NCF Nation: Bobby Petrino
1. This team, unlike its predecessor, is at times more lucky than good.
2. The Seminoles are still pretty darn good, even with all their injuries.
3. Jameis Winston is an excellent crunch-time quarterback.
4. FSU likely has too many warts to repeat as national champion.
5. Jimbo Fisher is an unquestionably brilliant coach.
Let's focus on the last item. Fisher's coaching acumen often gets overlooked, often because of what Fisher says and does away from the sideline.
He out-coached Louisville's Bobby Petrino in the second half Thursday, pushing the right buttons, especially on a third-and-6 from Louisville's 35-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Winston found a wide-open Freddie Stevenson, who scooted in for an easy, euthanizing touchdown. It's another reminder that Fisher is at the top of his game.
Fisher's clout as a recruiter also showed up as three freshmen, led by running back Dalvin Cook, reached the end zone. And his Seminoles team, despite myriad mistakes and continuing controversy, won its 24th straight game.
So why is it so hard to celebrate Fisher? Because of the other stuff.
Coincidentally, here comes Louisville and, specifically, its coach, Bobby Petrino. Although the division is Florida State’s to lose even if the Cardinals upset the No. 2 Seminoles Thursday night (7:30 p.m. ET ESPN), a modern-day revival of the 2002 game could set the stage for years to come.
“I don’t know for sure yet. We’ll have to wait and see how this game goes,” Louisville linebacker Keith Kelsey said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Both rosters are full of talent, thanks in large part to the relentless recruiting of Fisher and the connections former coach Charlie Strong built with high school prospects and their families. A great rivalry needs players of the same caliber, and that should be a constant in this rivalry.
In college football, however, true rivalries are established because of the blended intrigue in the men patrolling the sidelines. Fisher and Petrino are among the best offensive minds in college football, perennially finishing toward the top of the leaderboard in points per game.
“If you look at their film, they're kind of similar to us,” Fisher said. “I won't say we mirror, but we have a lot of the same philosophies. Bobby's a very good coach.”
What really could make this rivalry most captivating in the ACC isn’t the play calling of Fisher and Petrino but the personalities.
Petrino has at times been a contributor to college football’s moral malaise. He unceremoniously left the NFL’s Jaguars before trying to backdoor his way out of Louisville numerous times, and then eventually left for the NFL’s Falcons. His exit from Atlanta -- and Arkansas, too, for that matter -- are all part of a humiliating public record.
He’s been called egotistical and arrogant, but he’s also been called a winner. Those same words are now being used to describe Fisher.
Fisher and his Seminoles have generated negative off-field headlines for nearly a year, and the fifth-year Florida State coach has defiantly backed his players through each incident, the latest being an alleged domestic violence incident involving leading rusher Karlos Williams, who is expected to play Thursday.
Fisher has withstood each pounding wave of criticism of his seemingly Teflon program, even firing his own shots back. He scoffs at the national perception his actions have enabled players and instilled a lack of accountability at FSU. Fisher’s approval rating outside of Tallahassee has plummeted, which he and his team have only embraced. Schadenfreude is the term thrown around Florida’s capital city these days.
Petrino and Fisher are similar, or at least perceived in similar contexts. Outside of each fan base, neither coach is well liked at the moment, and the volatile pendulum of public opinion doesn’t look to be swinging back anytime soon.
Yet that same haughtiness that rankles outside fans can endear coaches to his respective fan base. With college football rosters the equivalent of a revolving door, opposing fan bases need to acquire a certain distaste for the opposing coach. For the sake of this rivalry, Fisher’s and Petrino’s egos could be the root irritant. What FSU fans love in Fisher they’ll abhor in Petrino. And vice versa.
For the neutral fans, the appeal will always be whether this is the game that somehow neither team wins. National eyes are on this game, for reasons on and off the field, and for a conference lacking cachet in a subjective playoff system, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. The ACC needs to usher in a new rivalry, and these are the right coaches and teams.
In a sense, it’s Fisher vs. Fisher or Petrino vs. Petrino, and that could make for a fun future.
Todd Grantham had his critics during his time as Georgia's defensive coordinator, and they started growing louder as last season wore on and his defense continued to underperform.
Yet, eyebrows raised when he decided to leave the Bulldogs in January to become defensive coordinator at Louisville under Bobby Petrino, a man he barely knew. Grantham had two years left on his contract. A month earlier, Richt told reporters he had no plans to change his staff.
So why leave the SEC for a program to enter the much-less-ballyhooed ACC?
Grantham gives many reasons for his decision, one that looks better and better as the season has worn on. In place of constant criticism, Grantham has garnered high praise for the job he has done with the Louisville defense. Somewhat surprisingly, his defense has been the story of the season for the Cards -- and the biggest reason for hope against No. 2 Florida State on Thursday night.
“I don’t think I needed a fresh start. I just think you always look for challenges,” Grantham said in a recent phone interview. “I had a great time at the University of Georgia. We did a lot of great things there. We got the program back to where it needed to be. By being able to come here with Bobby, able to hire my brother [Tony], able to be a part of something different, I felt it was a good opportunity.”
Not many expected this type of performance from the Louisville defense, despite its overall strength under former head coach Charlie Strong. Louisville had to replace seven starters off the No. 1 defense in the country in 2013, including two first-round picks.
Plus, the Cards had to learn a new defensive scheme, one that shifted players away from the 4-3 and into the 3-4. It is a style that first caught Petrino’s eye back in 2010, when his Arkansas team had to face Georgia in Week 3. Grantham was in his first year with the Bulldogs, coming over from the Dallas Cowboys.
Petrino said his staff studied Dallas the entire offseason to get a good grasp of what Grantham would do.
“We had two games early in the year that we should win,” Petrino said. “So we took a long time to get ready for that game and watched what he did the remainder of that year and the next year. I thought he did an excellent job.”
Arkansas ultimately won the game 31-24, but Petrino never forgot the fits Grantham gave his offense. That’s why Grantham was at the top of his list when he arrived back at Louisville. Petrino never had a team use a base 3-4 before, but he was willing to make that change to get Grantham on board.
