NCF Nation: B.J. Dubose

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Syracuse completely dominated No. 9 Louisville 45-26, handing the Cardinals their first loss of the season. Here is a quick look at how it happened:

It was over when: Prince-Tyson Gulley ran for a 55-yard touchdown late in the second quarter to put the Orange up 31-10. Though the Cardinals had been able to overcome their fair share of deficits this season, they never faced a 21-point deficit. This one just had a different feel from the beginning of the game. Syracuse completely and thoroughly dominated in all three phases, while Louisville never looked completely comfortable out there. The Cards were hurt when leading rusher Senorise Perry went down with a leg injury on the first drive of the game, and Syracuse took away Teddy Bridgewater's primary receiving targets. Defensively, Louisville had its worst performance of the season and simply could not generate much of a pass rush with Lorenzo Mauldin and B.J. Dubose missing as well.

Game ball goes to: Syracuse receiver Alec Lemon. It became a familiar refrain throughout the whole game. Alec Lemon: still open. Louisville simply did not have an answer for one of the best receivers in the Big East, and he ended up making the Cardinals pay. He had two first-half touchdown receptions and ended with nine catches for 176 yards, just shy of career marks in both categories.

Stat of the game: 0. As in zero turnovers for Syracuse. The Orange are 3-0 this season when they don't turn the ball over.

What it means: Louisville was the last remaining unbeaten team in the Big East, so losing -- and losing in such blowout fashion -- certainly does not help the league's image. But all hope is not lost for the Cards, so to speak. They will still have a shot at the Big East title and an automatic spot in the BCS if they win out. Louisville (9-1, 4-1) has a bye next week, then faces UConn and closes out on a Thursday night at Rutgers. Syracuse, a team that has cost itself victories this season with too many turnovers and mistakes, really boosted its chances of going back to a bowl game. The Orange (5-5, 4-2) just need to win one more with games left against Missouri and Temple.
One of the biggest frustrations for Louisville last season was its inability to stay healthy on the defensive line.

Defensive end Greg Scruggs was supposed to be one of the leaders of the group, but he was hobbled all year with a toe injury. Marcus Smith, Brandon Dunn, Roy Philon and B.J. Butler either missed time or played through various injuries. There was simply never consistency up front.

[+] EnlargeLouisville's Marcus Smith
Jamie Rhodes/US PRESSWIREMarcus Smith, left, has had a "phenomenal camp," according to defensive line coach Clint Hurtt.
But that is all set to change headed into 2012. Though Scruggs has gone on to the NFL, Louisville returns three starters and a wealth of players with game experience. This could end up being one of the best groups in the Big East.

"This is the best group we’ve had since we’ve been here," defensive line coach Clint Hurtt said in a recent phone interview. "We have a solid two-deep where if the second unit had to go out on the field, I don’t feel we’d miss a beat. We have eight, nine guys who can do stuff for us. They’re taking the coaching, and listening to us. But it’s the maturity of the group what you’re starting to see."

Hurtt continues to sing the praises of Smith, saying he has had a "phenomenal camp." In addition to the returning players listed, Jamaine Brooks, B.J. Dubose, Sheldon Rankins and Lorenzo Mauldin are expected to be major contributors as well. Mauldin is back on defense after seeing some time playing tight end last year, and will be used as a pass-rushing specialist at the outset in a Bruce Irvin-type role.

The goal is for him to eventually be an every down player once he truly begins to learn the intricacies of playing the position. The goal for the entire group is to be able to just rush its four down linemen in pressure situations. Perhaps the best news of all is there are no seniors in this group.

"The future looks bright," defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said at media day. "Right now, we have a lot of depth. Our defensive line is moving around. For us to have a chance to be successful this year, we have to win up front. If we can do that and control the line of scrimmage up front with the guys we have, with the depth that we have, I am excited.”
Louisville put together another outstanding recruiting class under the leadership of coach Charlie Strong and recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt. So how did the Cardinals do it? I had a chance to catch up with Hurtt to find out.

Just to start off, what are your overall thoughts on the class you signed?

Clint Hurtt: We're all really excited. We met a lot of needs that we were looking to accomplish coming into the class. We wanted to make sure we shored up some depth on the offensive line, defensive line and linebacker. Those were key points in the class. We feel like we got that done.

[+] EnlargeClint Hurtt
AP Photo/Garry JonesRecruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt helped bring in another strong class highlighted by three four-star linebackers.
You signed three four-star linebackers in Nick Dawson, Keith Brown and James Burgess Jr. What is the biggest key to being able to reel in such high-profile players?

