NCF Nation: Doug Beaumont
I compiled the following list after watching each team the entire season and through consultation this week with some coaches throughout the league. Later on today, I'll offer up some thoughts on the selections, explaining my picks and the toughest omissions.
Here is the team:
QB: Geno Smith, West Virginia
RB: Jordan Todman, Connecticut
RB: Bilal Powell, Louisville
WR: Armon Binns, Cincinnati
WR: Jon Baldwin, Pittsburgh
TE: Cameron Graham, Louisville
OT: Jason Pinkston, Pittsburgh
OG: Zach Hurd, Connecticut
C: Sampson Genus, South Florida
OG: Mark Wetterer, Louisville
OT: Byron Stingily, Louisville
DE: Jabaal Sheard, Pittsburgh
DT: Chris Neild, West Virginia
DT: Terrell McClain, South Florida
DE: Julian Miller, West Virginia
LB: Lawrence Wilson, Connecticut
LB: Derrell Smith, Syracuse
LB: J.T. Thomas, West Virginia
CB: Brandon Hogan, West Virginia
CB: Johnny Patrick, Louisville
S: Robert Sands, West Virginia
S: Sidney Glover, West Virginia
K: Dave Teggart, Connecticut
P: Dan Hutchins, Pittsburgh
KR: Lindsey Lamar, South Florida
PR: Doug Beaumont, Louisville
But you wouldn't guess it by the first half, as Pitt went into intermission holding just a 6-3 lead in a battle of field goals. The Cardinals have to be thrilled with their defensive effort, and though they haven't scored since the opening drive, their main goal coming in was just to keep this one close and give themselves a chance to win on the road. So far, so good.
Pitt came in extremely worried about Louisville's running game, and though Bilal Powell is on pace for slightly more than 100 yards, the Cardinals have been balanced. Adam Froman has completed 10 of his 14 passes, but for only 59 yards. Doug Beaumont has six of those catches. Big plays have been hard to come by for either team.
Dan Hutchins badly missed a field goal near the end of the half for the Panthers, and the way things are going, points could be at a premium. Pitt exploded in the second half last week against Rutgers, but can it happen again against a Louisville team playing smart, disciplined defense?
Pitt is also going to be without fullback Henry Hynoski, who's been diagnosed with a mild concussion. Hynoski is a key part of the running game and the passing game for the Panthers.
That was only a brief measure of Beaumont's resiliency. The senior receiver had to undergo knee surgery after the third game at Oregon State, but he missed only two games before coming back at full strength against Connecticut. Beaumont took home a device that put air pressure on his leg, sleeping with it on every night. Then at 6 a.m., he'd report to the team trainers for treatment.
Head coach Charlie Strong didn't expect Beaumont to return so quickly but said that the receiver "wore our trainers out."
"He's special," Strong said. "He's driven and he works so hard. That's why I always say, just give me 10 Beaumonts, and I'll be fine."
Strong hasn't figured out any cloning mechanisms just yet. But while he doesn't have 10 Beaumonts, he may have the next best thing: A large senior class that was willing to follow a new head coach.
Strong could have come into Louisville and shaken things up completely, deciding to go with young players and fresh recruits instead of the guys who'd been a part of the previous three non-winning seasons. But he saw that the Cardinals had a 27-man senior class that could be their best attribute this year.
"Anytime you have seniors play well, you always have a chance," he said.
What's impressive is that Strong and his staff have, in many cases, gotten these seniors to play the best football of their careers. For example:
- Running back Bilal Powell has already passed the 1,000-yard mark, shattering his career single-season high of 392 yards;
- Quarterback Adam Froman has greatly improved his efficiency and proficiency in his second year of starting;
- The offensive line, featuring four senior starters, has paved the way for the best rushing attack in the Big East;
- On defense, linebacker Brandon Heath, cornerback Johnny Patrick and defensive linemen Malcolm Tatum and Rodney Gnat are all playing key roles;
- Beaumont, who had never scored a touchdown before this season, now has two scores.
