It's finally here.
LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (0-0) vs. MIAMI HURRICANES (0-0)
Game Time: 8 p.m.
Location: Papa John's Cardinal Stadium: Louisville, Ky.
Announcers: Rece Davis (play-by-play), David Pollack (color analyst), Jesse Palmer (color analyst) and Samantha Ponder (sideline)
Favorite: Louisville by 3.5
All-Time Series: Miami leads 9-2-1
Last Meeting: Louisville won 36-9 in the 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl
Schedule of Events:
Via Keith Wynne
Miami will start the 2014 season hoping to have a better result than it did to end the 2013 season. Al Golden's offense was completely shutdown by Charlie Strong and Vance Bedford's frenetic defense. Golden and offense coordinator James Coley saw a promising season derailed when star running back Duke Johnson broke his ankle against Florida State. Without a big play option in the running game, the Hurricanes were forced to rely on the arm of Stephen Morris to get the ball outside to the other play makers outside. That is a less than ideal situation. The Louisville defense dominated, stuffing the running game and chasing Morris all over the backfield.
This year, Miami will enter the matchup with the Cards healthy and with a newly minted starting quarterback. True freshman Brad Kaaya has been named the starter and for the most part Miami fans seem to be very happy with that decision. Kaaya was the 7th ranked pocket passer in 247's composite rankings and his 93 rating was comparable to Teddy Bridgewater's 94 rating. An Elite 11 finalist, Kaaya is known for a big arm and good pocket presence. However, the first thing that jumps out on his film is his questionable footwork. Kaaya, doesn't always set his feet and sometimes throws the ball completely with his upper body. It worked fine in high school, but defenders are much faster and much more likely to make a play on a pass that floats even just a bit.
Reports out of Miami are that Kaaya won the starting job straight up over Jake Heaps. Heaps is easily the starting quarterback for the "That Guy is Still in College" all-star team, but he was beat out by the freshman after transferring in this summer. Heaps was a top rated recruit coming out of high school but struggled mightily after a stellar freshman season at BYU. If Kaaya falters. Heaps has the experience to handle the hostile crowd at Papa Johns. Losing out to a true freshman, however, leads me to think that he might not have the talent to lead the team to victory.
Miami's offense did an exceptional job last year with play-action. It wasn't much of a factor towards the end of the season but with Johnson and his career 6.3 yards per carry primed to return, the offense should be able to get back to making big plays. Johnson is an absolute dynamo in the backfield. He is a compact back that gets to top speed faster than any back in the country. Even though his top speed isn't as elite as some, he gets to the second and third level much quicker than most. Johnson also does a great job of keeping his top speed when he cuts and jukes. There's no wasted motion on his part at all. It's safe to say that if Miami had Johnson in the bowl game last season, the offense would have been much harder to stop.
True freshman Joseph Yearby and Gus Edwards are in line to be the second string running backs. Yearby is a super quick back in a similar mold of Johnson, while Edwards is a big bruiser type of back. The knock on Edwards is that he doesn't use his size well when he runs. At 235 pounds, he should be punishing tacklers but he tends to go down pretty easily. Yearby, on the other hand, is extremely hard to even get a hand on. His high school highlights are pretty mesmerizing. Either back should see the field Monday night if Golden and Coley want to keep Johnson fresh for the fourth quarter.
One thing that Miami teams are known for is an abundance of speed and this 2014 team is not lacking in that area. Stacy Coley was the only player in the country to score touchdowns four different ways last season and that was as a true freshman. Coley is a threat to score every time he touches the ball and they do a great job of finding different ways to utilize him. Coley will be used on quick screens, end arounds, as well as deep posts. Coley will line up in the slot as well as outside. It will be interesting to see what Todd Grantham chooses to do if Miami spreads the field with Coley lined up in the slot.Terrell Floyd is a really good in man coverage, but Coley's speed might be a problem.
Coley will line up with veterans Herb Waters, Phillip Dorsett, and Malcolm Lewis. Most say that Dorsett is the fastest player at Miami and he seems to back that up on film and on the stat sheets. Dorsett missed a lot of time last year, but his 21 yards per catch is eye-popping no matter what. Lewis also spent last season banged up but Canes fans are hopeful that the former four star prospect can help lessen the blow from the loss of Alan Hurns. Waters is the biggest of the receivers at 6-2. He is a former Louisville target and former teammate of James Burgess. Waters has made a handful of big plays for the offense, but he isn't the burner that the other receivers are.
