freshman of the year race:

1. Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia: Redshirt freshman has 10 catches for 137 yards and three touchdowns.

2. Marquis Spruill, LB, Syracuse: True frosh is starting at linebacker and has 24 tackles this season.

3. Terrance Mitchell, DB/KR, South Florida: Mitchell has already made an impact on special teams and is pushing for more playing time on defense.

4. Shamar Stephen, DT, Connecticut: Redshirt freshman has become a starting defensive tackle for Huskies.

5. Jeremy Deering, WR, Rutgers.