"They are a veteran team," said Dave Wannstedt, whose Pitt Panthers host Louisville on Saturday. "I think they've all bought into what Charlie is trying to do, and he's getting most out of them."
Strong plays down his role in getting these seniors to reach new heights. But he laid it at their feet to break Louisville out of its losing ways this season, and he and his staff have put those players in better positions to succeed. He says he didn't have to do much to convince them of that.
"They wanted to win," he said. "And they felt like our staff knew enough about winning that they could buy into it. I put it on them and gave them the leadership opportunity to go and lead this football team."
Those seniors are a big reason the Cardinals have already matched last year's win total. With guys as hungry and resilient as Beaumont, they might not be done yet.
So as Connecticut came into Papa John's Cardinal Stadium with the Big East's beefiest offensive line and top rusher, Strong's worries arrived personified. Except there was nothing to fear. Louisville held UConn to 108 yards, its worst rushing day of the season, and limited Jordan Todman to 80 yards on 19 carries. The Cardinals had nothing else to worry about in a 26-0 shutout.
"You can't stay in one spot or they're going to mash you and knock you back," Strong said. "You have to have a lot of movement, and we had a lot of movement today where we were able to get off and just run."
Much like his defense, which registered its second shutout in three weeks, Strong's Cardinals are on the move right now. Used to getting knocked back in the Big East the past three years under Steve Kragthorpe, Louisville just dominated one of the teams considered as a preseason league contender.
Well, forget UConn as a contender. The Huskies (3-4, 0-2 Big East) have all sorts of problems right now, not least of which is their quarterback situation. Redshirt freshman Michael Box made his first career start and finished just 4-of-12 for 35 yards with an interception before suffering an undisclosed injury late (Box called it "a little bit of a bell ringing"). Coming off a bye week, Connecticut appeared lethargic and slow, perhaps still dealing with the shocking dismissal of starting quarterback Cody Endres on Wednesday.
Louisville (4-3, 1-1) -- which won only one Big East game a year ago, by one point over Syracuse -- looked more athletic, more determined and like far more of a league power than the Huskies.
"This sort of puts us over the hump," said senior receiver Doug Beaumont, who had a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown. "We haven't won too many Big East games, but now we know can go out there, keep playing hard and anything can happen. The Big East is wide open."
In a week where Syracuse wins at West Virginia and South Florida upsets Cincinnati on the road, yeah, it seems like anything can happen. Nothing is more surprising than the development of Louisville's defense. The same players that had Strong and his assistants pulling out their hair in the spring and summer were all over the field making plays against UConn.
"I guess our offensive line is way better than theirs, because I felt more comfortable going against them then I did going against our offensive line in practice," said Louisville freshman Brandon Dunn, who made his first career start at defensive tackle.
Or to continue the anything-can-happen theme, how about Bilal Powell going over 1,000 yards in the seventh game of the season? The senior running back had never surpassed 392 yards in any previous season before Strong anointed him as his go-to-guy. Strong made sure Powell got to 1,000 on Saturday, keeping him in the final minutes until he had the 102 he needed (he finished with 105). Even more surprising, the painfully shy Powell agreed to his first group media interview of the season afterward.
"It means a lot to me, just looking over and seeing my teammates getting excited about me getting closer and closer to 1,000 yards," Powell said. "I tell our younger guys a lot, 'You came into something real good.' A lot of the older guys, the last three years -- I don't want to talk about that. There's a lot of excitement around the building, and I'm just overwhelmed by everything that's unfolding right now."
Louisville just proved that its days of getting overwhelmed in the Big East are over.
Shows what I know. The Cardinals are dominating UConn 26-0 in the fourth quarter, and if it weren't for the Huskies' red zone defense, the score would be embarrassingly bad for the visitors. Instead, Chris Philpott has four field goals.
Through three quarters, Connecticut had just 128 total yards. This is a team that had a bye last week, though of course its plans had to change in a hurry when Cody Endres was suspended in the middle of game week. As little as the Huskies have done on offense, you have to wonder if Randy Edsall would have been better off starting Zach Frazer instead of Michael Box. At least Frazer has experience. Frazer finally came in during the fourth quarter after Box struggled badly.