CH: The biggest thing is identifying right away kids physically who can help you early on. Some kids come in a little more advanced than others. If you have a position where you need a freshman or two to help you out, that is what you look for. Once you identify those kids, then there are a lot of things based on your numbers and how many guys you need to bring in to your position.

When did you know you had the makings of another solid class?

CH: A lot of that started happening the Sunday after Thanksgiving. We were able to get to the contact period and go into homes. When you get into their homes and you get a chance to sit down face to face -- the one thing Coach Strong always says going into homes and official visits, we have kids who have unbelievable families. We’ve got kids with a solid foundation, great character, integrity, and you can see why with the families we brought into the program. We knew about their ability. Obviously the thing you find out after is you want to find out what kind of personality they have, how driven are they, where do they come from? We feel we got a special, special class that we are so excited about.

You had to play a lot of freshmen last season. Will you have to do the same this season?

CH: Obviously we are bringing in a full class of 25. I'm sure there will be some kids who will have to redshirt coming in, but we don’t come in saying this is our plan. We'll let that be determined by how kids handle the transition. All kids want to come in and play but so much is how can they handle concepts coming in? We're going to have to still play some young guys. The program is still building. We're nowhere near set. We're still building our foundation. A lot of it is we had some success early and obviously some things are going really well. But we also understand there are a lot of things we have coming along. We played a lot of freshmen, but those kids will be sophomores. We only have 11 seniors and very few are featured contributors for us. We still have a lot of growth to do. We’re one more recruiting class away from saying we set the foundation for our football program and now we're pressing forward.

(Read full post)

Belk Bowl: Louisville vs. NC State

December, 27, 2011
Louisville (7-5) takes on NC State (7-5) in the Belk Bowl tonight at 8 p.m. Here is a quick preview:

WHO TO WATCH: Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. No question Bridgewater is the future in the Big East should he continue to develop and mature the way he has as a true freshman. Bridgewater set the single-season school record for passing yards, and has been praised for the poise and maturity he has shown as an 18-year-old taking over. There is no doubt that NC State will present a vareity of looks to try and confuse and rattle Bridgewater, but he is perfectly capable of rolling out to make plays with either his arm or his feet.

WHAT TO WATCH: Louisville D. The Cardinals have been one of the best in the Big East for a reason -- they are good at stopping the run and putting pressure on the quarterback. Louisville has held opponents to under 100 yards rushing in seven games this season, and has gotten better as the year has worn on. Though defensive end Greg Scruggs did not make the trip, the Cardinals are used to playing without him because he was dealing with an injury during the season. B.J. Dubose and Lorenzo Mauldin will shoulder the load.

WHY TO WATCH: Get a sneak peak now at a team that many believe will be ranked in the preseason Top 25 in 2012. The Cardinals have some of the best young talent in the entire nation, and it all starts with Bridgewater and his receiver tandem in Eli Rogers and DeVante Parker. On defense, you have rising stars Calvin Pryor and Andrew Johnson. There is a reason many regard Charlie Strong as one of the best coaches and recruiters in the business. He has taken a program that had floundered under Steve Kragthorpe and re-energized it. To be able to go back to a bowl game with so many young starters and contributors can only mean good things for the future.

PREDICTION: Louisville 24, NC State 20. From my Monday predictions post: Louisville goes into the game on a bit of a hot streak, having closed the season with a 5-1 mark. The Cardinals have simply found their identity. This offense is not going to light up the scoreboard, but it has become more efficient and balanced since play-calling duties switched to Shawn Watson. The defense has been solid, and will be one of the best the Wolfpack have faced this season. Louisville ranks No. 10 nationally in rushing defense (103.5 ypg), No. 14 in scoring defense (19.2 ppg) and No. 23 in total defense (327.8 ypg).

Big East all-freshman team

December, 16, 2011
Earlier this week, I listed a few of my top freshmen in the Big East. Now I present my Big East All-Freshman team. True freshmen and redshirt freshmen are included. Some positions were much easier to fill than others. Here is my team:


QB: Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville

RB: Lyle McCombs, UConn

RB: Dustin Garrison, West Virginia

WR: Michaelee Harris, Louisville

WR: Deonte Welch, USF

WR: DeVante Parker, Louisville

OL: Kaleb Johnson, Rutgers

OL: Quinterrius Eatmon, USF

OL: Jake Smith, Louisville

OL: John Miller, Louisville

OL: Eric Lefeld, Cincinnati


DL: B.J. Dubose, Louisville

DL: Elkino Watson, USF

DL: Jamaine Brooks, Louisville

LB: Yawin Smallwood, UConn

LB: Dyshawn Davis, Syracuse

LB: Todd Thomas, Pitt

LB: Jewone Snow, West Virginia

DB: Ty-Meer Brown, UConn

DB: Calvin Pryor, Louisville

DB: Andrew Johnson, Louisville

DB: Byron Jones, UConn


K: Tony Miliano, Cincinnati

P: Jonathan Fisher, Syracuse

KR: Jeremiah Kobena, Syracuse

The toughest choices for me were at running back and receiver. I went back and forth between Garrison and Rutgers redshirt freshman Jawan Jamison. Their yardage and touchdown totals are virtually identical, but Garrison has a much better yards per carry average and was a more explosive player this season. Receiver was probably the toughest because of the three freshmen receivers for Louisville. I had Eli Rogers on this list at various points, but went with Parker because of his six touchdown receptions.

You also see only three down linemen. There were simply not many impact freshmen defensive linemen in the league this year. The same goes for cornerback (which is why I went with three safeties) and tight end. Those were the three weakest positions for freshmen in the league. Receiver, running back and linebacker were the strongest.

Big East weekend rewind

September, 5, 2011
Time to take a quick look back on Week 1 and look ahead to Week 2.

The good: The Big East went 8-0, joining the Big 12 as the only conferences to have a perfect record on opening weekend. Four of the wins came against FCS opponents and two against non-AQs. So the schedule was not the strongest. But the league should get credit for not having any bad losses. The ACC, Pac-12 and Big Ten cannot say the same. Duke and Oregon State lost to FCS teams, and Indiana lost to Ball State. Of course, the biggest win belonged to USF, which upset No. 16 Notre Dame, 23-20. Syracuse deserves credit, too, for erasing a 15-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat Wake Forest in overtime.

[+] EnlargeRay Graham
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicRunning back Ray Graham had a big opening game for Pittsburgh.
The inconsistent: Neither Pitt nor West Virginia showed the true potential of its offense. Perhaps expectations were way too high for both to come flying out of the gate as unstoppable forces of nature. It takes time for players to get adjusted to new systems. There were significant differences between what the two teams showed this weekend. Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri struggled. But Ray Graham proved he is going to be a valuable member of the offense, rolling up 201 yards on the ground. West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith made plays by himself left and right, thanks to a shaky offensive line. But the run game struggled mightily in three quarters -- just 42 total yards on the ground and an average of 1.6 yards per carry.

The unknown: There are only so many conclusions to make in Week 1. Rutgers rolled up 48 points and Cincinnati 72. But both played FCS opponents, so there is no real way of knowing where either team stands heading into big tests in Week 2. The Louisville offense sputtered in the second half against Murray State. The Syracuse defense struggled for three quarters. USF gave up more than 500 yards to Notre Dame. Connecticut has three quarterbacks but no starter.

The weather: South Florida and West Virginia endured significant rain delays in their games. The Bulls had some experience with that after waiting out a long weather delay before their first scrimmage of fall camp in Vero Beach. But the delays in Morgantown were much longer, and there was no choice but to call the game.

The freshmen: Plenty of true freshmen played this weekend with mixed results. Rutgers running back Savon Huggins had two touchdowns but only 32 yards on 10 carries. The West Virginia trio of Andrew Buie, Vernard Roberts and Dustin Garrison were up and down. Ronald Jones at Pitt and Ralph David Abernathy IV at Cincinnati showed terrific flashes as returners. UConn quarterback Michael Nebrich got his chance, going 3-of-8 for 60 yards with an interception. Louisville had receiver DeVante Parker score a touchdown, and B.J. Dubose made some plays on the defensive line.

Another helmet sticker: Tavon Austin returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score in West Virginia's rain-shortened 34-13 win against Marshall.

Week 2: Three games are on the slate against teams from other AQ conferences, and all three are on the road. Cincinnati is at Tennessee; Rutgers is at North Carolina; and UConn is at Vanderbilt. Even though Week 1 featured a game against a ranked team, this week is a more critical test for the league. None of the opponents are projected to win their conferences. But each has been to bowl games in the recent past. Plus, two of the games are against teams from the SEC. Sure, one of the games is against Vanderbilt, but wins against that league are always important.

Tennessee, North Carolina and Vandy opened with wins against FCS opponents. There were questions about the Tar Heels after the sudden termination of coach Butch Davis. Plus they have a first-year starting QB Bryn Renner. But he quieted some doubts after going 22-of-23 for 277 yards with two touchdowns and an interception against James Madison.

