NCF Nation: Josh Chichester
Their offensive line has struggled. The defensive front has not played as well as coach Charlie Strong has expected. The running game has been grounded. Turnovers at inopportune times have hurt.
Now they face their rivals on Saturday, having lost four straight in the series, with the prospect of falling into a 1-2 hole off a highly successful 2010. Win, and all will be right -- at least for a day. So to say Louisville wants to win this game badly is an understatement.
What was particularly painful about Louisville's loss last week was the handful of mistakes that cost the Cardinals the game. T.Y. Hilton got loose for two long touchdowns on shorter routes, going 74 and 83 yards on the scores. He ended with seven catches for 201 yards. Take away those two touchdowns, and Louisville was able to hold him to five catches for 44 yards, and the entire FIU offense to 92 yards.
"We know the mistakes we made and we know what we were supposed to do," Holton said. "We got lazy on a few plays and we didn’t communicate on a few plays. Those plays turned into touchdowns and were the outcome of the game."
Still, Holton knows Kentucky will try to hit Louisville the same way FIU did -- through the air. The Wildcats are not the most prolific passing team but they have hit on four pass plays of over 30 yards already this season. "We gave everybody a blueprint," Holton said.
Meanwhile, the Louisville offense has struggled to get any consistency going. A big reason is because the offensive line has five new starters, including a true freshman. As a result, the Cardinals have had a hard time establishing the run, averaging 3.1 yards a carry. Will Stein has been constantly harassed, and Louisville has given up seven sacks already on the year -- second worst in the league.
Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford is not contemplating any changes to the offensive line. What has hurt has been the loss of starting center Mario Benavides, out with an injury. There has been no timetable given for his return. All Louisville can do is just wait for its players to improve with more game experience. Tight end Josh Chichester said the offensive players have spent more time in the film room trying to learn from their mistakes.
"Once you know our assignments, you play faster and won’t have to worry about making mistakes," said Chichester, who leads the team with eight catches for 150 yards. "That’s what’s going on right now. We're confident in the offensive line. They can get the job done. We’re ready for this game. Last week is last week. We know what we did wrong, and hopefully we can showcase the corrections for the next game."
Strong said several times this week that Louisville is not a very good team right now. The Cardinals did lose 25 seniors and are one of the youngest teams in the nation. But still, his players are using his comments as motivation.
"Coach Strong wants us to step up," Holton said. "A lot of people don't believe in us, but our coaches do. He’s just trying to get us ready to go for this game, knowing how big this game is."
Though Cincinnati lost to Tennessee, Isaiah Pead showed what makes him one of the best backs in the Big East. His 65-yard touchdown run to open the game showcased his talent -- he leads the league with a whopping 11.5 yards per carry. While UConn has little offense to speak of, redshirt freshman Lyle McCombs has two straight 100-yard rushing games, putting him second in the league in rushing. Could he be supplanting expected starter D.J. Shoemate? Rutgers might have suffered a disappointing loss to North Carolina, but its defense has been one of the most opportunistic in the Big East. Already, the Scarlet Knights have forced five fumbles and gotten five interceptions, while adding a league-leading nine sacks. Rutgers is at plus-eight on the season in turnover margin, but Cincinnati (plus-seven) and USF (plus-six) are right behind.
The bad: Louisville outgained FIU (446-293), had more first downs (24-9), an edge in time of possession (14:16) and ran 86 plays, but big plays killed the Cardinals. The defense allowed TD passes of 74 and 83 yards to T.Y. Hilton and had two turnovers to zero for the Panthers in the disappointing loss. Three FCS opponents put a scare into Big East teams -- Maine made things uncomfortable for Pitt, and Rhode Island made things uncomfortable for Syracuse. West Virginia trailed Norfolk State at halftime. All three Big East teams ended up winning -- but they have really big tests this week and cannot afford the sloppy play that plagued them at times last weekend. If you want to look at the bright side -- Syracuse is 2-0 for the first time since 1999, while Pitt and West Virginia also are unbeaten.
UConn had Vanderbilt beaten, but the Huskies' offense could not get out of its own way. Johnny McEntee had four turnovers. His final interception was returned for the game-tying score. UConn did not have a first down the rest of the game and Vandy won 24-21. The Huskies had no offensive touchdowns in the game. Rutgers, meanwhile, continues to struggle rushing the football. The Scarlet Knights had 1 total yard rushing against North Carolina, mainly because of sacks. But if you add up what the backs gained, it still was not pretty. De'Antwan Williams, Jeremy Deering, Joe Martinek and Savon Huggins combined for 18 yards on 20 carries. Rutgers ranks last in the Big East in rushing offense, averaging 69 yards a game and 2.1 yards a carry.