Players slowly adjusted in the spring. Many were shifted around to different positions to better fit their strengths.
But there were hints this defense would be just fine. Several talented players returned, including Lorenzo Mauldin, James Burgess, Keith Kelsey and Gerod Holliman. The defensive group heard all the doubters and used that as motivation. There was no way they would take a step back.
So Grantham got himself a group of players not only motivated, but dedicated to mastering the new defensive scheme. Players held film study sessions on their own. Those who were told to get bigger did. Those who were told to lose weight did.
“This offseason, I’ve never seen a group of guys work so hard,” said Burgess, who added 10 pounds. “Everyone wanted to buy into the coaching schemes, understand what they were being taught and apply it to the field.”
When August rolled around, Grantham realized he might have a pretty stellar group on his hands.
Louisville remains the No. 1 total defense in the nation in 2014 and is actually giving up fewer total yards per game and fewer rushing yards per game than a year ago while playing a more difficult ACC schedule.
The Cards also are averaging more sacks per game than last season and more turnovers per game as well. Impressive improvements considering all the new starters, all the position changes and the scheme change.
“You never know what we’re going to hit you with,” Burgess said. “We have so many disguises, so many different play calls ... we have one of the most difficult playbooks, and that’s what makes us so great on defense because we all understand what we’re being taught every other week and why we’re doing it.”
Players also have embraced Grantham and his “rowdy” personality. “I love playing for him. I wish I could play for him for five more years,” Burgess said.
So it turns out, Grantham knows how to coach -- though he is above screaming, "Told you so!"
“As a coach, you always have pride in your work,” Grantham said. “The thing I always want our players to do, I want them to play hard, I want them to play fast, and play aggressive. We’ve been able to get our guys to play to their ability and play with that identity we talked about. That’s the beauty of coaching. That’s the fun part.”
More fun may be in store, depending on what happens Thursday.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Louisville won that 2002 game, which of course will have no bearing when the No. 2 Seminoles visit the Cardinals this coming Thursday (7:30 ET, ESPN). Louisville (6-2, 4-2 ACC), however, may be the toughest remaining regular-season test for FSU (7-0, 4-0).
Matt Fortuna offers three reasons why Louisville will beat Florida State, while Jared Shanker provides three reasons why the Seminoles will remain unblemished and on track to earn one of the four College Football Playoff bids.
Fortuna’s three reasons Louisville wins:
1. This is an ideal matchup for Louisville’s defense.
2. The offense is coming together at the right time
No one is going to mistake this unit for Florida State’s, or for vintage Bobby Petrino offenses, for that matter. Still, Will Gardner is back healthy under center. More importantly, he has a quarterback’s best friend back in receiver DeVante Parker, who returned in Louisville’s last outing. All he did was haul in nine catches for 132 yards in his season debut, stretching the field and opening up the offense for a Cardinals unit that was in desperate need of some spice. The 6-foot-3, 208-pound Parker is, simply put, a freak. He will test an FSU secondary that has been -- let’s face it -- not all that it was cracked up to be coming into the season, ranking 62nd nationally against the pass. What’s more, running back Michael Dyer appears to have finally hit his stride when given the opportunity. Dyer broke out for 173 rushing yards and a touchdown last week against NC State. Together, Dyer and Parker make Louisville’s offense much more lethal than its season numbers indicate (30.9 ppg, 370.4 ypg).
3. Home atmosphere
Coaches and players can talk about it being just another game, but those of us outside that bubble don’t have to kid ourselves. This is a Thursday night home game, when the city is rocking. This is a chance to end the nation’s longest-active winning streak (23), and to ruin FSU’s chances at a repeat national championship. This is 12 years after Louisville upset the No. 4 Seminoles at home on a Thursday night. Sure, different players and coaches are on each sideline now, but we’ve seen the air thin around programs the more they hear about unfavorable history. Sure, no one has blocked out the noise while on the field better than the Noles have the past two years, but sooner or later the checks they had written for all of those recent close calls have to be cashed. (You don't break out fancy new uniforms for regular games, either.)
Shanker’s three reasons FSU wins:
1. The FSU offense will get its points
2. Louisville’s offense likely can’t score in the 30s
At least not without the help of an opportunistic defense that can give the Cards’ offense short fields with which to work. Gardner has been reinserted into the starting lineup, but the sophomore quarterback has taken his lumps this season. He is completing only 57 percent of his passes, and, while he’s thrown 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions, he’s had turnover issues. That’s thanks in large part to an offensive line that can’t protect its quarterback. Both teams are among the best in the country at scoring touchdowns in the red zone, but both are among the best at preventing teams from doing the same.
3. Nobody can beat Winston
Even though it looks now like Winston could've lost four of his last seven games, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner has pulled out the win each time. Until a team actually beats him, it’s not a smart move betting against him. He made all the right plays in the national championship, had a remarkable touchdown run and throw against Oklahoma State, and operated second-half comebacks against NC State and Notre Dame. Colleague David Hale had this remarkable stat on Winston last week: When tied or trailing, Winston is 144-of-199 passing (72 percent) for 1,860 yards (9.3 yards per attempt), 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. The 2013 Florida State team was among the most dominant in college football history, but in 2014 it has often been the Jameis Winston Show. And every new installment always ends the same.
But that has not been the case for Louisville this season, and that could be a good thing for the Cards as they prepare to host No. 2 Florida State next Thursday night.
Defense has to take priority in this matchup.
Defense is exactly how the Cards have won this season.
Time to embrace that defensive mentality, Louisville fans.
What has him most encouraged is the way his defense has limited scoring opportunities. That has jumped out at Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, too. When asked for his first impressions on the Louisville defense, Fisher said, "Not many people get points and not many people get yards."
In the six ACC games Louisville has played, the Cards have held all their opponents to below their scoring average. In all but one game, they have held their opponents below their total offense average.
They are aggressive, they are stingy, and they can easily set the tone against a Florida State offense that has struggled to move the ball at times throughout the course of the season.