It might not have mattered, though, because Louisville is playing extremely well on defense. UConn has actually held Bilal Powell somewhat in check -- 72 yards in three quarters is in check for him -- but Adam Froman has spread the ball around to four different receivers. Doug Beaumont also had a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter after having one called back earlier.
So Louisville will be 1-1 in the Big East while UConn will fall to 0-2. In this year's Big East, there's nothing surprising about that.
3. UConn's rush to victory: Notice I called Vanderbilt an SEC defense in the last item, and technically that's true. But the Commodores rank 105th in the FBS in rushing defense, allowing 206 yards per game. We don't know yet if Jordan Todman will play after missing last week's game with an arm injury. But clearly there should be some running room for a team that loves to move the ball on the ground.
4. Macho Man Savage?: Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage is dealing with bruised ribs, and if you ever experienced an injury there, you know how painful that can be. It remains to be seen whether Savage, who has gotten off to a rough start while healthy, will play or be able to be effective against Tulane. If he can't go, then true freshman Chas Dodd may be forced into action, or Mohamed Sanu will see a whole lot of Wildcat time. That could make an already scuffling Rutgers offense even more sketchy.
5. Pitt's new-look line: Pittsburgh shook things up this week with its offensive line, moving tackle Lucas Nix inside and installing Jordan Gibbs at right tackle. The Panthers are desperately trying to get the line right and open up room for their running game, which is key to everything they want to do. The reshaped line gets its first challenge against Florida International, which gave Rutgers all it could handle in Week 2. FIU likes to blitz from different angles and has Florida athletes, so this will be a good litmus test for Pitt's makeover.
6. Sunseri in the spotlight: Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri did not look good against Miami, and when reserve Pat Bostick came in during the fourth quarter some fans were ready to make the change permanent. Dave Wannstedt isn't ready to make a switch and still believes in Sunseri. But clearly, the first-year starter needs to get on track, because the Panthers don't have much room for error. And they have a veteran in Bostick waiting in the wings.
7. Bulls on the run or in the air?: South Florida escaped Western Kentucky last week by running the ball almost exclusively. Now the Bulls play a Florida Atlantic team that ranks last in the country in rushing defense. So expect some more of the power I-formation look, and potentially a big day for Demetris Murray and Mo Plancher. At the same time, however, receivers Dontavia Bogan and Sterling Griffin could be back from injury, and both could use some work before next week's Big East opener against Syracuse. So USF needs to air it out a bit, too.
8. New Cardinals catchers: Louisville has suffered all kinds of injuries at the receiver position, the latest knocking out leading pass catcher Doug Beaumont. The Cardinals need to find people to make plays in the passing game this week at Arkansas State, and they could look to junior college transfer Josh Bellamy, sophomore Andrell Smith or freshmen Kai Dominguez and Jarrett Davis. None have much experience, and Louisville will likely need to get plays out of them against a Red Wolves team that's averaging 28 points per game.
Strong did not give many details on Beaumont's injury, which occurred during a 35-28 loss at Oregon State on Sept. 18. Beaumont had nine catches for 121 yards that game. For the season, he has 16 receptions for 244 yards and a touchdown; no other receiver on the Cardinals roster has more than five catches.
Louisville plays at Arkansas State this Saturday.
Without Beaumont, the Cardinals will have to rely more on Josh Bellamy, Andrell Smith and tight end Cameron Graham.
"We have enough guys," Strong said. "When guys get their opportunity, they have to do their job, and guys are going to have their opportunities now."
Beaumont is one of the most respected players among the Cardinals, and you hope he doesn't have to miss too much more of what was turning into a very strong senior season.
Beaumont was Kentucky's Mr. Football for the 2006 season, and when he signed with his hometown school of Louisville in 2007, the Cardinals were coming off a 12-win, Orange Bowl campaign. Even with Bobby Petrino leaving for the NFL, Beaumont figured the good times would roll on.
