Posted: 12:40 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013
By Mike Rutherford
We've pretty much beat this game to death, but there are just a few more items I feel have to be discussed before we make the complete shift into second weekend mode.
First and foremost, the fans deserve a round of applause. There were as many butts in seats for an opening kickoff as I can ever remember, and it wound up being the second-highest attendance for a home U of L football game in history. That's awesome.
That said, this Saturday represents a much bigger test for the fan base. I started to hear some rumblings during the second half about the game being "boring," and how people selfishly hoped for some exciting home games before the end of the season. While somewhat understandable, that type of attitude makes me a little bit worried heading into a noon home game against an opponent that, at least on paper, doesn't appear capable of keeping things interesting for more than a couple of quarters.
This might be the best team in the history of Louisville football, and Teddy Bridgewater might be the best player in the history of Louisville football; if you have a chance to see the show, why on earth would you miss it? If you want to keep seeing the Cards in a position where they're expected to slaughter visiting opponents, then you'll be there early and you'll be vocal on Saturday.
As good as he is, I don't think you can truly appreciate the glory of Teddy Bridgewater until you watch other college teams and other college quarterbacks play. If a receiver is open and he has the minimum amount of time to make an accurate throw, Teddy is going to put the ball exactly where it needs to be 95% of the time. That's a luxury that maybe three or four other teams in the country have, and one which only a small handful of teams have on any given year.
I said near the end of his freshman season that I thought he'd leave Louisville as the best quarterback the school has ever had, and now I think he's going to wind up being the best Cardinal, regardless of position, to ever play for the red and black. Combine this with his likability and all the stuff he does off the field, and it makes me again offer up this bit of advice: Savor every second in which we can call Teddy Bridgewater Louisville's quarterback.
It's remarkable how much thinner, quicker and more confident Dominique Brown looks than he did the last time we saw him. He's awfully good, but then again so are the two guys he's splitting carries with.
Fifty-five claps for the offensive line, which was widely-regarded as Louisville's biggest question mark heading into this season. The only reason they're not getting sixty claps is the false start penalties. Holes were opened for backs, Teddy had all day to adequately dissect the Bobcat secondary; I'm not sure what more you could have asked for outside of limiting those penalties.
The talks of Kai "Ketchup" DeLa Cruz's rise to glory were not exaggerated. He looked like an entirely different player and one who's going to figure prominently in the Cardinal offense for the duration of the season.
The only issue was that people, myself included on his first touchdown catch, kept thinking he was James Quick. Blame it on the number change and the helmet obscuring the view of that glorious red mohawk.
I'm not going to lie, I had pretty serious doubts when I heard that U of L would be using a live DJ at home games this season. It wasn't so much that I thought I'd dislike it (although that was a concern), it was that I was about 95% sure the majority of Louisville fans would hate it.
All that said, I thought it was a great addition, and most of the people I've talked to who were there have agreed. The music was well chosen, the timing was great, and it served as a boost to the game environment as opposed to a distraction. Credit to DJ Jay Kay and company for their work.
As for the new sound system itself, I thought it was improved, but my understanding is that the major overhaul is going to take place this upcoming offseason. Still, in my section things sounded noticeably clearer than they have since the addition of the flight deck.
As excited as people were when the black pants picture leaked last month, I'm glad the team went red on red, at least for the home opener. Opening day is one where you always feel like your team and its fans should be sporting the team's most prominent color.
You'd love to have Keith Brown available, but U of L's starting three linebackers are kind of a perfect mix. You have the big, bulky run-stopper in Preston Brown. You have the guy athletic enough to make plays in the flats and cover split ends in James Burgess. And then there's the heady, reliable George Durant, who is always in the right place and who always makes the tackle when he has the opportunity. The fact that all three now have considerable experience is a huge bonus.
We wound up moving our tailgate spot from the gravel lot close to Old Cardinal to the paved lot right across from it. It's a transition year and I'm not 100% that we'll stay, but I will say that it kind of felt like home.
Cornhole boards were brought, but the bags were forgotten. It was an unparalleled opening tailgate disaster.