"Any time you're in big games, you’ve got to be able to play a balanced game, offensively and defensively, but at the same time, anytime you can be sound on defense and hard to score on, it gives your offense a chance to stay on track and not have to abandon the game plan," Grantham said in a phone interview this week.
"So as long as the score’s in a low number and it’s a one-possession game, then everybody can stay with the game plan. The issue that always occurs is when you get down multiple points and people have to abandon what they do. So our job is to be hard to score on and keep that number to a low number."
Florida State has not faced a scoring defense quite as good as this one. While Clemson and Notre Dame might have presented the strongest challenge to the Seminoles up front, Louisville has the stronger secondary, a group that has thrived playing a pattern-match scheme that is predicated on defensive backs truly understanding receiver routes.
The Cards also stress having players win one-on-one matchups not only in the secondary but in the front seven as well. They have been able to do so a majority of the time this season. As an example, Louisville has safeties Gerod Holliman and James Sample, along with cornerback Charles Gaines -- in the top 11 in the ACC in passes defended. That’s more than any other team.
Louisville also has three players ranked in the top 11 in the ACC in sacks -- Lorenzo Mauldin, Sheldon Rankins and Keith Kelsey. That’s tied for the most with Virginia.
"I felt we had individuals who could be really good at their positions, so we talk about that as winning your one-on-one matchups," Grantham said. "As you go through the day and you work, try to be the best at your position and if you’re the best at your position, and we can get you in one-on-one situations, you’re going to affect the game, which is good for our team. We’ve been able to get some matchups that are positive for us and those guys have made some plays."
Controlling what happens in the pass game could be critical for Louisville, considering how big a threat Jameis Winston is to take over at any moment. If the Cards can take away options like Rashad Greene and Bobo Wilson, their chances improve greatly.
No team has held Florida State to fewer than 30 points with Winston as the starter; nobody has scored 30 on Louisville this season.
It is obvious that Louisville will have to hold the score down to win. At least the Cards have practice doing that.
Cannot ask much more than that headed into the biggest challenge of the season.
No. 1 Florida State at Syracuse, ESPN, #FSUvsCUSE: This matchup is ... shall we say, not favorable for Syracuse? The Orange fell in Tallahassee, Florida, last year, 59-3, and they enter this game without quarterback Terrel Hunt, who is out 4-6 weeks with a broken fibula. They also enter the contest with a new offensive coordinator in Tim Lester, as head coach Scott Shafer stripped George McDonald of his duties this week, creating another series of drama. The Seminoles could be without several key pieces, and they could get caught looking ahead to next week's showdown with Notre Dame, but it probably won't matter.
Cincinnati at Miami, ESPN3, #CINvsMIA: Tommy Tuberville returns to the place where he won three national titles as an assistant, but he needs his defense to get up to speed after consecutive poor showings. He might also need to call upon familiar face Munchie Legaux, too, as Gunner Kiel is nursing a chest injury. The Hurricanes' offense should have a big game here, but the real question is if its defense can forget about last week's performance against Georgia Tech and look more like the unit that held Duke to 10 points two weeks ago.
Louisville at Clemson, ESPNU, #LOUvsCLEM: Honesty week has sure been fun in this league, huh? There was the Cutcliffe-Johnson back and forth that we mentioned above, and there was Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino comparing the noise of Death Valley to that of the Carrier Dome, where Louisville won last week by 22. Clemson fans did not take kindly to this, however unintentional the comments might have been. If the Tigers fans deliver on their "Silent Out," well, Petrino would technically be right, no? In any event, the defensive matchup should be fun to watch in this one, as both units have been flat-out salty in recent weeks. Louisville could get a much-needed boost offensively as well if DeVante Parker returns.
Boston College at NC State, ESPN3, #BCvsNCSU: Somewhere, Will Muschamp and Gators fans everywhere weep. As Florida goes through even more quarterback turmoil this week, a pair of former Gainesville signal-callers meet up in Raleigh, as the Eagles' Tyler Murphy takes on the Wolfpack's Jacoby Brissett. Murphy orchestrated a huge upset of USC last month but is coming off a loss to Colorado State and a bye, while Brissett got his name on the national radar with a strong performance against FSU before getting shut out at Clemson last week. We won't exactly call this a "must-win" for either team, but a loss will not bode well -- especially for NC State, which, for all of its early-season excitement, has yet to win an ACC game in the two-year Dave Doeren era.
North Carolina at No. 6 Notre Dame, NBC: Everett Golson might find just the perfect opponent to help rid himself of a recent two-game rut and gain some momentum heading into next week's game at FSU. The fringe Heisman candidate is facing a UNC defense that has given up 51.3 points per game over its past three contests and is desperate for answers. Golson, remember, almost went to UNC, where he would've tried to play football and basketball. The Tar Heels boast plenty of athleticism, especially on offense, and it will be interesting to see if they can crack the code of one of the country's more surprising units of the first half: the Fighting Irish defense, which has overcome massive turnover and a coordinator change to tie for third nationally in scoring average (12 PPG).
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Syracuse completely dominated, winning 45-26 and ruining the Cards’ unbeaten season. On the Louisville sideline, players stood in disbelief. “We were undefeated and to see things play out the way they did, it was a shock, period,” Louisville receiver Eli Rogers said.
That was the last time they met, as Big East members in 2012. Though much will be different when they play tonight in the Carrier Dome as ACC teams, both squads return many players with vivid memories of that day.
What happened has not been forgotten. Immediately after Louisville beat Wake Forest last Saturday, the veterans started mentioning Syracuse.
“I asked one of our coaches, ‘What’s that all about?’ and they said, ‘Oh, well, a couple years ago, they were going on their way up there and they were undefeated and lost the game,” said Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, in his first year with the Cardinals. “But really since then, I haven't heard a whole lot. Our focus is really just to get ready to play and go up and do a good job of playing the game right.”
Unlike their last meeting -- featuring Nassib and Teddy Bridgewater -- quarterback play has been up and down for both. True freshman Reggie Bonnafon will make his second career start for the Cardinals, while Terrel Hunt looks to clean up the Syracuse red-zone problems.
