NCF Nation: Will Stein


No. 25 Louisville showed why it was the overwhelming preseason choice to win the Big East in its dominant 32-14 win over Kentucky on Sunday afternoon.

So dominant, that Louisville coach Charlie Strong pulled Teddy Bridgewater at the end of the third quarter after a near flawless performance. Here are my initial impressions.

Bridgewater looked as good as Strong and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson have advertised. He had complete command of the offense and laced his passes to his receivers with precision. Bridgewater ended up going 19-of-21 for 232 yards and seemed to make all the right decisions before giving way to Will Stein. No sophomore slump to start the season, that is for sure.

He had some huge help from the vastly improved offensive line and the powerful running game, something that was missing last season. The Cardinals rushed for more than 200 yards -- more than at any time in 2011 -- on the legs of Jeremy Wright and Senorise Perry. With Dominique Brown injured, Wright and Perry showed off some really powerful running, a huge key to any Strong offense. Each back ran for more than 100 yards. Wright had three touchdown runs, the most in a game since Brock Bolen against Middle Tennessee in 2008. It was also the first time Louisville had two running backs with more than 100 yards since Bilal Powell and Victor Anderson against Arkansas State in 2010.

The defense looked dominant at times, but it also gave up its share of big plays, and that is something Strong is going to want to correct. Kentucky tried to make a comeback in the second half and had several drives deep into Louisville territory but credit to the Cardinals, they came up with big plays to thwart any comeback threat.

Louisville has now won two straight over its in-state rivals, and looked to be much better shape than the Wildcats for the future.

Big East position rankings: QB

February, 17, 2012
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We continue on with our 2011 postseason position rankings with quarterback. There should not be too many surprises on this list. For me, it was hardest to separate Syracuse-USF-Rutgers in the middle of the pack. You could also make the case to flop Pitt and UConn.

1. West Virginia. Geno Smith went about shattering school, Big East and Orange Bowl records during his career year for the Mountaineers, throwing for 4,385 yards, 31 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. His development under Dana Holgorsen was about what we expected. Preseason ranking: 1.

[+] EnlargeWest Virginia's Geno Smith
Andrew Weber/US PresswireWest Virginia's Geno Smith passed for 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns under new coach Dana Holgorsen.
2. Cincinnati. Zach Collaros' worth to the team was illustrated when he got hurt against West Virginia. The Bearcats lost their grip atop the Big East and ended up sharing the league title. Munchie Legaux was not great, but Collaros was. Cincinnati may have relied more on the run this year, but I thought Collaros and Isaiah Pead complemented each other perfectly. Preseason ranking: 2.

3. Louisville. True freshman Teddy Bridgewater really helped anchor this team once he replaced Will Stein in the starting lineup. He set a school freshman passing record with 2,129 yards and won Big East Newcomer of the Year honors. Without Bridgewater, I'm not sure this team wins a share of the Big East title. He showed poise and maturity beyond his years. Preseason ranking: 7.

4. Syracuse. Ryan Nassib had a career year for the Orange, setting highs for completions, attempts, yards, completion percentage and touchdown passes. There is no doubt he made some significant strides for Syracuse, but the biggest knock is that he never really was able to make the plays to get his team in position to win just one game in the final stretch of the season. Preseason ranking: 6.

5. USF. Coach Skip Holtz rightfully points out that the Bulls offense was improved in 2011 vs. 2010. But I think most of us were waiting on B.J. Daniels to take that next step and become an elite quarterback in the Big East. We are still waiting. He barely improved his completion percentage and threw just 13 touchdown passes -- though he did have a career-high with 601 yards rushing. What sticks out most are critical mistakes against UConn and West Virginia that cost his team wins. Preseason ranking: 4.

6. Rutgers. Greg Schiano went with musical quarterbacks again, switching back and forth and then back again from Chas Dodd to Gary Nova to Dodd. Neither was particularly effective, and both had a penchant for making bad mistakes. It's a true credit to receiver Mohamed Sanu that he was able to have such a great year with such inconsistent quarterback play. Preseason ranking: 5.