Also, one of the biggest secrets of tailgating near the fairgrounds is that there's an accessible bathroom at Old Cardinal that no one ever uses and which takes about half as long to walk to as waiting in line for the three port-o-pots does. Unfortunately, Old Cardinal has apparently been condemned and the area around the bathroom was fenced off. It was almost as bad as the absence of the cornhole bags.
Once again this year, I'm not a big fan of the intro video. The highlight video is too long and monotone, and leaves the entire stadium wondering if they should be cheering or when they need to start. If they're going to go that route, I wish they would have just used the fantastic hype video they posted on YouTube and then have the team run out right when it ends. The entrance should be a slow build to one giant burst of excitement.
We're the best third down team in the country because we have the best quarterback/receivers combination in the country. I would not be the least bit surprised to see us lead college football in third down conversion percentage this season.
The Dyer touchdown might have been the most excited I got all game. I think you're going to see him play a similar role on Saturday in that he'll be the third back in the game and probably won't get as many touches as Perry or Brown, but I'm still predicting that the UK game will be sort of his re-coming out party. I'll be surprised if Dyer isn't one of the biggest offensive stars on this team by the time mid-November rolls around.
Will Gardner looked light years ahead of where he was five months ago. People forget that the spring game was the first semi-live action he'd seen since the first game of his last high school season, which was in August of 2011. The kid has great vision, he still has the mobility that played a large part in him being offered a scholarship by Alabama, he has the arm strength to make all the throws Shawn Watson will ask him to, and now he has the confidence of having success in an actual college game.
This may be the guy asked to carry the baton for the Cards into the ACC, and if Sunday is any indication, the drop-off following Teddy's departure might not be as severe as some have been predicting.
Jarel McGriff-Culver was definitely excited about Will's debut. We can only hope that becomes a recurring thing.
It was incredibly hot. The fact that Charlie Strong wore a mock turtleneck and slacks was more incredible than anything that actually happened on the field. My forearms were almost unbelievably sweaty.
Mark Ennis and I had one of the guys from Smart Football on our radio show over the summer, and he said that the biggest problem he had with Louisville was that its running game was so predictable. He said that, despite having great backs, U of L basically ran the same five or six plays when it called runs and that was the biggest reason it struggled on the ground last season.
Having said that, I thought we mixed it up a little bit more on Sunday than we've seen in the past three openers. A prime example of that was the fake right, pitch left play we ran with Brandon Radcliff in the fourth quarter. More of that stuff should keep opposing defenses off balance and create even more opportunities for Ted to Ted.
My fan MVP performance of the year so far was calling the give to B.J. Butler on the 3rd and 1 where he shifted from tight end to fullback. Getting over-excited that I had correctly predicted a James Quick second quarter touchdown when it as actually DeLa Cruz kind of wiped that moment out.
The tip drill that resulted in Hakeem Smith making that ridiculous interception was easily the defensive highlight of the day. Even after the officially initially ruled that the ball had hit the ground, the entire defense was going crazy because so many different people had been involved in the play. Very cool moment.
It was also great seeing Michaelee Harris back on the field and in the box score. Here's hoping he can get himself near 100% by midseason because he's been a fantastic off-the-field leader for this team for the past two years and deserves his chance to shine on it.
The fans, the weather, the energy from the players, the buzz inside the stadium, the performance; it was all just about perfect. A friend texted me yesterday and described it as being like the pool party scene from Blow where, at least for a day, everything was right with the world.
I said before the game that I'd be stunned if this were a traditional blowout where the Cards dominated from start to finish, and that's exactly what happened. People can roll their eyes all they want, but Ohio is going to finish first or second in the MAC's East Division, and U of L treated them like they were DePaul. It was the completely dominant performance we waited for, but never received, all of last fall. That's more than slightly encouraging.
Coaches and players hate short weeks for obvious reasons, but for us they're pretty fantastic. I get giddy just thinking about how we get to do this all again in three short days.
It's football season in Louisville, and life is just fine.