NCF Nation: Bobby Petrino
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).
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
Strong wanted power football on both sides of the ball. So his players trained that way in the weight room. Players bulked up. They were never tested in the 40-yard dash, but rather on the mile. That way, they would have the physical power they would need to win one-on-one matchups, and the endurance they would need to outlast their opponents in the fourth quarter.
Philosophies have shifted now that Bobby Petrino has taken over the program. He wants to play fast, so the message in the weight room has been transformed. Under new strength and conditioning coach Joe Miday, the emphasis has focused on speed and power. Players are now tested on 110-yard sprints and 40-yard sprints. Linebackers train with skill position players to help improve their speed and quickness. Tempo is faster in the weight room, too, that way they can practice as fast as they will play once the games begin.
"Oh yeah, I am a lot faster now than I used to be," Parker said. In detailing the reasons, he said, "The new staff likes to work on what you need to work on so you can improve, and it will show during the game. Last year, it was more on your body than it is now. Now, they want you to be fast, too. Last year, they just wanted us to be bulky -- we didn't really work on speed. But now we do and it's a big advantage for us."
One of the biggest reasons Louisville is now emphasizing the shorter distances as opposed to the mile is because players require a burst of speed to make plays. The average play lasts roughly 8 seconds. So if a player can maximize his speed in that window, he will have an advantage over his opponent and remain fresh into the fourth quarter. Louisville already has an edge of sorts here because Strong brought in so many fast players, from running back Corvin Lamb to cornerback Charles Gaines. Ten players posted 40-yard times of 4.46 or better in March.
Playing fast also requires a slimmed-down and toned-up player.
Left tackle Jamon Brown is the perfect example. Strong wanted him to bulk up, and he reached nearly 350 pounds last season. But Petrino ordered Brown to lose weight to become quicker on his feet. This is especially important for offensive linemen, who will be asked to go 80 or more plays per game (with about 15-20 seconds between snaps). By contrast, Louisville averaged 69 plays per game last season and ranked No. 2 in the nation in time of possession.
Brown is now down to 325 pounds, and has five more pounds to lose. Guard John Miller also is down nearly 15 pounds to 311. Miday has been working for years on emphasizing speed, first at up-tempo Marshall and then with Petrino last season at Western Kentucky. He has gotten results at both stops. Given the players already in place at Louisville, there is no doubt we will see one of the fastest teams in the ACC in 2014.
With the potential for more.
"I think I can hit 4.2," Parker says of his 40-time. "I just want to keep working on my legs so I can get faster."
Before Petrino even entered, reporters lined up three deep in chairs anticipating his comments. What does it say, then, that his session had the largest turnout -- trumping two of the most high-profile coaches in the league?
It says Petrino still carries big-time weight. But it also says there is a curiosity about him that simply has not faded. Petrino has a well-documented past, and that well-documented past has a way of coming up every time he enters a room.
"I'm going to approach the game to try to do the best I can in helping young men on and off the field," Petrino responded. "One of the key things you do as a football coach is you teach players how to excel and how to get self-confidence. One of the things I'm going to work hard on is coaching the person as much as the player.
"The experiences I've had, that I can help young men with the obstacles they're going to be presented with off the field and the situations that are going to come up and help them and give them second chances."
Had he not tried to mold the person during his first stint at Louisville?
"It's something I wonder about, whether I paid that much attention to it but certainly now I understand that's a part of what I need to do," Petrino said.
Petrino says he has changed. So does athletic director Tom Jurich, who took an enormous risk when he rehired him. Petrino is no fool. He understands this, saying, "I need to prove to myself and everybody else on a daily basis that this is the right decision."
And then, that was it.
Back to football.
The questions lasted less than 5 minutes out of a full hour, but they were proof again that they have not yet gone away. They do come less frequently, but they come nonetheless. Because when people make mistakes, the natural inclination is to ask just how much they have learned. How much they have changed.
Petrino does deserve credit for the way he has handled himself since he came back to Louisville in January. He has answered every question thrown at him -- the ugly ones, too. He has made a good effort to show he has changed, offering handshakes and smiles to folks who come up to greet him.
He has shown his desire to give back to Louisville, a place he calls his home, establishing the Petrino Family Foundation with donations already totaling more than $1 million.
And he has shared personal anecdotes about his wife and his children. He proudly told reporters Monday that he caddies for his daughter Katie, who plays on the Louisville golf team. Petrino gave a bit of advice to future caddies, drawing laughs.