7. Pitt. How much more can be said about the way Tino Sunseri played this season? The further removed we are from the year, the more I'm convinced that his coaches let him down. Still, he was not very good in 2011 -- 38 yards passing against Utah was the low point. It was a disaster of a season. Preseason ranking: 3 (Gulp!)

8. UConn. Three quarterbacks in contention, but the Huskies really had no true quarterbacks. Johnny McEntee ended up winning the right to start, but he was completely overmatched. Scott McCummings came in for Wildcat duties and Michael Nebrich was an afterthought. No surprise that this was the worst passing offense in the Big East. Preseason ranking: 8.
Louisville has a 16-7 lead on Cincinnati in the battle for the Keg of Nails. Here are a few first-half observations:
  • Cincinnati got off to its 4-1 start thanks in large part to limiting the mistakes and taking the ball away. Well, Zach Collaros threw a pick-6 to end the first half, as Mike Evans returned the interception 63 yards for a touchdown to put the Cardinals up 16-7. For the second straight game, the Bearcats have struggled out of the gate on offense. They had six points at the break against Miami (Ohio) last time out. They also have put the ball on the ground three times, but recovered them all.
  • Neither offense looks terrific. Louisville has 161 yards at the break; Cincinnati has 146. As has been the story of the season for the Cardinals, they have failed to capitalize on opportunities. One big one came in the second quarter, when Louisville had to settle for a field goal after throwing incomplete on third-and-goal from the 1.
  • Maybe that is because both teams have good defenses. Both have gotten good pressure on the quarterbacks, and that has had an impact. Will Stein has been in on one series for the Cardinals, but Teddy Bridgewater has taken the majority of the snaps at quarterback for the Cardinals.

Predictions: Big East Week 7

October, 13, 2011
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I don't think anybody but Rutgers fans saw the Scarlet Knights' upset over Pitt coming. I sure didn't, and that game saddled me with my lone loss of the week. After going 3-1, I am now 33-8 on the season. On to the picks:

Louisville at Cincinnati, noon ET. To say the Cardinals have not had much success on offense would be an understatement. They cannot run, and that has put way too much pressure on true freshman Teddy Bridgewater to make things happen. This might not be the game to jump-start the run game. Cincinnati has held its past two opponents to negative yards on the ground. This game also features one of the worst teams in the country in turnover margin (Louisville, minus-4) against one of the best (Cincinnati, plus-12). Will Stein will be a game-time decision, and Shawn Watson will call the plays for a second straight week. But with a shaky offensive line and no consistency, Louisville faces a tough task. Cincinnati 30, Louisville 14.

Utah at Pittsburgh, noon. Talk about two teams that are coming off disappointing losses. The Panthers lost to Rutgers 34-10; Utah lost to Arizona State 35-14. The Utes have lost starting quarterback Jordan Wynn for the season and are struggling on offense as much as the Panthers. Utah has won both previous meetings but is 6-12 in games played in the Eastern time zone. Do not underestimate that early start time for a team that plays in the Mountain time zone. I think Todd Graham will have his team ready to play after the embarrassment of last week. Pitt 24, Utah 20.

Navy at Rutgers, 2 p.m. Navy has lost three straight, but the Midshipmen should not be overlooked. Their offense will present a huge challenge for a surging defense that prides itself on taking the ball away and being able to stop the run. Navy has the No. 1 rush offense in the nation, and fullback Alexander Teich will be back in the lineup. The Midshipmen do not hurt themselves with mistakes, either -- they have given up the ball only six times and are the least penalized team in the nation. This has the feel of a letdown game for Rutgers after the big win last week, but I think the Scarlet Knights will just eke this one out. Rutgers 23, Navy 20.

