NCF Nation: Greg Tomczyk
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Louisville has played only three game this season, but as far as Greg Tomczyk is concerned, the Cardinals are at a critical junction.
"I think every game from here on out is a must win," the junior offensive tackle said. "I don't think we're looking at any game as one we can lose. We've made our mistakes, and we cannot afford any more."
That may seem like a high level of urgency for this time of year. Then again, Louisville (1-2) is tired of losing.
|Andy Lyons/Getty Images|
|Steve Kragthorpe and the Cardinals know the importance of Friday's game against Pitt.|
The Cardinals are 0-7 in their last seven game against FBS opponents dating back to last season. The only victory in that time came against FCS member Indiana State in this year's opener. The Sycamores led Louisville after one quarter but have been outscored 100-0 in three losses to FCS teams since.
Despite all that, Tomczyk and his teammates still feel like they can be a factor in the Big East race, which officially opens for the Cardinals on Friday night at home against Pittsburgh (3-1).
"We do feel as though we have a very good team and we can compete in the Big East," he said. "If we had cut down on the turnovers and mistakes this year, we would have won a couple of those games. We have as good a shot as anybody else, there's no doubt in my mind."
This team hasn't been as bad as its record suggests. Louisville twice led in the fourth quarter on the road against Kentucky before falling 31-27. Last week at Utah, the Cardinals fell behind 20-0 early after having a field goal blocked on their first drive and Trent Guy's fumble on a first-quarter kick return. They battled back to make it 23-14 in the fourth quarter but could get no closer.
So at least they've been competitive, which is more than you could say for them at the end of last year during blowout losses to Pitt (41-7) and Rutgers (63-14). You could call it progress, but progress without victories isn't going to satisfy a fan base that seems to have made up its mind about Steve Kragthorpe.
That's why Friday's game against the Panthers -- designated by the school as a "Black Out" -- is so pivotal, so soon. After this game, Louisville will welcome a good Southern Miss team to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium before going on the road to UConn and Cincinnati.
"We're definitely in a position where we need to win this football game," Kragthorpe said. "It's a big game for us, on national TV. We want to chase the cup, and in order to chase the cup, we've got to be winning football games in the Big East. To start out 1-0 would be a big feather in our cap."
To do so, the Cardinals need to avoid turnovers (they had three at Utah), run the ball effectively (star tailback Victor Anderson had just 22 yards and only 10 touches last week) and find ways to punch the ball into the end zone. Louisville is last in the Big East in both scoring and red zone efficiency.
"We have to put more points on the board," Kragthorpe said. "That's the bottom line."
One thing's for sure: complacency shouldn't be an issue. It's already crunch time in Louisville.
"I promise you on Friday we're going to come out blazing," Tomczyk said.
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.
Pittsburgh: The Panthers made some personnel changes in their secondary after Rutgers ripped through it. Sophomore Elijah Fields saw a lot more playing time at Notre Dame, lining up occasionally at safety, nickel back and linebacker. Ricky Gary and Jovani Chappel split time at cornerback. Gary fell down on one touchdown pass, but overall Dave Wannstedt said he was pleased with their play. Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers are looking for a few good men to help shore up their kickoff coverage. They rank last among 119 FBS teams by allowing 29.58 yards per return and are about to face the league's best kick returner in Cincinnati's Mardy Gilyard. Two members of the kick cover team -- safety Courtney Stuart and linebacker Archie Sims -- were injured in the UConn game. Head coach Bill Stewart handles special teams and said he would make some personnel changes this week.
Cincinnati: True freshman receiver D.J. Woods is starting to make a bigger impact. He had four catches for 67 yards against Rutgers, returned a punt 40 yards at UConn and made three key receptions in the South Florida win. Fellow slot receiver Marcus Barnett, the team's second-leading catcher a year ago, has only 21 receptions this year. Also for the Bearcats, center Chris Jurek was in a walking boot this week after suffering an ankle injury against South Florida. The team is hopeful he can play at West Virginia. If not, guard Jason Kelce could slide over and handle snapping duties.