Unfortunately, his career arc has happened to coincide with one of the worst stretches the program has experienced in the past 20 years. Louisville didn't register a winning season or make a bowl game in Beaumont's first three college years, leading to the firing of Steve Kragthorpe.
"It hurts a bit," said the former All-Big East receiver. "When I went into the recruiting process, I looked for a team where I could year in and year out go to a bowl game. It hurts not going to one in my first three years. Hopefully I'll have one before I leave."
For that to happen, the Cardinals will likely need a big year out of Beaumont, who is the team's most experienced and most proven receiver. He led the team with 62 catches for 750 yards as a sophomore, then saw his numbers dip to 38 receptions for 465 yards last year as veterans Scott Long and Trent Guy returned from injuries.
The 5-foot-9, 187-pound Beaumont is one of the quickest players on the team and should thrive as the slot man in Mike Sanford's spread offense. He's also eyeing a role on punt and kickoff returns.
"I can use my quickness and speed to take one-on-one opportunities against linebackers and nickelbacks," he said. "I should be able to get open that way."
And, he hopes, that will allow him to fix a glaring hole in his résumé. Despite being one of the team's top playmakers the past two seasons, Beaumont has yet to score a college touchdown.
"That's one of my big goals, to get that touchdown," he said. "I got one called back last year. Hopefully I'll have more than just one as a senior."
Beaumont likes the way the team is responding to new head coach Charlie Strong. He says the Cardinals have a "swagger" that they lacked the past few seasons, thanks to the attitude injected in them by Strong and his staff. He knows most people are picking Louisville to finish at the bottom of the Big East again, but he said the players are using that as motivation every day in workouts.
Not that Beaumont needs any extra motivation. He wants to finish his career the way he originally envisioned it going.
"Growing up here and watching Michael Bush and Brian Brohm, you just know you want to be a hometown hero," he said. "You want to show your hometown you can win games. I want to get fans the fans motivated and know we're back on the rise."
- This was my third Big East practice but the first one with full contact. It was good to finally see some hitting and tackling. Although there wasn't nearly enough of that from the defense. It was a bad, bad day for that side of the ball. But don't take my word for it."It was definitely a rough day," defensive lineman Greg Scruggs said. "We've got to get tougher, mentally and physically. We've got to stay disciplined when we get tired. If we don't, then what you saw today will happen. The defense will get run through, the offense will score 50 points and that will be the ball game."The problems for the defense started early and never stopped. The team went through a drill in which running backs were matched up with linebackers in an open-space tackling test. Not a single defender made a stop the entire drill.
"Can't one guy tackle a running back?" head coach Charlie Strong barked in exasperation.
Fed up, Strong stopped the drill and made the linebackers do pushups. Receivers were going against defensive backs a few yards away in the same drill and they weren't having any success either. The defense got plowed during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work as well.
Strong definitely isn't in Gainesville any more. The defense needs a ton of work and lacks bodies on the line and in the defensive backfield. A lot of young players are going to have to play and grow up in a hurry.
- Strong, not surprisingly, runs an intense practice. He and his assistants get after players when they mess up, and there were many, uh, teaching moments tonight. Strong is not afraid to run after a guy and get in his face to make his point, and most of his staff is just as intense. It's definitely a change from Steve Kragthorpe, who was a little more laid back in practice.
- It may just be a function of the defense, but offensively the Cardinals looked pretty solid. Justin Burke took the majority of the first-team reps as he and Adam Froman continue to split them at quarterback. Will Stein was on crutches and wearing a walking boot and is probably done for the spring, so it's a two-man race. I continue to believe the starter will ultimately be Froman, if not Dominique Brown. But that's just my opinion.
- The Louisville running backs are very good. You know about Victor Anderson, Bilal Powell and Darius Ashley. I was mightily impressed with redshirt freshman Jeremy Wright, who made an awful lot of plays.
- The receiving group doesn't seem to have many deep threats, but Doug Beaumont caught just about everything thrown his way. Andrell Smith, a 6-4 sophomore, really needs to come on this year. And I keep waiting for Troy Pascley to have a big year.