USF at UConn, 3:30 p.m. The Bulls have had a good, long time to think about their loss to Pitt and are going to take all their frustrations out on UConn. The Huskies have been able to win the past two games over USF with last-minute field goals from Dave Teggart, but I do not think this one is going to be close. With the way teams have been passing on UConn, B.J. Daniels should have a good day, and the defense should be able to stop an offense that has failed to do anything consistently. USF 33, UConn 17.

Predictions: Big East Week 6

October, 6, 2011
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Three upsets left me at 3-3 last week, but 30-7 overall through five weeks. Not too bad, but now I see why this league is so unpredictable. Only four games on tap this week. How do I see them shaking out?

Louisville (2-2) at North Carolina (4-1), noon, ESPN2. The Cardinals are struggling to run the ball and score, two big factors in their 2-2 start. It is unknown whether Will Stein or Victor Anderson will play. The last time North Carolina played a team from the Big East, the Tar Heels were sloppy but still came out with a win. I think they are better on offense, and that makes the difference. North Carolina 24, Louisville 14.

UConn (2-3) at No. 16 West Virginia (4-1), noon, ESPN3. The Huskies beat West Virginia for the first time ever last year, thanks to four Mountaineers turnovers. You think that is going to happen again? I don't. After seeing UConn have a tough time stopping Alex Carder and Western Michigan, how on earth are the Huskies going to stop Geno Smith? West Virginia 38, UConn 13.

Pitt (3-2) at Rutgers (3-1), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. Both teams are coming off wins, but Pitt looked better in its victory over USF than Rutgers did in its win over Syracuse. The Panthers finally had a complete effort for an entire game. Rutgers has yet to announce who will start at quarterback. Pitt 28, Rutgers 17.

Syracuse (3-2) at Tulane (2-3), 8 p.m. The Orange are coming off a tough double-overtime loss to Rutgers, but they did have a defensive performance worthy enough of a win. Plus, safety Shamarko Thomas is expected back and that should add even more help. Watch for Ryan Nassib and Antwon Bailey to rebound from sub-par games last week. Syracuse 35, Tulane 20.

Final: Marshall 17, Louisville 13

October, 1, 2011
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Louisville struggled all day on offense, and lost to Marshall 17-13. It was the second home loss to a non-AQ team this season, after losing to FIU in September.

Both had their own indignities. The FIU win was its first against a team from an automatic qualifying conference. Marshall now wins its first road game against an AQ team since it joined C-USA. Yup, the Herd were 0-18 before Saturday -- and had lost to Ohio 44-7 earlier in the season.

Teddy Bridgewater got the start in place of an injured Will Stein, but he struggled with consistency all game. Despite that, Louisville led 13-7 until late in the fourth quarter. Then two Bridgewater mistakes doomed the Cardinals. He threw his first interception of the game with 4:32 left.

Marshall converted that into the go-ahead score, a 3-yard touchdown pass from Rakeem Cato to C.J. Crawford with 1:49 remaining. Louisville got one last chance, but Bridgewater threw his second interception and sealed the game.

The Louisville special teams also did not have a great game -- Chris Philpott missed an extra point and a field goal in the game. Once again, the Cardinals struggled up front on the offensive line and in the running game, getting just 60 yards on the ground.
True freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater got the start for Louisville, but it took a while for him to get the Cardinals a 13-7 lead at halftime.

The offense struggled in the early going and could not generate anything. Louisville went three-and-out on its first three drives. Meanwhile, the defense allowed Marshall to open the game with a 12-play touchdown drive.

But that changed midway through the second quarter, as Bridgewater settled down and led two scoring drives to close the half. He is at 10-of-14 for 136 yards -- including a 41-yard touchdown pass to Victor Anderson. Bridgewater started in place of Will Stein, who hurt his shoulder against Kentucky, and became the first true freshman to start at quarterback for Louisville since Stu Stram in 1976.

The Cardinals are still struggling to get the ground game going, with 31 yards on the ground. Dominique Brown does not have a carry yet after being quite effective against Kentucky.