Both have had their moments this season, but neither offense is playing with much consistency. Louisville has struggled on the offensive line and has had problems holding onto the football. Its nine lost fumbles are the most in the ACC this season.
Syracuse, meanwhile, has racked up the yards -- ranking No. 4 in the league in total offense. But the Orange rank No. 13 in the ACC in scoring offense, averaging 25.5 points per game. Syracuse cannot afford the same mistakes in the red zone that have plagued it the last two games -- Louisville not only has the top defense in the ACC, it has the No. 2 red-zone defense in the conference as well.
Defense may very well be where the game is determined. Last week, Syracuse forced five turnovers against Notre Dame; Louisville has forced 13 turnovers -- including 10 interceptions. Syracuse has 13 sacks on the season; Louisville has 19. Lorenzo Mauldin has four of them.
“Lorenzo Mauldin is very active with his hands, probably one of the best hand-fighting pass rushers that I’ve seen in college,” Hickey said. “He’s an amazing player. I’m very high on him in terms of the player he is, and it will be a good challenge for the offense line.”
There could be one more intangible at play. Syracuse always does well on nationally-televised, non-Saturday games in the Carrier Dome. Overall, Syracuse is 4-1 since 2011 in home games played on Friday.
Plenty of ACC teams wrap up their nonconference slate on Saturday, but there are several important league games, too, in addition to Notre Dame's foray into semi-ACC play. Here's what's on deck. Be sure to follow along on Twitter using the hashtags below.
Colorado State at Boston College, ESPN3, #CSUvsBC: A 4-1 start would be huge for the Eagles, with the heart of ACC play fast approaching. They are the nation's No. 2 rushing team, tallying 1,345 yards, a by-product of Florida transfer quarterback Tyler Murphy, who has tallied at least 99 rushing yards in each game so far. The defense hasn't been too shabby, either, surrendering less than 20 points per game despite plenty of new faces. Garrett Grayson and the Rams can throw the ball, but they'll need more to go their way if they want to escape Alumni Stadium with an upset.
Western Michigan at Virginia Tech, ESPN3, #WMUvsVT: Which Michael Brewer will the Hokies get? The transfer signal-caller was a tremendous ball distributor in Virginia Tech's Week 2 upset win at Ohio State, but last week he had three costly turnovers in letting a home tilt slip away against Georgia Tech for the Hokies' second straight home loss. Coach Frank Beamer liked what he saw out of his quarterback otherwise, and the Broncos should provide an opportunity for Brewer and the rest of the Hokies to shake out of their rut and gain some momentum heading into the rest of league play.
Akron at Pitt, ESPN3: Can Pitt bounce back from a tough home loss to Iowa? The Panthers probably let one get away, but the Zips are not to be slept on, as the 1-2 squad has had no shortage of early-season tests itself so far, losing to Penn State and Marshall. This is a homecoming of sorts for Akron coach Terry Bowden, a Morgantown, West Virginia, native who went to Pittsburgh regularly. The Panthers need this win more, though, as they look to get back on track before their first Coastal game next week at Virginia.
Wake Forest at Louisville, ESPNU, #WAKEvsLOU: This here is a battle of the ACC's two first-year head coaches, Dave Clawson and Bobby Petrino. It's also a rematch of the 2007 Orange Bowl, which Petrino was a part of with the Cardinals. Both teams will be starting true freshmen under center, with John Wolford showing plenty of growth in his fourth start last week against Army and Reggie Bonnafon returning to Louisville after the tragic loss of his father, and after starter Will Gardner suffered a knee injury that will keep him out of action against the Demon Deacons.
No. 1 Florida State at NC State, ABC/ESPN2, #FSUvsNCSU: We know all about how Carter-Finley Stadium has been a house of horrors for the Seminoles lately, as the Wolfpack have won three of their past four home contests against FSU. A win would be a very tall order for the still-growing Pack, who are in their second year under Dave Doeren. But this could be a great measuring-stick game for them after a 4-0 start against subpar competition. NC State has already topped its win total from last season, and Jacoby Brissett has been magnificent under center. The Noles, by the way, will trot out a certain Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback after surviving a one-game suspension without him.
Kent State at Virginia, ESPN3: First things first: How about those sharp throwback unis the Cavaliers will be wearing? As for who will be under center wearing them when things kick off, well, that appears less clear, as Greyson Lambert recovers from an ankle injury he suffered in last week's loss at BYU. The Hoos know the offense is in capable hands with Matt Johns regardless, and their defense will look to revert to its early-season form after stumbling in Provo, Utah.
North Carolina at Clemson, ESPNU, #UNCvsCLEM: The Tigers might be getting the perfect medicine following a heartbreaking overtime defeat at Florida State. They have a talented and growing offense, led by Deshaun Watson, who will be making his first career start. And they are facing a UNC team that laid a major egg defensively last week against East Carolina, surrendering 70 points and nearly 800 yards of total offense. The Tar Heels have given little indication through three games they are ready for the challenge that awaits them in Death Valley, but that's why they play the games, right?
Duke at Miami, ESPN2, #DUKEvsMIA: We should learn much more about both of these teams when they face off at Sun Life Stadium. The Blue Devils are 4-0 but were hardly challenged during nonconference play, while Miami struggled against the two good teams it faced. It will be interesting to see what kind of response the Hurricanes defense shows after Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah gashed it for 229 yards and two touchdowns last Saturday. Perhaps more importantly, Duke dominated the Canes' D to the tune of 358 rushing yards last year, running away in the fourth quarter. If Miami has any hopes of competing for the Coastal crown this year, it has to show more this time around at home.
No. 8 Notre Dame at Syracuse, ABC, #NDvsCUSE: The Irish unofficially kick off their ACC football alliance by taking on old Big East (hoops) foe Syracuse at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. It is the first "road" game for the 3-0 Irish, though they will likely have most of the home crowd on their side. One thing to watch out for is how Notre Dame's offensive line performs, as it used the bye week to shake up a so-so unit and will now take the field featuring four players in different spots than before. Can the Orange's aggressive defense take advantage of this? Ball protection is key for Syracuse if it wishes to pull the upset, as Terrel Hunt and the offense are capable of putting points on the board when they stay out of their own way.
Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, ESPN, #GTvsVT: The Yellow Jackets have gotten to 3-0 in the most wayward of fashions. The Hokies are coming off a home loss to East Carolina, one week after upsetting a top-10 Ohio State team on the road. Could their trouble be on defense? Brandon Facyson has been playing hurt all season, sure, but Virginia Tech has surrendered 22 plays of 20 yards or more this season, fourth-most in the nation and half its total from last season (44). The big-play threat might not exactly be there with Georgia Tech, but as Jared Shanker noted this week, the visitors do bring with them a knack for converting third downs. Virginia Tech has won the past four games in this matchup.
Iowa at Pittsburgh, ESPNU, #IOWAvsPITT: Third-year Panthers coach Paul Chryst hosts a familiar foe this weekend, as he faced the Hawkeyes six times while he was offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, going 3-3. Pitt is looking for its first 4-0 start since 2000, and it will likely turn to the nation's leading rusher, James Conner, to try to get there, despite Iowa's stingy run defense (No. 7 nationally). Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, by the way, will experience a homecoming of sorts, as he went to Upper St. Clair High in Pittsburgh.
Maryland at Syracuse, 12:30, ESPN3, #MDvsCUSE: The Terrapins are in their first year away from the "basketball" conference that is the ACC, as coach Randy Edsall said this summer, and the Big Ten newcomers will look to avenge last year's 20-3 home loss to the Orange, which came without receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. Syracuse, meanwhile, looked like a new team in last week's 40-3 win at Central Michigan, as it came off a bye and had quarterback Terrel Hunt back running the show on offense. Syracuse is looking to get to 3-0 for the first time since 1991, which would provide a big boost to a team that will embark on a difficult three-week stretch against Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State.
Tulane at Duke, ESPN3, #TULNvsDUKE: Has there been a more overlooked team than Duke recently? All the Blue Devils have done is take care of business, coming off a 10-win, division-title season and starting 3-0 this season in methodical fashion (albeit against bad competition). In any event, the unranked Blue Devils close their nonconference slate against American Athletic Conference newcomer Tulane, which is no stranger to the ACC this season, having lost to Georgia Tech two weeks ago. Here's one interesting stat surrounding Duke quarterback Anthony Boone, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information: The Blue Devils have lost yardage on just three percent of Boone's snaps, the lowest percentage of any Power Five quarterback with at least 150 plays.
Maine at Boston College, ESPN3, #MEvsBC: It's all about avoiding a letdown this week in Chestnut Hill, where the Eagles produced one of the young season's greatest upsets last weekend against USC. The Black Bears should hardly pose a huge challenge to BC, which, with Tyler Murphy under center, has been able to stretch the field much more than last season, even if the run game is still its bread and butter. Murphy leads all quarterbacks in rushing yards this season with 401, 40 more yards than he has tallied passing the ball (361).
Louisville at FIU, Fox Sports 1: The Cardinals are looking to rebound from their first defeat of the second Bobby Petrino era, while the Golden Panthers welcome their second straight ACC foe to Miami. FIU gave Pitt a handful last week before the Panthers pulled away, but Louisville will probably not be so kind coming off the loss at Virginia. Louisville beat FIU 72-0 a year ago, and while there are plenty of new faces, quarterback Will Gardner will try to bounce back after getting pulled a week ago. His offensive line will look to get its act together as well.
Virginia at No. 21 BYU, ESPN, #UVAvsBYU: Speaking of the Cavaliers, they should serve as one of the toughest tests the Cougars face all season, as the home team has the best chance of anyone in the nation at running the regular-season table (21.7 percent, per ESPN's FPI). We'll see just how good this Virginia defense really is after strong showings through the first three weeks, as BYU quarterback Taysom Hill and his home field will be a handful to handle. Virginia beat BYU last year in the season opener, one of just two games it won all season.
Army at Wake Forest, ESPN3, #ARMYvsWAKE: The Demon Deacons' defense has actually been pretty good through three games despite a 1-2 record. And while the offense showed signs of life late in last week's loss at Utah State, it cannot afford to give away points, and it would help to develop some form of a ground game. The Black Knights were shut out last week at Stanford. They also boast, at this point, the nation's slowest offense at 31.1 seconds per play, according to data from ESPN Stats & Info.
North Carolina at East Carolina, ESPNU, #UNCvsECU: The Pirates came awfully close to beating a South Carolina team that is probably better than we initially gave it credit for, and they went into Blacksburg, Virginia, last week and took down the Hokies. Now they get the Tar Heels in a rematch of last year's 55-31 ECU rout in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels have looked underwhelming through two games, and they will be without starting guard Landon Turner. But their offense is still capable of putting plenty of points on the board, and this is a team that certainly has not forgotten about the way it was embarrassed by the Pirates last season. A shootout between Marquise Williams and Shane Carden could be on the horizon. And given UNC's upcoming slate -- at Clemson, Virginia Tech, at Notre Dame -- it better hope it can keep up this time around before league play starts. One thing to keep in mind: With Brian Walker's 100-yard interception return for a touchdown two weeks ago at San Diego State, UNC now has 10 non-offensive touchdowns since last season, according to ESPN Stats & Info. That is tied with North Texas for the second-best mark in the nation during that span, trailing only Florida State's 11.
Presbyterian at NC State, ESPN3, #PREvsNCSU: The Wolfpack's laughable nonconference slate concludes, and a win here would make them 4-0 after a disappointing 3-9 mark last season. Still, it should do wonders for a young team looking to go bowling in Dave Doeren's second year at the helm, especially if it can replicate its dominant performance from last week at USF. Like its rival in Chapel Hill, NC State needs to do itself a favor, with back-to-back games against FSU and Clemson awaiting in the next two weeks to open conference play. As David Hale notes, quarterback Jacoby Brissett has been invaluable so far for the Pack, leading the ACC in touchdowns and yards and second only to Georgia Tech's Justin Thomas in passer rating.