The other league games: FIU at Louisville; Maine at Pitt; Norfolk State at West Virginia; Rhode Island at Syracuse; Ball State at USF.

Big East opens play 3-0

September, 2, 2011
It may not have been the prettiest night of football, but the Big East opened the 2011 season Thursday night 3-0 -- including a thrilling come-from-behind win for Syracuse.

So what do we take away from Louisville, Rutgers and the Orange? It is hard to take away much from Week 1. Rutgers beat an overmatched NC Central team 48-0. The defense looked good, but we will know more about the Scarlet Knights after next week's game at North Carolina.

The Cardinals defense looked better than expected in a 21-9 win over Murray State, but the offense was hit or miss and made way too many mistakes. I am not sure any Louisville fan feels good about the offensive performance this morning, especially against an average FCS team.

Syracuse, meanwhile, had the game of the day. The Orange, hoping to build off an impressive bowl season in 2010, looked completely lifeless for three quarters. Fans on Twitter joked about being reminded of the Greg Robinson era. But the fourth quarter was a different game. The Orange scored 22 unanswered points to stun Wake Forest 36-29 in overtime.

The comeback was spurred, in part, when Wake Forest starting quarterback Tanner Price went down with a knee injury in the fourth quarter. He threw for 289 yards and three touchdowns, particularly picking on cornerback Kevyn Scott. There was little pass rush, and the defense seemed flat footed. But after Price left the game, Wake managed just 59 total yards.

Despite the early struggles, Syracuse never gave up and deserves credit for that. No matter how you get it, any win is a big win.

Now here is more on the good and the bad for each team that played Thursday night.

  • The good: You have to start with the defense. Many thought a pass-happy Murray State would be able to pass over a secondary featuring two inexperienced starters at cornerback. But starters Anthony Connor and true freshmen Andrew Johnson held their own. Connor picked up his first career interception, and Murray State never got a consistent string of big pass plays. Murray State quarterback Casey Brockman threw for just 148 yards and three interceptions. Meanwhile, the defensive line was without B.J. Butler, Roy Philon and Brandon Dunn, and Greg Scruggs played just a handful of snaps. In their place, true freshman B.J. Dubose, sophomore Marcus Smith, Randy Salmon, William Savoy and Malcolm Mitchell all played well. True freshman receiver DeVante Parker also flashed.
  • The bad: The offense has to get into a rhythm. The offensive line had five new starters and remains a work in progress. Of the 10 Louisville penalties, five were false starts and one was a hold. Will Stein had good plays and bad plays and fumbled once. Victor Anderson fumbled for the first time in his career. Jeremy Wright fumbled, too. Highly touted true freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater only played one series, which featured two false starts, a delay of game and his first career interception.
  • The good: The defense had a nice game, posting the ninth shutout under coach Greg Schiano. Rutgers had nine sacks -- the most since a nine-sack day in a 44-9 victory over Cincinnati on Nov. 26, 2005. Scott Vallone got his first career touchdown when he recovered a fumble in the end zone. Duron Harmon had two interceptions, including one he returned 37 yards for his first career touchdown. Harmon, in particular, seemed to be everywhere. Another highly touted freshman, Savon Huggins, got his first two career touchdowns but averaged just 3.2 yards a carry.
  • The bad: It is hard to find anything bad in a 48-0 rout. All you can really say is Rutgers did not get much of a test before a big game on the road next weekend. Perhaps Rutgers wants more consistency out of its running game. DeAntwan Williams, Jawan Jamison, Jeremy Deering and Huggins all played, and collectively averaged 3.3 yards a carry. Jamison had the longest run of the day at 14 yards.
  • The good: Everybody loves a come-from-behind win. The Syracuse offense finally showed its capability in the fourth quarter, when Antwon Bailey ripped off a 53-yard touchdown run to help tie the game at 29. Ryan Nassib, inconsistent early in the game, was a perfect 8-for-8 to close the game. Hard to believe it was the same offense that had fewer total yards (52) than penalty yards (56) in the first half. The defense came through with some big plays down the stretch, including an interception from Kevyn Scott. But perhaps what you love most is the moxie Syracuse showed in coming from behind to gut out a win.
  • The bad: In the first three quarters, the offensive line looked shaky. Receivers had drops. Bailey and Nassib could not generate much of anything. The defense looked slow, out of position and not aggressive. There were wide open Wake Forest receivers left and right. Not much of a pass rush, either. There also was a go-ahead field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter by Ross Krautman that was blocked because of a bad snap.