What to watch in the Big East: Week 5

September, 29, 2011
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What are the biggest story lines to watch in the Big East in Week 5? Let us take a look.

1. Thursday night jinx. USF has not played particularly well on Thursday nights. If you want a history lesson, go back and look at the schools. Skip Holtz does not need one. When asked about the Bulls losing six games on Thursday night during his midweek press conference, Holtz said, "This team has not played on Thursday night yet. What's happened in the past is irrelevant. Where we're going in the future is irrelevant. It's going to be what goes on in between the lines. What is our focus like and how do we play this game on Thursday night?"

[+] EnlargeTino Sunseri
AP Photo/Don WrightQuarterback Tino Sunseri will need to make plays if Pitt is to pull off an upset of South Florida.
2. Short week. Both USF and Pitt had short weeks to prepare for their conference opener. How will that affect both teams? For the Panthers, you wonder about being able to put two straight losses behind them as they begin to focus on goals that are still within reach. For USF, you wonder about a team that has not been tested since the opener at Notre Dame four weeks ago.

3. B.J. Daniels vs. Tino Sunseri. Daniels has been the better quarterback and a big reason why USF is 4-0. Tino Sunseri has had struggles in the new "high-octane" Pitt offense and the Panthers are 2-2. Quarterback play is going to be hugely important in this game. Can Pitt get pressure on Daniels? Can Sunseri make something happen?

4. West Virginia on the rebound. The Mountaineers are coming off a disappointing loss to LSU, now the No. 1 team in the nation. Is their game against Bowling Green a classic "emotional letdown game?" After all, it is hard to imagine players and fans getting as jacked up about this game as they did for the Tigers. How will Dana Holgorsen prepare his players to play from opening kickoff and put last week in the past?

5. M*A*S*H Unit. Syracuse has been struggling with injuries since preseason camp. Now that they have taken a particular toll on the defense, coach Doug Marrone has closed off practice and refused to discuss who might play and who might sit out in the conference opener against Rutgers. His reason is simple -- he does not want to give Rutgers any competitive advantage. But whether or not all his players are able to go on Saturday, they still are going to have a tough time trying to contain ...

6. Mohamed Sanu. Sanu has gone from afterthought behind Mark Harrison and spring breakout performer Brandon Coleman (remember that!?) to super stud, with 36 receptions so far this season. He has 29 in his past two games and leads the nation in receptions per game. Defenses are doubling him, but has found a way to break through. He and Chas Dodd have developed a good chemistry, so the onus is on the Orange to stop him. Of course, this is nothing new for Syracuse, having faced Robert Woods of USC and Eric Page of Toledo already this season.

7. Who starts at quarterback for Louisville? Coach Charlie Strong said this week that Will Stein is questionable with a shoulder injury, leaving the door open for true freshman Teddy Bridgewater to start. He did well in relief of Stein against Kentucky, but starting a game provides different challenges. If he does start, both teams would have true freshmen quarterbacks behind center. Marshall starter Rakeem Cato has been the starter since the season began and, like Bridgewater, is from Miami.

8. UConn running game. Can the Huskies get their running game going? They have struggled the past two games, mainly because teams are loading the box to try and force them to win games with the pass. Western Michigan has the No. 94 ranked run defense in the country, but expect the Broncos to do the same. Lyle McCombs and D.J. Shoemate have to find enough wiggle room to make some plays, and the offensive line has to block better, too.

9. Opportunistic Cincy D. Can the Bearcats keep up the takeaways on defense? So far they lead the nation with 16. Miami (Ohio) already has given the ball away six times and is one of the worst in the nation in turnover margin, so this could play a big role once again.

10. Presidents meeting. One story line to keep an eye on off the field: The Big East presidents will meet this weekend to discuss the future of the conference. USF president Judy Genshaft already spoke to one legislative group this week, saying the league was focused on bringing in schools outside states that already have Big East members. Meanwhile, UConn president Susan Herbst says she is committed to making the Big East work. They need to come up with a plan and fast.