- Tight end Cameron Graham hauled in a few nice catches. He has a lot of ability and just needs to be more consistent.
- I won't give away plays and formations, but suffice it to say we saw evidence of the Florida spread. Look for this team to run some two-back sets with some option thrown in. Works better with Tim Tebow, of course, but Froman ended the practice with a 65-yard touchdown run.
- A couple of guys who caught my eye in an otherwise forgettable day for the defense: Malcom Mitchell made a tremendous spin move off the edge during line vs. line drills. Shenard Holton put a big hit on Smith to break up a passing play.
- Notably missing from practice were defensive linemen Rock Keys and Joe Townsend and quarterback Luke Woodley, a midyear enrollee. Woodley went home, though the team hopes he'll return for the fall.
Strong paused. He tapped his right hand on the podium as camera shutters clicked away. His voice broke. And he cried.
"You just never knew if it would happen," he said.
It's clear that this is a guy grateful to finally get a chance. The only question is why it took so long.
"Makes no sense," athletic director Tom Jurich said when asked why Strong hadn't been hired before.
Louisville is happy he was still available. Jurich said several players had come by his office in the past week or so after Steve Kragthorpe had been fired. The only candidate they wanted to talk about was Strong. That's understandable. Strong has been a part of two national championship teams and led a Gators defense this year that finished in the top five nationally in most statistical categories. He's coached under Steve Spurrier, Lou Holtz and Urban Meyer.
"Just knowing we have a coach from a winning program, someone who's going to come in and win games, makes everything a lot better," receiver Doug Beaumont said.
Strong -- who agreed to a five-year deal worth $1.6 million annually -- has never been a head coach but brings instant credibility. Jurich said he followed Strong closely for the past three years. He talked to many people about his main candidate -- everyone from Meyer and Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley to Tony Dungy, Bill Polian and Mike Shanahan -- and couldn't find anyone to say a negative word.
"I've always felt this was a blue-collar job," Jurich said. "And I think he is the perfect, perfect individual to not only coach this team but lead this team."
Of course, Strong was announced in the same room where Kragthorpe was introduced less than three years ago. The mood that day was celebratory, as the Cardinals were coming off an Orange Bowl victory and Kragthorpe spoke about wanting to coach his entire career in Louisville. Things were a little more subdued on Wednesday, as Jurich admitted the Cardinals -- who went 15-23 under Kragthorpe --have "a lot of obstacles and a lot of work to do."
But Louisville believes it has found its man to undertake this rebuilding project. And Strong is incredibly happy for the chance.
1. Focus: That's the key word this week, as the top three contenders in the Big East all are heavy favorites at home. Showdowns between Cincinnati, Pitt and West Virginia loom on the calendar ahead. But for those to matter, they need to take care of business this week against the heavy underdogs and not start thinking ahead to the stretch run.
2. Cincinnati's receivers vs. the UConn secondary: The Huskies got burned by Tim Brown on an 81-yard pass play to lose this week, but they've been pretty good against the pass this year and have the league's two co-leaders in interceptions (Robert Vaughn and Robert McClain). They will face a major challenge this week against the Bearcats' Mardy Gilyard, Armon Binns and D.J. Woods. Syracuse had some small success slowing Cincinnati down last week by trying to keep everything in front of the defense. UConn might also want to make the Bearcats prove they can sustain long drives.
3. Attack of the backup Zachs: Cincinnati looks likely to go with Zach Collaros again at quarterback as Tony Pike continues to recover from his left forearm injury. Collaros has been outstanding the past two and a half games, though this will be the best team he's started against thus far. UConn's Zach Frazer is back at quarterback now that Cody Endres is out for the season with a shoulder injury. Frazer has been way too erratic this season, including three more interceptions last week at Rutgers, and can't afford those mistakes against the Bearcats.