And it is the same old story in Cincinnati. The Bearcats find themselves at the bottom of the league in total defense after finishing seventh in the league last season. The biggest problem was through the air, where the bigger Tennessee receivers had a size advantage and burned the Bearcats. Tyler Bray had 405 yards passing.
Career days: Here is a look at some players who had career days this weekend.
- Louisville tight end Josh Chichester: six receptions for a career-high 111 yards.
- Louisville quarterback Will Stein: 30-of-43 for 349 yards and two touchdowns. The completions and yardage totals
were both career highs.
- Rutgers receiver Mohamed Sanu: career-high 13 receptions for 119 yards and a touchdown.
- Pitt receiver Devin Street: career highs of six receptions and 74 receiving yards.
- USF quarterback B.J. Daniels: career highs in passing yards (359), completions (28) and attempts (39).
- West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith: 20-of-34 for a career-high 371 yards. His four touchdown passes tied a career high.
- Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib: tied a school record for completions with 29 on 37 attempts for 318 yards and three touchdowns.
- Iowa State at UConn, Friday, 8 p.m., ESPN2
- Pitt at Iowa, Saturday, noon, ESPN2
- West Virginia at Maryland, Saturday, noon, ESPNU
- Akron at Cincinnati, Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN3
- Louisville at Kentucky, Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU
- Florida A&M at USF, Saturday, 7 p.m., Big East Network
- Syracuse at USC, Saturday, 8 p.m., FX
Josh Chichester, TE, Louisville. Now that he has made the transition from receiver to tight end, the potential is there for Chichester to become the best tight end in the league. His size, 6-foot-8 and 258 pounds, gives him the ability to be unguardable for opposing defenses.
Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse. Early reports out of Syracuse camp indicate Jones is wreaking havoc during practice. His goal is to get double-digit sacks this year. With questions inside, he could be relied up on even more to hold down the line.
D.J. Shoemate, UConn. Given the history at churning out 1,000-yard running backs, the potential is there for Shoemate to follow. The offensive line and tight end positions are solid, giving him an even better opportunity.
Geno Smith, West Virginia. Smith already is one of the elite quarterbacks in the Big East. But will the new Dana Holgorsen offense make him one of the elite quarterbacks in the country?
Tino Sunseri, QB, Pitt. Sunseri is now in an offensive scheme that could lead to incredible numbers. He feels comfortable running the hurry-up, and has the ability to make all the throws. He should definitely be able to improve on his touchdowns (16) and yards (2,572) from last season.
Scott Vallone, NT, Rutgers. A move to the nose tackle position could help Vallone really emerge as a dominant player. He was a freshman All-American in 2009, so the potential is there in his new role.
D.J. Woods, Cincinnati. Is Woods next in line to get the major numbers racked up from Armon Binns (1,101 yards in 2010) and Mardy Gilyard (1,191 yards in 2009)?
2. Nick Provo, Syracuse. Provo has made himself quite valuable in the passing game, having caught 33 passes for 365 yards last season. Can he stay healthy all year?
3. Josh Chichester, Louisville. Potential is a word that is thrown around a lot in these rankings. Going to use it again here with the 6-foot-8, 240-pound Chichester. It would not surprise me if he ended the season as the top tight end in the league. No question he is going to have a huge role in the Cardinals' offense, especially with questions in the receiving corps.
4. D.C. Jefferson, Rutgers. Another player with mounds of potential, it is time for Jefferson to show why many believe he could be the best tight end in the league. Perhaps a new position coach in Brian Angelichio will help him live up to expectations.
5. Andreas Shields, USF. Shields sits atop the post-spring depth chart following the loss of Kevin Gidrey. He did play in all 13 games last season and started the bowl game. He caught five passes for 74 yards and could be a bigger threat in the pass game this season.
6. Adrien Robinson, Cincinnati. Robinson is not listed atop the Bearcats' post-spring depth chart, but I think he has the potential to win the job over Travis Kelce and Blake Annen (listed as No. 1 now). He is big, strong and athletic and needs to step up with Ben Guidugli gone.
7. Hubie Graham, Pitt. Another player with potential after transferring from Illinois, Graham will play more of an H-back/tight end position and should have more of a role in the passing game than Brock DeCicco. Todd Graham likes them both.
8. John Delahunt, UConn. There is a reason he is pushing Griffin for the starting job. Delahunt caught five passes for 76 yards, has good hands and is a good blocker. No question the Huskies have the best depth in the league.
The Huskies didn't hold anything back, and that sometimes was problematic. Linebacker Sio Moore delivered a big hit on quarterback Michael Nebrich and had to be reminded by Paul Pasqualoni that they are, in fact, still teammates.