Predictions: Big East Week 5

September, 29, 2011
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Last week was a perfect week here at the Big East blog, but now the real season begins. Conference play tests even the strongest of prognosticators because as every coach likes to remind us -- this league is totally wide open. We'll see how my 27-4 record holds up after Week 5.

No. 16 USF at Pitt, Thursday, 8 p.m., ESPN. The Bulls have lost three straight to the Panthers, and six times on Thursday nights. But history is for textbooks. This is a new USF team that is playing with confidence and a quarterback who looks immensely comfortable in the system. Contrast that to Pitt, whose quarterback looks immensely uncomfortable in his system. Until Tino Sunseri gets a hang of this offense, the Panthers are going to have a tough time beating upper echelon teams. Hard to see a breakout game against a solid defense. USF 24, Pitt 17.

Rutgers at Syracuse, Saturday, noon, ESPN3. In the highly anticipated showdown between teams vying to be "New York's team" we find two evenly matched teams. Both have had struggles running the ball. Both have had quarterbacks and receivers with solid seasons to date. I give the edge to Rutgers because I think Mohamed Sanu can take advantage against a banged-up Syracuse defense, and the Scarlet Knights defense has played better than the Orange to date. Rutgers 27, Syracuse 24.

Cincinnati at Miami (Ohio), Saturday, 1 p.m., ESPN3. The Bearcats are coming off a big Thursday night win over NC State and now play Miami (Ohio) in the oldest nonconference rivalry in college football. Cincinnati has won five straight in the series and faces a Miami team that is 0-3 under first-year coach Don Treadwell. Isaiah Pead is in line to have a big day against the No. 84 run defense in the country. Cincinnati 35, Miami 17.

Western Michigan at UConn, Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. The Huskies face their second straight MAC opponent when Western Michigan visits. Johnny McEntee was officially given the starting job this week, and coach Paul Pasqualoni is hopeful he will be able to build on a good performance against Buffalo in which he threw the first two touchdown passes of his career. Western Michigan has a good passing game with Alex Carder and receiver Jordan White, so watch for the Broncos to try and pick on Gary Wilburn, starting in place of Blidi Wreh-Wilson. UConn 21, Western Michigan 17.

Marshall at Louisville, Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. We get our first glimpse of the Cardinals since they upset in-state rival Kentucky. Expect to see plenty of Teddy Bridgewater, who could be making his first career start if Will Stein is unable to play with a shoulder injury. The inconsistent Louisville offensive line could have its hands full with Vinny Curry, but the Cardinals should be able to run on Marshall and shut down what has been an anemic Herd offense. Louisville 30, Marshall 13.

Bowling Green at No. 22 West Virginia, Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. The Mountaineers aim to bounce back against a Bowling Green team that is vastly improved from a year ago. The big question is whether or not the Falcons can handle Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, who have played incredibly well in the past two games. Bet you would not guess this -- Bowling Green actually averages more points than the Mountaineers. Not in this game. West Virginia 38, Bowling Green 17.

Teddy Bridgewater's patience pays off

September, 27, 2011
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Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had mixed results in his first two collegiate games.

His highly anticipated debut was not really much to write home about -- he played in one series each against Murray State and FIU, generating little production.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Mark Zerof/US PresswireTeddy Bridgewater was solid against Kentucky, completeing 10 of 18 passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns.
So when starter Will Stein went down with a shoulder injury in the second quarter against Kentucky two weeks ago, Bridgewater had to play the rest of the game. Would a player with three career passes and an interception on his stat line be able to guide his team against bitter in-state rivals? Against a team that had beaten the Cardinals four straight times?

Bridgewater stepped into the huddle with calm and poise. The first few drives stalled, but Bridgewater looked far from overwhelmed. He threw his first career touchdown pass to DeVante Parker later in the quarter, and directed the Cardinals to the upset win.