"Show up, keep up, shut up," he said.
Then it was on to Louisville football -- its place in the league, life without Teddy Bridgewater, recruiting and scheduling. Someone asked whether he was surprised that he did not field more questions about his past.
Petrino said no. Most of his day, from radio to television to print interviews, was spent answering football questions.
Indeed, in his ideal world, Petrino will spend the rest of his career at Louisville answering only football questions.
It was Nov. 27, 2004, Louisville against cross-state rival Cincinnati.
Louisville got the ball first, at the 20. All week, Petrino told his offensive players that if the defensive end lined up on the opening play in the 9-technique, the Cards would score a touchdown.
Sure enough, the Cincinnati end was lined up exactly the way Petrino predicted. Brian Brohm checked to the right play.
"I remember that play like it was yesterday," recalled Breno Giacomini, an offensive lineman on that squad. "It was unbelievable. He proved himself a lot to us before, but that day in my mind showed he knows exactly what he’s talking about. It all goes back to the film work he put in. That has made me a better player. It took me a little longer to realize but the film work that I put in has really helped my career."
Giacomini speaks from experience. As he shared anecdotes about Petrino over the phone, he was on his way to pick up the Super Bowl ring he won last season with Seattle.
Petrino has his share of critics, but it is hard to knock his ability to develop NFL-caliber players. He has coached 37 NFL draft picks; 29 have been offensive players. And one of the biggest keys to their collective success has been meticulous preparation that begins in the film room, something the current Louisville players have already begun to learn.
“If you can learn to break down film half as good as Coach Petrino can, it gives you an edge in the NFL,” said former Louisville center Eric Wood, going into his sixth season with Buffalo.
Ryan Mallett says the first thing Petrino taught him at Arkansas was defense, hugely beneficial now that he is with the New England Patriots.
“He acts like you don't know anything,” Mallett said. “What your coach might have told you in high school, he might want it done differently. Learning that way definitely helped me because in the NFL, you watch a lot of film throughout the day. So you know what to look for.
“The smaller details or finer details some guys might overlook, that helps you understand the game better, like who’s covering the running back if the running back is lined up at the receiver position. Little things like that, indicators before the ball is snapped so you know what will happen.”
Giacomini even notices the difference in NFL meeting rooms between those who have learned how to break down film under Petrino, and those who have not. He said Alvin Bailey, who played for Petrino at Arkansas and then with Giacomini in Seattle, got the playbook down just a little bit faster.
Beyond breaking down film, Petrino also expects perfection. When mistakes are made, screaming ensues. As Wood says, “You have your rough days playing for Coach Petrino because he’s really demanding, but ultimately that’s how you’re going to get the most out of 18 to 22 year olds.”
Harry Douglas, who ranks second on the Louisville career yards receiving list, credits that type of coaching style with helping him get drafted.
“The times he doesn’t holler at you and demand excellence, that’s when you need to be worried,” Douglas said. “He knows what each player he recruits is capable of and all he does is push you to be the best you can be. I always want a coach like that. Coaches like that are the best because they don’t care who you are, what star you are, how many catches you have, they’re going to push you. The hay is never going to be in the barn with them.”
Douglas was a Petrino believer from the start. A scrawny 130 pounds out of high school, Petrino pushed Douglas to transform himself, and he became an All-Big East receiver. When Petrino joined the Atlanta Falcons in 2007, he held Douglas up as an example of an undersized player who worked hard to become elite.
So when the Falcons ended up drafting Douglas in 2008, every receiver on the team knew exactly who was walking in the door.
“All the receivers said, ‘It’s time to see what he’s got,” said Douglas, coming off his best NFL season with 85 catches for 1,067 yards and two touchdowns. “Even now today, Roddy (White) and Julio (Jones) and people in Atlanta know I practice the same way I did in college. My practice habits have not changed.”
Petrino has not changed the way he runs practice or prepares his players with film study, though people who know him say he has changed away from the field. He had to, given the circumstances. He arrived at Louisville again with some extra baggage, but those who have played for Petrino are happy he is back.
"Initially when I heard he was coming back, I’d be lying if I didn’t wonder what people would think about rehiring him, a guy who left us and went through what he went through at Arkansas," Wood said. "But I believe in second chances. This is place he wanted to be, and I couldn’t be more excited. I got over those feelings in 10 seconds when I envisioned all he success U of L would have."