The defense dominated for most of the scrimmage, and it's no surprise that side of the ball would be ahead of the offense, given the number of returning defensive starters. Quarterback Scott McCummings, who has reportedly had a good spring, fumbled and threw an interception on Saturday. Mike Box got the first reps of the scrimmage under center.
"I thought there was some good give and take,” Pasqualoni said. “I thought there was real, real good competition on both sides of the ball.”
Held back a little by injuries this spring, the Cardinals held their first scrimmage on Saturday, a 150-minute, 95-play, hard-hitting affair.
According to the official recap, Will Stein threw two touchdown passes to Josh Chichester, for 16 and 59 yards. Receiver Josh Bellamy also had a big day. Shenard Holton and Marcus Smith each had interceptions, while Randy Salmon and Dexter Heyman were very active on defense.
"It's hard to really see what we have going on out there because we have so many guys injured," coach Charlie Strong said. "We have a lot of guys playing who haven't played much, but it's good that we are starting to build some depth. I was pleased with the effort and I thought there was a lot of good hitting.
Only a portion of the scrimmage was open to the media, but the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Buddy Jackson took the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. The cornerback was only recently given a shot to return kicks.
Former guard Chris Jacobson is working at center and had some trouble with shotgun snaps. That will be key for the Panthers, who will be in the shotgun almost exclusively in their new offense. The newspaper also singled out defensive end Bryan Murphy as a spring standout so far.
The offense unleashed some big-play potential in the Orange's 84-play scrimmage. Big plays included a 75-yard pass from Ryan Nassib to Alec Lemon, a 64-yard carry by Antwon Bailey, a 70-yard dash by Prince-Tyson Gulley and a 54-yard pass from Nassib to Marcus Sales. Nassib was 7-of-12 for 192 yards.
But the offense couldn't keep the momentum after three straight scores, turning the ball over and failing to reach the end zone the rest of the day. Coach Doug Marrone said he didn't like the way the defense came out to start the scrimmage, but at least it responded. He singled out linebackers Dan Vaughan and Marquis Spruill and safety Phillip Thomas for praise on that side of the ball.
And so it was, as Adam Froman passed to Josh Chichester for a 15-yard touchdown with 1:24 left to give the Cardinals a 10-9 victory. They broke a two-year losing streak to the Orange and remained alive for bowl eligibility. Syracuse fell to 3-7 and has been eliminated from postseason contention.
It was about as ugly a game as you will ever see, though there were some exciting moments late.
Andrew Robinson intercepted Greg Paulus in the final minute to seal the victory as the Orange had gotten to within about 10 yards of field goal range. Paulus' pass on a slant to Mike Jones was behind his receiver, and Robinson -- a converted receiver playing cornerback -- made a good break on the ball, which bounced off his knee and into his arms.
That won't slow the criticism by Syracuse fans of Paulus, who threw his 14th interception of the season. He completed 13 of 18 passes but for just 104 yards as the Orange were seriously limited at receiver.
It was a botched extra point which cost Syracuse this game after a Delone Carter touchdown run had pulled his team ahead earlier in the fourth quarter. Another tough break for a team that might not win another game this year under Doug Marrone.
Louisville had just 151 total yards but somehow managed to win the game. Athletic director Tom Jurich and coach Steve Kragthorpe avoided having to face some uncomfortable questions because of that winning drive.
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.
Connecticut cornerback Darius Butler might not have realized it, but he paid Doug Beaumont one of the highest possible compliments when asked about the Louisville receiver this week.
|Mark Zerof/US PRESSWIRE|
|Doug Beaumont has stepped up for Louisville in the early part of the 2008 season.|
"He reminds me of the way they used Harry Douglas last year," Butler said. "He goes up and catches the ball."
Douglas, now with the Atlanta Falcons, is still one of the most revered players in recent Cardinals history because he never took a snap off during practice or games. He was a fierce competitor who never minded going over the middle and taking a big hit despite standing just about 5-foot-11 and weighing a smidge over 180 pounds.
"When Harry was here, I just tried to watch him all the time," said Beaumont, who's even smaller at 5-9, 175.
And now more quickly than most people would have guessed, the sophomore is doing a pretty fair imitation of the former Louisville star. Beaumont leads the Big East and is sixth in the nation in receptions, with 23 in three games. He caught nine balls for 119 yards last week versus Kansas State and has become quarterback Hunter Cantwell's go-to guy.
That's pretty good when you consider that Beaumont hadn't caught a single college pass before this season. He appeared in all 12 games last year but touched the ball only once, losing two yards on an end around.
He figured his production would increase this season. But when No. 1 receiver Scott Long broke his foot in August and junior Trent Guy got shot in July, Beaumont had to assume a lot more responsibility.