Now as Louisville prepares to return from its bye with a game against Marshall on Saturday, Bridgewater figures to get more playing time and could potentially start. Coach Charlie Strong said Stein is questionable for the game, and Bridgewater has gotten plenty of reps in practice.

Bridgewater, perhaps hardest on himself, says of his game against Kentucky, “I think I did pretty good. I could have played better -- had a couple mental errors -- but other than that I had a great night.”

How long did it take for the magnitude of what he did to sink in?

“Well, it hit me a couple days later,” Bridgewater said. “The night of the game, I treated it as another game, another opponent but later during the week, it hit me that I beat a rival we hadn't beaten in five years. It made me feel good, because I had the team support also.”

Bridgewater said the experience he gained in his first two games helped him realize he had to finish drives. He also learned patience, that he could be called upon to play at any moment. The pregame script called for Bridgewater to go into the game on the drive after Stein got hurt. So he was already preparing to get into the game.

He just didn’t realize he would be relied upon for all of it. Bridgewater finished 10-of-18 for 106 yards and two touchdowns without an interception.

“What's been great -- you always tell a player they’re a play a way and a lot of times they don't understand that,” Strong said. “Teddy did that. He showed poise on the road as a true freshman, was able to come in and lead our offense. He managed our offense, didn't turn the ball over and it was great to see him come in and see what he did.”

That is what Bridgewater has wanted since he enrolled at Louisville in the spring as one of the more highly touted prospects in the nation. Bridgewater had committed to Miami before changing his mind and signing with the Cardinals. He and Stein competed for the starting job, and although Stein became the starter, the plan was always to get Bridgewater into games.

There never has been a question about Bridgewater being the future leader of this team. Louisville just got a glimpse of the future a little early.

He may start this week. He may come off the bench this week. But regardless, Bridgewater knows his opportunity is coming.

“Patience is a virtue,” he said. “You have to be patient to get good things in life. I have that mentality.”

Big East news and notes

September, 19, 2011
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Here are some Big East news and notes from the coaches' conference call earlier this morning:

Cincinnati

The Bearcats have a short week to prepare for NC State, a team that beat them last season. What is the biggest challenge?

“The health of your team, the overall preparation that goes into a game,” coach Butch Jones said. “The physicality suffers a little bit. … NC State presents so many challenges for us not only on offense and defense but on special teams. Last year they physically dominated us. There are a lot of challenges in preparing but also when you’re playing a great opponent like NC State, that magnifies everything.”

Connecticut

The Huskies might be 1-2, but coach Paul Pasqualoni says his team is improving while it continues to adjust to a new offensive and defensive scheme.

“My outlook is positive,” he said. “I think we had a chance Friday night to have a big night offensively and we just couldn't get the ball to the open receiver. We have to grow up and totally understand the concepts. Part of this thing, not many people view Vanderbilt as a good football team. Vanderbilt is a good football team, Iowa State is a good football team.” Indeed, both teams are 3-0.

Louisville

Neither the offensive nor the defensive lines played particularly well in the first two games of the season for the Cardinals. So coach Charlie Strong challenged them to step up their game against Kentucky. They did, and both had their best game of the season. For more on the defense, stay tuned for my one good thing video shortly.

“I put this game on our front,” Strong said. “I told the defensive line and the offensive line the only way we can beat Kentucky is to win the battle up front. If we don't win the battle up front ,we don't have a chance. Both accepted the challenge and both performed well.”

Strong added that Will Stein (shoulder) should be fine and could have gone into the game had the Cardinals needed him. There are no plans to alter the quarterback rotation at this time.

Pitt

Coach Todd Graham said his team has gotten over its disappointing loss to Iowa, and said the recent news that the school was moving to the ACC wasn’t a distraction.

“Our guys don't need any motivation to play Notre Dame," he said. “They know how good a football team is coming in here. We're focused on Notre Dame and correcting the mistakes we've made and getting better as a football team.”