4. Lindsey Witten vs. Jeff Linkenbach: Witten is tied for second in the nation in sacks with 10.5. Linkenbach has developed into the best left tackle in the Big East, in my opinion. If UConn can't get pressure on Collaros, it could be a long night at Nippert Stadium for the Huskies. Witten needs to bring the heat.
5. Dion Lewis: The Pitt freshman tailback was named a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award this week and floats on the periphery of the Heisman race. Syracuse has been surprisingly stout against the run this season, ranking first in the Big East with just 88.9 yards allowed per game on the ground. Another big game by Lewis against this defense should vault him into the lead for Big East player of the year and other award honors.
6. Paulus and the passing game: Syracuse quarterback Greg Paulus was booed at home last week and then received a passionate defense by his head coach Doug Marrone. Paulus has struggled in Big East play, and he just lost his best and maybe only big-play receiver in Mike Williams, who quit the team on Monday. How do he and the Orange offense respond?
7. West Virginia's pass defense: The deep pass has hurt the Mountaineers the past few weeks and much of the season. Louisville has the worst scoring offense in the Big East but is capable of pulling off some big plays in the passing game with guys like Scott Long, Trent Guy and Doug Beaumont. If West Virginia can tighten that part of its defense up, it should have little trouble at home against the last-place Cardinals.
8. Louisville's quarterback derby: Three guys -- Justin Burke, Will Stein and Adam Froman -- have started, and it's anybody's guess who will get the call this week. Coach Steve Kragthorpe said earlier this week that Burke and Froman, who were both hurt at Cincinnati, should be available for practice. If they're all good to go, Froman likely gets the nod. But West Virginia has to prepare for all three just in case.
9. Speed on the edge: The main difference between West Virginia and Louisville the past two years was that the Cardinals didn't have the defensive speed on the perimeter to contain the Mountaineers' playmakers unlike, say, South Florida. Pat White got outside with ease in last year's game in Louisville, and the Cardinals' quickness hasn't gotten significantly better. Expect at least one huge run, if not several, from Noel Devine and maybe even Jarrett Brown or Jock Sanders.
10. Cincinnati's competition: We're not talking about UConn, but the other contenders for the national title. Keep an eye this weekend on Alabama against LSU, Iowa against Northwestern, Boise State at Louisiana Tech and TCU against San Diego State. Any of them faltering would help the Bearcats' national title chances.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
1. Return of conference play: Big East league play began on Labor Day and then took the rest of September off. It's back this week with two games, each featuring a supposed contender (Pitt, South Florida) against an expected pretender (Louisville, Syracuse). Can either of the underdogs flip those preseason prognostications -- and the league race -- upside down?
2. West Virginia's self-control: You know how coaches like to call mistakes "teaching moments"? Well, Bill Stewart and his staff have had a lot of those moments in the 12 days following the Auburn loss. Six turnovers will do that. Let's see how the Mountaineers respond tonight against Colorado. That will tell us whether that coughing-up fit on the Plains was a temporary setback or symptomatic of a long-term concern.
3. Noel Devine's touches: It's become a sticking point among some West Virginia fans that Devine only got 17 touches -- while producing 154 and three touchdowns -- at Auburn. The Mountaineers have a fine Devine line to straddle; they don't want to overwork him, and they've got plenty of other weapons on offense. Still, I suspect we might see a heavier workload for the star tailback tonight, unless the game gets out of hand.
4. Pitt's discipline: We've been talking about it all week. The Panthers haven't looked like themselves on defense, especially in the NC State game, and have incurred too many penalties. Can they shore that up in time for Friday's game at Louisville? The secondary must tighten up against the Cardinals, or else Scott Long, Doug Beaumont and Trent Guy will be running free and putting a dent in Pitt's Big East hopes.
5. Louisville's defensive front: Can the Cardinals' defense, which had trouble slowing Utah's backup running back last week, contain the powerful Dion Lewis? Pitt's offensive line has given up the fewest sacks in the league, while Louisville's defense has notched fewer sacks than anybody in the conference. Bill Stull may not be the greatest quarterback in the country, but if he has all day to throw, he'll find his many playmakers.