Miami at No. 24 Nebraska, ESPN2, #MIAvsNEB: Andrea Adelson and Mitch Sherman did a wonderful job recapping some of the great matchups between these old rivals. What might be the difference at Memorial Stadium, however, is the ground game. Duke Johnson has rushed for at least 90 yards in each of his past five games dating back to last season, while Ameer Abdullah has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in 12 of his past 14 games and has tallied more than 100 yards from scrimmage in 16 straight games, the longest active streak in the nation. The ACC is 6-3 against the Cornhuskers in the past nine meetings, though the Hurricanes are just 1-6 in their past seven games against AP-ranked teams, with an average point margin of minus-22.4.
No. 22 Clemson at No. 1 Florida State, ABC, #CLEMvsFSU: Here's the matchup we've all been waiting for, but it won't include Jameis Winston. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner will sit out the entire game, the school announced late Friday, after reportedly making profane remarks in public. It will be Sean Maguire's turn to run the show. Maguire has not started a game since Nov. 12, 2011, his senior year at Seton Hall Prep (New Jersey). Coach Jimbo Fisher is 3-1 against Clemson since arriving in Tallahassee, but the lower-ranked team has won two of the past three meetings. The Tigers, meanwhile, are 0-4 all time against AP No. 1 teams, with the last such game coming in the 1999 "Bowden Bowl I" against FSU, a 17-14 Seminoles win. Coming into this contest, ESPN's FPI ranks Clemson 19th, FSU 2nd, and it gives the Seminoles a 77 percent chance to win.
East Carolina at No. 17 Virginia Tech, ESPN, #ECUvsVT: The Hokies are riding high after notching the upset at Ohio State last week. But the Pirates can help bring them back to earth if they aren't careful. ECU itself is amid a tough three-game stretch against South Carolina, Virginia Tech and North Carolina, and its offense, led by the dangerous Shane Carden under center, is certainly capable of testing the home team's D. If that's not enough to have the Hokies ready, these teams' past two meetings should: Narrow Virginia Tech wins in 2013 (15-10) and 2011 (17-10).
Georgia Southern at Georgia Tech, ESPN3, #GASOvsGT: Can the Eagles notch a signature road win over a Power 5 team for the second year in a row? A year after winning at Florida, they came awfully close in Week 1, falling at NC State by one after leading throughout. Now the FBS newcomers travel to face former head coach Paul Johnson and in-state neighbor Georgia Tech. Georgia Southern is coming off an 83-9 win over Savannah State last week, while the Yellow Jackets are still trying to get on-track offensively after a three-turnover performance in a win last week at Tulane.
Pitt at FIU, Fox Sports 1: Stat-watching might be a priority in this lackluster contest. Panthers running back James Conner enters with 50 carries, 367 yards and five touchdowns to his name through two weeks. Can he play himself further into early-season Heisman discussions? His coach, Paul Chryst, has not ruled out the chance that Conner still lines up at defensive end at some point this season. Still, given the workhorse he has been -- and will need to be if Pitt is to contend for the Coastal -- this might be a good chance to limit his workload in the heat and let Chad Voytik grow as a passer. Also worth keeping an eye on is the man snapping Voytik the ball, as center Artie Rowell is lost for the year after an ACL tear last week. Gabe Roberts and Alex Officer could both see action there in place of Rowell.
Syracuse at Central Michigan, ESPNEWS, #CUSEvsCMU: This game sure looks a lot more interesting than it did two weeks ago, no? The Orange have not even played a half this season with Terrel Hunt under center, as the starter was ejected from the opener after throwing a punch at a Villanova player. The offense struggled immensely without Hunt, needing two overtimes to hold off the FCS Wildcats. The Chippewas, meanwhile, ran Purdue out of their own building last week in West Lafayette, Indiana. Syracuse hopes to have gathered itself during its bye last week and unveil the faster-paced offense it had hoped to run this season.
Arkansas State at Miami, ESPNU, #ARSTvsMIA: Now would be a good time to see what Brad Kaaya is capable of doing, what with a game at Nebraska next week and a pair of league games after. The true freshman quarterback hasn't been bad through two games, but he hasn't really been asked to do too much, either. If the Hurricanes want to contend for the Coastal crown this season, they'll need more production out of him, and better to throw him to the (Red) Wolves of Arkansas State now than the Blackshirts of Nebraska next week under the lights.
NC State at USF, CBS Sports Network: USF forced six turnovers last week against Maryland but still could not pull out the win. Jacoby Brissett has played well through two games, but the ground game has been every bit as instrumental so far, averaging 207.5 yards per contest. Still, the Wolfpack need to start faster after falling behind at home to Georgia Southern and Old Dominion before mounting comeback wins. A 3-0 start for coach Dave Doeren after a 3-9 debut season would be absolutely huge, and it would make a bowl berth a real possibility for the Pack.
Kansas at Duke, ESPN3, #KUvsDUKE: The Jayhawks are undefeated. And Charlie Weis was set to be David Cutcliffe's boss nearly a decade ago. And Duke clearly needs to get off to a better start than it did last week at Troy after falling behind by 11 early. Still, the Blue Devils have a very balanced attack that will test Kansas far more than Southeast Missouri State did last week. And quarterback Anthony Boone has looked very, very good through two games. Expect more of the same against Kansas.
Wake Forest at Utah State, CBS Sports Network: Dave Clawson did some house-cleaning this week, kicking running back Dominique Gibson and center Cody Preble off the team for a violation of team rules, in addition to suspending reserve quarterback Kevin Sousa. Clawson is coming off his first win as the Demon Deacons' head coach, but the Aggies will provide a much stiffer test than Gardner-Webb did last week. True freshman signal-caller John Wolford got much better protection last week (two sacks) than he did in a season-opening loss at Louisiana-Monroe (five), but he has to improve his decision-making after throwing three picks last week.