Rutgers

Coach Greg Schiano said some progress was made in the bye week to help get the offensive line and running game going. Betim Bujari and Kaleb Johnson will play, though Schiano didn’t say whether they would start. Savon Huggins, Jawan Jamison and Jeremy Deering will be rotated at the tailback spot, depending on game plan and how they do in the game.

I asked specifically what he saw in the first two games that led him to the decision to go with those three and shuffle De’Antwan Williams down the depth chart. Williams has since left the team.

“You look at what we've been doing, and the upside if repetitions are allocated differently,” Schiano said. “You have to make some calculated decisions on upside, who will get better as the year goes on. Nothing is ever final. In our program, competition is every day. Just because you move down one day doesn't mean you aren’t going to move up the next. You just have to battle away. It's day to day. You earn your spot every day.”

Syracuse

Coach Doug Marrone said he was excited about the prospects of joining the ACC, but wants to remain focused on the season.

"Joining the ACC puts us in a strong position for the future, and again I'm excited about the quality of schools, academically and athletically and the competition," he said. "I look forward to them in the future. What I've told the staff and what I've told the players is that our focus right now is on this season, so I've told them not to comment on it. I'm probably not going to comment on it at all. We have a much larger task with our program to concentrate on the teams that we have coming in and the upcoming season. I know that everyone here has a job to do, and I respect that. All I ask is that you respect that we have a job to do, because I would like to make sure that I'm the coach when we bring this team forward for the future of the ACC, and that means winning football games."

USF

True freshman defensive tackle Elkino Watson has made an immediate impact for the Bulls. He is fourth on the team with 15 tackles and leads the team with four tackles for loss. Injuries to reserves at that spot opened up playing time for him, and he’s flourished.

“He's made the most of his opportunity,” coach Skip Holtz said.” He’s big, physical, can run … the more he plays the more he's thriving. The more reps we can give him right now as we start getting ready for the conference, the better he can become.”

West Virginia

Coach Dana Holgorsen gave his first impressions of No. 2 LSU.

“They're as fast as any football team out there on all three sides of the ball,” he said. “Then they’re extremely well coached on all three sides of the ball. Looks to me they’re highly motivated, they're playing with a lot of energy. They've already been in big games this year and have some guys who can rise to the occasion. They're a physical football team, too. We're going to have to play fast and play hard.”

Final: Louisville 24, Kentucky 17

September, 17, 2011
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Louisville coach Charlie Strong jumped onto the field from the sideline and could not contain his joy. Oh yes, this win was special.

He just watched his Cardinals -- down-and-out after a humbling loss to FIU last week -- beat Kentucky 24-17 to break a four-game losing streak to their in-state rivals. He watched them do it with a rejuvenated running game, a revelation in Dominique Brown, and some solid play up front.

But perhaps more importantly, he saw his team win behind true freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

After starter Will Stein went down with a shoulder injury early in the game, Bridgewater came in and kept the momentum going. He showed poise and determination, throwing two touchdown passes. Incredibly, Bridgewater got into two series before this game, and made relatively few mistakes for a true freshman.

Equally as important was the emergence of No. 3 quarterback Dominique Brown as a runner. Brown led the team with 91 yards on 14 carries, and Kentucky really never found an answer for him. The Cardinals ran for 181 yards in the game, and the offensive line looked much better than at any point this season.

But this game was not over until the very end. After taking a 24-10 lead on Bridgewater's 25-yard touchdown pass to Josh Bellamy, Kentucky responded with a 15-play, 77-yard drive to close the gap to 24-17 on a 2-yard touchdown pass to E.J. Fields. That drive was kept alive when Louisville was called for pass interference in the end zone on fourth-and-goal. Louisville went three-and-out and Kentucky got the ball back with a chance to tie the game.

The Wildcats marched down the field, but Morgan Newton threw incomplete on fourth down at the Louisville 18, and the Cardinals survived to hang onto the upset.