6. Pitt's defensive front: This should be the best defensive line Louisville has faced all year. The Panthers lead the league in sacks and should be able to get penetration and at the very least, force Justin Burke to roll out of the pocket. Emphasis on should, because while guys like Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard got through the NC State offensive line, they couldn't wrap up and finish off quarterback Russell Wilson. They need to hit Burke and get him on the ground to swing the game their way.
7. B.J. Daniels: After his celebrated win at Florida State, the South Florida redshirt freshman quarterback starts his first conference game. Syracuse will now have seen plenty of tape on him. Daniels will need to improve some of his decision-making from the second half of the FSU game, but his speed could be something to behold on that Carrier Dome turf.
8. Syracuse's offensive line: The Orange O-line has been a pleasant surprise thus far, but the challenge really ramps up this week. The Bulls' defensive front was downright intimidating against the Seminoles and will come into this week with a ton of confidence. Will Greg Paulus have time to throw, or will he be running for cover most of the day?
9. Mike Williams vs. the South Florida secondary: Williams will be the best receiver the Bulls have faced this season and Syracuse's top threat to pop a big play. The South Florida secondary has been improved this year, but some of that is a function of the pressure applied up front. Do the Bulls double cover Williams and make someone else try and beat them?
10. Pike pile-up: Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike is in the Heisman Trophy discussion now, and Saturday should provide a good opportunity for him to stuff his stats. Miami of Ohio has been virtually defenseless against the pass this season, and they haven't seen anyone near the caliber of Pike and Mardy Gilyard. A five-touchdown type of day is not out of the question.
Louisville will begin spring practice on Sunday, the first school in the Big East to get back on the field. It will be an important time for the Cardinals, who are trying to fill several holes after a second straight season that ended without a bowl game. I caught up this week with head coach Steve Kragthorpe for the latest installment of our spring Big East Q&A series.
Is spring time an exciting time for the coaching staff?
|AP Photo/Mel Evans|
|Steve Kragthorpe will take on offensive coordinator duties this season.|
Steve Kragthorpe: To me, spring ball is always one of the fun parts of our job, in terms of taking a new group of guys and molding them together, seeing how all the pieces start to fit together. We've got a lot of guys who've maybe had no roles at all that are going to jump into roles and some guys who've had minor roles who are now going to jump up into major roles. And the fun part about spring practice is there's always a surprise or two, a guy you weren't quite sure was ready to play who jumps up and says, "Hey, I'm ready to take one of these spots."
How do you see the quarterback competition shaping up, and how will you divvy up the spring reps there?
SK: We'll divide them up pretty much equally for the major part of the spring and start to see guys separate from each other. And as guys start to separate, we'll give them a few more repetitions. But my goal is not to name a starting quarterback by the end of spring practice. We will do that about 10 days before the first game. But I'm looking for guys to be consistent, I'm looking for guys that move the chains, I'm looking for guys to lead the other 10 guys on that field and I'm looking for guys who, over a continuum of time, can be a consistent performer.
You have to shape your offense around the talents of the quarterback, obviously. So how do you, as your own offensive coordinator, do that now if you don't yet know who will be your starter?
SK: We're going to install concepts and make sure we do a good job of establishing an identity on offense, establishing a way of playing the position of quarterback and a way of going about playing offense. And then from there we'll wrinkle, based upon what guys do well, based upon what guys are stepping up ... For us, we want to make sure we're very conceptual on offense, we're very concise in terms of our teaching and we establish a system. And from that system we'll wrinkle based on the guys who need the ball in their hands.
Could Pitt actually score a blowout victory at home?
The Panthers for once are not in a life-and-death situation at halftime. Instead, it's Louisville that has all kinds of problems.
Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe pulled starting quarterback Hunter Cantwell for Matt Simms with about six minutes left before halftime. It didn't appear that Cantwell was injured in any way. The senior was just 3-of-10 for 35 yards. Simms -- whose father, Phil, watched from the press box -- didn't have much more success, going 2-for-6 for 15 yards.
