By: Raashaan Myers
Since last Friday’s game ended all we have heard about is the ascension of UofL QB Lamar Jackson and the return of the high scoring Bobby Petrino offense. And that is for good reason as the numbers put in the first two games of the 2016 campaign have been stunning. So much so Lamar is only the 2nd player ever to win back to back Walter Camp Player of the Week awards. As well FSU freshman stud QB Deandre Francois his been lauded for his play the first two weeks as well. All that being said come Saturday at noon the defense will be by far the most important key to victory for both sides.
In my estimation while the UofL offense has made huge strides this year I have been equally impressed by the play of the defense. Completely shutting down Charlotte in game 1, then coming back having to play over 80 snaps of offense vs Syracuse in the 2nd game they held us and shut down the Syracuse advances early in the 2nd half of the road ACC opener. While giving up 28 points isn’t sexy when you consider the amount of snaps and tempo that the Cuse play with it is pretty impressive especially considering the Orange looked to be much improved skill wise on offense Friday night. The most impressive stat so far for UofL and also the most important heading into Saturday’s Top 10 showdown is the Cardinal rush defense which currently ranks 23rd in the nation (84.5 ypg).
For UofL to have the best chance for victory the defense must be locked in for a full 4 quarters. While they have played very well defensively the first half vs FSU the last 2 years missed tackles and blown assignments have foiled the opportunity for the big upset. With a team laden with veterans who have been a part of both defensive debacles I expect to see off the charts effort all day on Saturday. Stopping the run as well as getting off the field on 3rd down has been a bug-a-boo for UofL vs FSU so those will be key stats to watch. Also an aggressive and attacking defense designed to put pressure on Francois should come early and often.
Stopping All-American running back Dalvin Cooks will be job one, two, and three for the Cardinal D and individually the players IMO that will be most responsible for this will be safety Josh Harvey-Clemons as well as linebacker Stacey Thomas. From a versatility standpoint I expect that Harvey-Clemons will be Cook’s personal escort around Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium all afternoon. His ability to come down and make tackles and plays in the box as well as cover Cook out of the backfield on passing plays makes him a perfect spy. As for Thomas his high energy motor and all-out effort will also be needed to dog Cook and make his miserable all afternoon. I expect to see one or the other and many times both guys in Mr. Dalvin’s face.
Doubly important will be the job of the UofL pass rushers getting constant pressure into the face of Francois while also maintaining containment to limit his opportunity to hurt the Cards with his legs. If UofL is able to get a constant pass rush with only sending 4 to 5 defenders this will maximize their ability to be effective spying on Cook out of the backfield. Considering this will be the first true road environment the young freshman will face you would think the opportunity to force a turnover or make something happen should be there for the taking.
I’m not sure if this is the biggest game in UofL football history or not, but I do know that if they want to win the biggest game so far of the 2016 it will start on the defensive side of the ball. UofL has been carried by its defense the last 2 seasons and while the offense looks to be finally carrying its own weight the D will need to pull the Cards through one last time it they really wants to really show that UofL is ready to take that next step as a program. Are they? Only time will tell.
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