"It's great and it's great for our program," Strong said afterward. "It's so important because they beat us four years in a row, so we needed to go get a win and get our program going in the right direction."

Louisville faces critical game vs. UK

September, 16, 2011
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Louisville heads into its game against Kentucky without many positives. The Cardinals lost to FIU last week on the heels of a shaky win over Murray State.

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.

[+] EnlargeShenard Holton
Cliff Welch/Icon SMILouisville's Shenard Holton said the Cardinals' game against the Wildcats is like a "national championship game for this city."
"I feel outside of this program, a lot of people lost confidence in us," safety Shenard Holton said. "We want to show we're a good team. It would say a lot to the fans and the coaches to go out and win this game. This game is a national championship game for this city. We don’t have any professional teams, so a win over Kentucky will help our team out in a big way."

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."

Big East weekend rewind: Week 2

September, 12, 2011
9/12/11
1:00
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Let's take one look back at Week 2 before moving on to Week 3 in the Big East.

[+] EnlargeRay Graham
AP Photo/Don WrightPittsburgh's Ray Graham leads the nation in rushing.
The good: OK, so Week 2 was not as good as Week 1. Perhaps Big East fans can take solace in knowing that the Big Ten might have fared worse this past weekend, with losses to teams like New Mexico State and Rice. One other bright spot: the league does still have two ranked teams -- more than the zero that started the season. West Virginia is up to No. 18 and USF to No. 20 in the latest AP poll. USF had the best game of the weekend -- more on that later. While Pitt continues to struggle with its new offense, running back Ray Graham does not. Graham leads the nation in rushing, averaging 161 yards a game. His six rushing touchdowns are tied for the national lead with Temple's Bernard Pierce. Graham is tied for second nationally in overall scoring with 18 ppg.

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.
Looking ahead: Here is the Week 3 slate for the Big East. The league has five games against AQ opponents from the five different conferences.

  • 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

Final: FIU 24, Louisville 17

September, 9, 2011
9/09/11
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Turns out those fears about FIU being a danger game for Louisville were right on the mark. The Cardinals were simply never really in the game Friday night and lost 24-17 to the Panthers. A bit of history was made, too, though not the kind Louisville wants to be a part of -- FIU won its first game against an AQ opponent.

So much for the Big East starting the season 8-0.

The game broke down in a variety of ways:

Louisville had no answer for dangerous all-purpose player T.Y. Hilton, who had a school-record 201 yards receiving. He scored on touchdown receptions of 74 and 83 yards, burning the Cardinals with his incredible speed. Louisville could not figure out a way to cover him in the first half. On one of the touchdowns, a linebacker was covering him because he was lined up as the third receiver on the formation. It wasn't just the inexperienced cornerbacks who got beaten, though. Junior safety Shenard Holton was out of position on one of the long touchdown runs as well, and was simply caught flat footed.

The Cardinals have some major problems on offense. The offensive line has five new starters and in two straight games has not played well. Mario Benavides was supposed to anchor the line at center as the lone returning starter, but he has been out with an injury. Left tackle Hector Hernandez has struggled in particular.

As for the quarterback situation, Will Stein threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown in the first quarter, and that basically set the tone for the rest of the game. He was constantly on the run or throwing under pressure because of breakdowns along the offensive line. Several of his passes were batted down on the line as well. Teddy Bridgewater only got in for one series, with Louisville down 21-3. There simply was no chance to get him in the game with Louisville having to come back from such a large deficit.

Down 21-10, Louisville continued to take its time, trying to establish the run in the second half. The turning point came on fourth-and-1 at the FIU 7 yard-line with 10:28 to go. Jeremy Wright ran the ball but really had no chance because FIU knew exactly what was coming. He ended up losing 4 yards, and the Cardinals never really threatened after that. Despite trailing for most of the game, the rush-to-pass attempts ratio was about the same (45 pass, 41 run), an indication that they really wanted to stick with the run. But the Cardinals only averaged 2.3 yards a rush.

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