No. 9 USC at Boston College, ESPN, #USCvsBC: USC has been among the country's most impressive teams through two weeks. BC hopes it is catching the Trojans at the right time. Steve Sarkisian's squad travels cross-country after an upset win at Stanford to face an Eagles team coming off a home loss to Pitt. Still, it's worth pointing out just how well Steve Addazio got BC to play last year against heavy favorites Clemson and Florida State, with the latter contest proving to be the Seminoles' biggest test before the national title game. Also, kudos to BC for its attire for this contest, as it honors Sept. 11 hero and lacrosse alum Welles Crowther.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- When Louisville Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino walked into his postgame news conference after a triumphant 31-13 season opener against the Miami Hurricanes, the first question he got was not about his new quarterback or workhorse running back.
Nope. The defense wrote the signature on this victory.
So Petrino was asked about his defense first, and then his defense a little bit more, and each time he heaped more praise on a group that faced a series of questions heading into the game Monday night.
With a new scheme, a new coordinator and seven new starters, the Cards did not stand a chance to match their group from last year, did they?
Louisville absolutely dominated Miami in a rematch of their bowl game from last postseason, and it was a near carbon copy of the results from that December contest. Louisville's defense was a new, reinvented version of itself under first-year coordinator Todd Grantham. The Cardinals looked faster, but they were still physically dominant, pushing around a veteran Miami offensive line while holding running back Duke Johnson down and flummoxing freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya.
In its last two meetings with Louisville, Miami has scored a combined 22 points, gained a total of 418 yards, and converted just 1-of-24 third-down opportunities.
With a stifling defense, Louisville took the burden off new starting quarterback Will Gardner and placed its offense in the hands of running back Dominique Brown, who had an eye-popping 33 carries for 143 yards and a score. The two units worked in concert with each other, but the defense stood tallest considering all the uncertainty going in.
"Our defensive staff had a great plan going in and really worked hard at it," Petrino said. "That's the thing that I really noticed, how fast our defense played. We tackled well and we got a lot of guys to the ball."
Having a healthy Johnson gave the Canes hope they would reverse their dismal performance from last postseason. But he was essentially a nonfactor, despite rushing for 90 yards on 20 carries. Take away his long run of 24 yards and he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry -- well off his career average of 6.6 yards.
The key, simply, was to cut off the edge.
"When he did get to the edge, we had some problems in the middle of the defense, but a couple of the guys were saying that we're quicker now, so now we're able to keep up with backs like that, so basically keeping him contained from the outside was a big deal," Louisville linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin said.
The quickness was evident. Having four fast linebackers on the field was a big reason why. Not only was Mauldin doing his best to get into the backfield from his new outside linebacker position, but Deiontrez Mount was making his presence felt with a sack and two tackles for loss. So was linebacker Keith Kelsey, who had a fumble recovery and five tackles.
Then there was safety James Sample, the former Washington Huskies player who transferred from junior college and got the start. Louisville lost plenty of experience and production from safeties Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor, so filling that spot was the biggest concern heading into the season.
But Sample played better than anybody anticipated, leading the team with eight tackles and a crucial interception in the third quarter with Louisville up 21-13. The Cards scored a field goal on the next possession to put the game out of reach.
For Mauldin, the only recognizable player left on the defense from 2013, the result had to be particularly satisfying. No defense of his would start taking a step back, regardless of new faces and new scheme.
"As the leader of the defense, you just look at what you've got and you say, 'This is what we've got. This is what we're going to make of it, get the guys that are young, get the guys who are new to go along with the defense,'" Mauldin said. "You can't think negative about anything when it comes to a team, because if you think negative the team feeds off you. What I'm doing is picking the guys up, letting them know that if they miss a play, you've got it the next play. Forget about [that] play and move on. Just positive energy."
Louisville could not have planned a better start to ACC play. And the Cards will only get better from here. The schedule sets up for a 6-0 start headed into the showdown against Clemson, with Syracuse the only bowl team on Louisville's schedule over the next five games.
But looking ahead is for another day. Let the defense have this one.
The Cards beat Miami the last time they played, nine months ago in the Russell Athletic Bowl in December. "Beat" might not be a strong enough word to describe what happened in Orlando, Florida. Louisville embarrassed Miami, a school in a bigger conference with more football tradition and much more at stake, too.
Nobody on either side has quite forgotten the 36-9 final. Louisville linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin still has a “U” logo hanging in his room with a big red X through it. Miami players, meanwhile, talk about getting revenge, about feeling “disrespected” in the bowl game. Animosity between the two already is jacked up, and they haven't even played a league game yet.
It's easy to see why the ACC selected this as its prime-time Labor Day showdown. The subplots are so juicy, it's hard to pick the juiciest one. Is it the bitterness between the sides, exacerbated by all the Florida players on the Louisville roster who want to show Miami what it’s missing? Is it the Miami disrespect card, exacerbated when former quarterback Teddy Bridgewater did the throat-slash gesture late in the bowl game last year?
Is it Bobby Petrino making his return to the Louisville sideline? Is it Miami starting true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya? Is it Miami running back Duke Johnson finally returning to the field after missing the end of last season with a broken ankle? Is it Louisville’s official ACC debut?
The matchups might be completely different, the Louisville coaching staff and schemes might be totally different, but that does not change just how much both teams look back on what happened in December.
Louisville wants a repeat. Miami wants revenge.
“The guys just want to come back and do it again,” Mauldin said. “It was a great feeling, and they just want to feel like that again. The preparation leading up to it has been good. I feel like we’re going to have a lot of fun on Monday night.”
Miami coach Al Golden tried to downplay his team’s emotions, saying: “Louisville played really well. They had an exceptional team. They had a team that -- they only lost a couple times in two years, so that was a great team, played really well. But no, in terms of our program and their program, this is a different team for both, and clearly we have to take care of our business, not worry about anybody else's.”
Petrino, who was not even on the sidelines for the Louisville win last season, had a different view. He said his players do have extra motivation going into this game, a rare rematch that pits the same teams in a bowl and season opener.