Louisville: Senior George Bussey, an All Big-East left tackle, could be switching positions. The Cardinals moved Bussey to left guard on Saturday versus Syracuse to replace injured Mark Wetterer. Sophomore Greg Tomczyk played left tackle because he had fewer things to learn at that position. Wetterer's status is unclear for Saturday's game at Pitt. Other than Bussey and center Eric Wood, Louisville's offensive line has been spotty in recent games.
Syracuse: Wide receiver Dan Sheeran is expected back this week from the broken fibula he suffered in preseason camp. His return allows freshman Grant Mayes to switch from receiver to cornerback, a position he played until Sheeran's injury forced him to offense. The Orange secondary could be in trouble this week against Rutgers, as defensive backs Kevyn Scott and A.J. Brown were injured in the Louisville game. Coach Greg Robinson has declined to address their status so far this week.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
South Florida: The loss of senior outside linebacker Brouce Mompremier to a neck injury is a big blow, but the Bulls should be able to weather the loss. The reason is that South Florida has played primarily in its nickel defense much of the season, meaning only two linebackers are on the field most of the time. "That's what's saved us," defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said.Tyrone McKenzie and Kion Wilson will be the main linebackers in the nickel, with Chris Robinson coming in to play strongside in the base 4-3 sets. South Florida will probably have to come out of the nickel next week against run-heavy Pittsburgh, however.
Louisville: The Cardinals hope that left tackle George Bussey and left guard Mark Wetterer can return to action Friday night against UConn after missing the Kansas State game with ankle injuries. But if they can't go, Louisville has confidence in backupsJosh Byrom and Greg Tomczyk , who played extremely well against Kansas State last week. "We told them, all great players have to start their first game sometime," head coach Steve Kragthorpe said. "Why not tonight?" The Cardinals also might have found a new placekicker in Purdue transfer Tim Dougherty, who replaced the struggling Chris Philpott in the second half against the Wildcats and drilled his only attempt, from 36 yards.
Pittsburgh: Dave Wannstedt is still trying to get promising youngsters Jonathan Baldwin and Lucas Nix involved, but he says it's been hard because of how the games have played out. The Panthers have had three close games versus Bowling Green, Buffalo and Iowa. "You want to do what's fair to the kid and what's fair to the team," Wannstedt said. "That's the balancing as a head coach. They're going to be good players, but my first responsibility is to this football team." Wannstedt said Baldwin, a wide receiver, played 10 out of 60 snaps against Iowa but got bumped off his route on a play designed to go to him. Wannstedt also saidElijah Fields will get his second start at safety but will split time with Dom DeCicco.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats seem happy with running a two-man running back committee. John Goebel and Jacob Ramsey have split carries almost evenly, with Goebel getting 30 attempts and Ramsey 29. Goebel has been slightly more effective, averaging 5.1 yards per carry to Ramsey's 4.1. Promising freshmen running backs Quentin Hines and Isaiah Pead have yet to touch the ball.
Connecticut: Donald Brown has been phenomenal for the Huskies and leads the nation in rushing. But even though Brown hardly ever tires, coach Randy Edsall would like to reduce his workload. Brown is averaging more than 28 carries per game and is on pace for nearly 340 rush attempts this season. He was in on 60 snaps against Baylor last week. Edsall wants to keep him from getting hurt or worn down before the end of the season. The return of backfield mate Andre Dixon could help. Dixon, who led the Huskies in rushing last year, has been slowed by an ankle injury so far this season but was back on the field at times in the Baylor game. Edsall said he wants to start giving the ball to Dixon and freshman Jordan Todman more and give Brown a break.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
Final 20 Duke 7 1 Florida State 45 Final 2 Ohio State 24 10 Michigan State 34 Final 5 Missouri 42 3 Auburn 59 Final 17 Oklahoma 33 6 Oklahoma State 24 Final 7 Stanford 38 11 Arizona State 14 Final 25 Texas 10 9 Baylor 30 Final 16 UCF 17 Southern Methodist 13 Final Utah State 17 23 Fresno State 24