The Cardinals offense has been bad, but their special teams have been worse. Doug Beaumont muffed three punt returns, two of them resulting in turnovers. Trent Guy caught a kickoff right next to the sideline near his own 10 then fell out of bounds with no defenders near.
LeSean McCoy has been held under wraps, mustering just two yards on seven carries as Louisville has stuffed the box. But Pitt has wisely responded by going to the air, and Bill Stull -- back from his concussion -- has thrown for 134 yards and a score. The game's first touchdown came with Pitt in the Wildcat formation, as LeRod Stephens-Howling handed off to Aundre Wright.
It's impressive and promising that the Panthers can play this well without getting much from McCoy. Louisville better regroup in a hurry, because its season appears heading downhill.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Not sure if I can come up with 10 legitimate things to look for in this weekend's crummy Big East schedule. Let's see how far we can make it:
1. The haves vs. the have-nots: It's not a scintillating weekend in the Big East by any means, but the gap between the contenders and the pretenders could grow even wider. Cincinnati begins league play against 1-4 Rutgers, which will be all but written off with another loss. West Virginia looks to go 2-0 in league play against Syracuse, which has won only two Big East games under Greg Robinson.
2. Mike Teel and Kenny Britt vs. the Cincinnati secondary: The Bearcats have won the past two meetings and picked off Teel seven times in those two games, led by cornerback Mike Mickens. The Scarlet Knights' best weapon is Britt, who had 12 catches for 151 yards last week against West Virginia and is fourth nationally in receptions. "We need to know where he is with our linebackers and safeties," Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly said. "We have to know where he is at all times."
3. Chazz Anderson vs. the Rutgers defense: Anderson managed the game well in his first career appearance last week at Marshall. But the Cincinnati redshirt freshman quarterback will see a rise in competition as the Bearcats enter league play. The Scarlet Knights have the best pass defense in the Big East. However, they have grabbed only two interceptions, both of them coming against Morgan State.
4. Pat White: How healthy is the West Virginia quarterback after leaving the last two games early, first with a bruised thumb and then after getting hit in the helmet? The Mountaineers say he's fine and will play against Syracuse. The Orange defense might make him feel a lot better. He had 247 rushing yards on just 15 carries the last time Syracuse came to Morgantown and 237 total yards last year in the Carrier Dome.
5. Syracuse's running game: For the Orange to have chance at all in Morgantown, they will need to control the clock and run the ball successfully. The rushing attack showed promise last time out against Pittsburgh until a second-half collapse. They've had a week off to get ready for this enormous challenge.
6. The Memphis blitz vs. the Louisville offense: Memphis has recorded 10 quarterback sacks in its past two games and will probably come after Hunter Cantwell to see just how well the Louisville quarterback's ankle has healed. That's a risk, though, because the Cardinals can burn the Tigers with quick-strike plays to speedsters like Victor Anderson and Doug Beaumont.
7. The Louisville defense vs. a well-rounded offense: The Cardinals' defense has been much-improved and is one of the best statistically in the Big East and the nation. But it's also true that they have played mostly one-dimensional teams like Kentucky (couldn't pass), Kansas State (wouldn't run) and Connecticut (didn't throw well until Zach Frazer got going). What can Louisville do against a multi-dimensional attack like Memphis, which is averaging 190 yards rushing and 272 yards passing and a quarterback who can move in Arkelon Hall?
8. The remote control: OK, so there's really not a whole lot to hold your attention in the Big East this weekend, and the league's slate will be done by about 3:30 Saturday afternoon. Feel free to click around. We won't judge.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
8:00 PM ET 20 Duke 1 Florida State 8:17 PM ET 2 Ohio State 10 Michigan State 4:00 PM ET 5 Missouri 3 Auburn 12:00 PM ET 17 Oklahoma 6 Oklahoma State 7:45 PM ET 7 Stanford 11 Arizona State 3:30 PM ET 25 Texas 9 Baylor 12:00 PM ET 16 UCF Southern Methodist 10:00 PM ET Utah State 23 Fresno State