“I think that's human,” Petrino said. “Got a lot of guys from that same area that played against a lot of players on their team in high school, have known each other for a long time. It's going to be real important for us to focus on the process, focus on our performance one play at a time.”
It sounds like a cliché, but Mauldin said the team has worked on trying not to get too emotional leading up to kickoff because “when you get too riled up, you can forget what you learn, and you don’t want to get complacent.”
The Louisville defense will have a far different assignment in this game. Priority No. 1 is stopping Johnson, who has the ability to change the game with one play. Then, the Cards can focus on rattling Kaaya, a wild card in the matchup. Louisville has no tape to study on him, so it has just been focusing on the offensive scheme. The defense will have to adjust on the fly to what Kaaya brings to the table.
Miami also faces unknowns on the Louisville offense. Will Gardner replaces Bridgewater, and leading receiver DeVante Parker is out. Petrino runs a vastly different scheme than former coach Charlie Strong did in the bowl game. Coaching adjustments are always important, maybe more so in openers, when there are so many unknowns.
Still, there is enough from both sides to go on. Most especially, all that emotion.
Already, their matchup has quite a different feel than it did just one week ago after two major news stories broke this past weekend. Louisville receiver DeVante Parker will have surgery on his foot and is out six to eight weeks; Miami, meanwhile, named true freshman Brad Kaaya its starting quarterback.
That begs the question -- how will both offenses be impacted?
Johnson brings a new dynamic to the matchup at running back. But so does new Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, who runs a completely different offense than the one Miami could not stop last season. Parker was set to be the focal point of that offense, a 6-foot-3, 211-pound freak of an athlete with the capability of having a 1,500-yard season.
Without him, Louisville does have other options. The Cards are fortunate to have one of the deeper receiver groups in the ACC. Eli Rogers, Kai De La Cruz, and Michaelee Harris all return. Tennessee transfer Matt Milton and sophomore James Quick are players to watch. So is tight end Gerald Christian, expected to have a bigger role in the offense.
But with a new starting quarterback in Will Gardner, there is little doubt Parker would have been a security blanket of sorts and the immediate go-to player among the receivers. The other players are solid, but Parker is the one with first-round NFL draft potential thanks to his size and speed (he runs a 4.34 in the 40-yard dash).
Miami gets the benefit of having a stronger Johnson back on the field. His impact on this team is undeniable. With him, Miami was ranked No. 7 in the nation last year. Without him, the Canes dropped four of their final six games. In the Russell Athletic Bowl, Johnson stood on the sideline and watched Miami running backs muster 73 total yards on the ground.
It is obviously huge that he is back. But with a true freshman under center, one has to assume the Cards' defense will be geared toward stopping Johnson and making Kaaya beat them. Kaaya has the skill players around him to help, but the pressure will rest squarely on him to make the right reads and the right decisions in the face of all the pressure.
How will he handle that? Maybe even bigger -- how will he handle the spotlight, making his first start on the road in front of a nationally televised audience? Miami coaches have praised Kaaya for his unflappable demeanor, and say they have run him through pressure situations in practice.
But no practice simulation can prepare a freshman for the bright lights that await, especially as the Miami quarterback. Though Louisville lost some of its best players on defense and will be employing a new scheme, the Cards do return Lorenzo Mauldin (9.5 sacks), linebacker James Burgess (72 tackles) and top cover corner Charles Gaines to make life difficult for Kaaya.
It is plain to see the differences are everywhere. Kaaya and Parker just add to that theme, making this matchup perhaps the most difficult to predict heading into Week 1.
Previewing the 2014 season for the Louisville Cardinals:
Key returners: WR DeVante Parker, WR Eli Rogers, RB Dominique Brown, LB Lorenzo Mauldin, CB Charles Gaines
Most important 2014 games: versus Miami, Sept. 1; at Clemson, Oct. 11; versus Florida State, Oct. 30; at Notre Dame, Nov. 22.
Projected win percentage: 56 percent
Over/under Vegas odds: 8 wins
Instant impact newcomer: QB Will Gardner. Taking over for Bridgewater is no easy task, but new coach Bobby Petrino believes Gardner is up for the challenge. Gardner has prototypical size for a quarterback (6-foot-5, 226 pounds) with the arm strength to boot. Plus he'll be coached by an offensive mastermind in Petrino, whose specialty is developing quarterbacks. Even though Gardner is unproven, anticipation is high that Gardner can become an elite quarterback in this system -- starting this year.
Best-case scenario for 2014: Gardner develops at warp-like speed and the defense immediately thrives in the new 3-4 scheme, finding players to step in and fill major holes along the line and in the secondary. Louisville pulls the surprise card as a new member of the ACC and posts a winning record against the four toughest teams on the schedule (Miami, Clemson, Florida State and Notre Dame) to hit the double-digit win total for a third straight season.
Worst-case scenario for 2014: Gardner fails to develop as anticipated and the offense sputters along, unable to take advantage of the talent it has at the skill positions. The defense cannot find adequate replacements for Marcus Smith, Preston Brown, Hakeem Smith or Pryor and struggles against a much tougher schedule. Louisville cannot quite manage the difficulties the ACC presents and ends up barely above .500.
Best NFL prospect: Parker. ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has Parker listed as the No. 3 senior receiver in the nation. Parker has the size (6-foot-3, 200 pounds), power, speed (4.3-second 40-yard dash) and productivity to become a first-round draft pick. A monster season is expected in the Petrino offense, a big reason he made the preseason All-ACC team.
Biggest question mark: Safety. Because the Cardinals have little in the way of proven players or depth at the position, they already moved starting cornerback Terrell Floyd to one safety spot. The hope is that Gerod Holliman finally reaches the potential he showed in high school and starts alongside Floyd. Junior college transfer James Sample and a slew of redshirt freshmen are in the mix as well, but none of them have played a down for the Cards just yet.
They said it: "Our expectations are going to be high. I've always believed that you set expectations high. We have a group of young men that we're coaching that know how to prepare, that have played in big games and know how to win. We expect to compete for a championship. That's what we want to get done." -- Petrino