Clive Walford returns as the only player that had an offensive play for more than 25 yards in the bowl game. Walford is not a burner by any means but he does a good job carving out space in zones. I think that Louisville's linebackers will do well in coverage this year which should help keep Walford at bay. I'm sure Kaaya will have a good amount of plays called to get the ball out quick to the tight end and running backs to get him comfortable.
Miami's offensive line was one of the most talented Louisville faced last year and they were made to look like a group of guys that had never played together. With the loss of two starters to the NFL the thought would normally be that the offense should need to regroup a bit. However, the feeling out of Miami is that the line should be better this year. Seniors John Feliciano and Shane McDermott will anchor the interior of an athletic line that does a great job getting out on stretch runs as well as quick screens. Ereck Flowersis somewhat overlooked in the ACC because of the stellar play of some of the more well known guys in the conference. Flowers might have been the best player on the line last year and he will be a key matchup with Lorenzo Mauldin. Right guard will likely be manned by Danny Isidora while the right tackle spot is still somewhat up for grabs. Incoming freshman KC McDermott is battling Taylor Gadbois for the starting spot. Gadbois has the experience while McDermott is one of the top rated offensive lineman in this past year's class.
KEY PLAYERS: RB Duke Johnson, WR Stacy Coley, LT Ereck Flowers, TE Clive Walford, WR Phillip Dorsett
Miami's defense gave up 554 total yards in the Russel Athletic Bowl last season with most of that yardage coming through the air. For Al Golden to start off the 2014 with a win, his defense will have to be able to stop an offense that returns all but three starters from that same team. With three of the top five tacklers from last season are either gone or out for the game, Golden will be looking to see if his strong recruiting will pay off for him.
The weak spot of Miami's defense last season was obviously the front four. The starting defensive tackles totaled less tackles for loss on the season than Louisville's linebackers did in the bowl game alone. Size wasn't much of an issue as the tackles were both 300 pounders and defensive end Anthony Chickillo is 282 pounds himself. But for whatever reason, teams didn't have much of a problem running the ball last year. With what is expected to be a much better running attack for Louisville this year, Olsen Pierre andCalvin Heurtelou must do a better job getting penetration in the middle of the field. If not, Louisville will at the very least be able to get themselves into third and medium/short situations which is what they need with a young quarterback.
The other issue with the front four is the lack of a pass rush. The defense only got a few sacks out of it's starters and a good amount of its total sacks came in garbage minutes for backups. No defense works without some sort of pass rush. It doesn't mean that the play actually needs to be made on the quarterback, but there has to be some sort of pressure or distraction. Without it, quarterbacks are allowed to go through their progressions and find the open target. It also leads to your defensive backs trying to keep up with receivers for a much longer time. This defense is not very blitz heavy and it is a must that the defensive ends get up field and disrupt the passing game. That wasn't the case last season. Newcomers Trent Harris and Chad Thomas will be counted on to come in and immediately make plays. Thomas is a five star prospect that has the size and athleticism to be used immediately on third downs. Harris looks like he might actually get the start as the rush end opposite Chickillo after having a strong camp. Returners Tyriq McCord andAl-Quadin Muhammad combined for six sacks last year and both will likely be in the rotation along with the freshmen. If there is a positive for Miami, its that there is much better depth on the edges this year.
The unquestioned leader of this team is outside linebacker Denzel Perryman. The somewhat undersized linebacker passed up the opportunity to play in the NFL to improve his draft stock from a third round grade. He returns after making 108 tackles and 5 tackles for loss. He will be moving to middle linebacker this year after playing outside last season. Perryman is considered the top linebacker in the ACC by voters even though he didn't put up the most impressive numbers. Perryman will line up next toThurston Armbrister who has the name of a Duke lacrosse player. Armbrister is an athletic outside linebacker that can run extremely well. The issue is that he doesn't really do much else very well. He is decent in coverage but he just doesn't have that instinctive ability to read plays and make a play on the ball. A summer knowing that he is the starter could possibly change that. Either Raphael Kirby or Jermaine Grace are likely to take over the open weaskide outside linebacker spot. Grace was one of a few players that Miami and Louisville battled for on the recruiting trail. He's an undersized linebacker that could do well in a spot where he won't have to take on as many blockers. Kirby, who is more likely to start, hasn't done much at his time at Miami, but he has been sitting behind much more experienced players.
Where Miami's defense really struggled in last year's meeting was in the defensive backfield. The group got somewhat of a face lift over the summer with Dallas Crawfordmoving back free safety and Deon Bush pretty much being penciled in as a full time starter next to him. Crawford is probably best remembered by Cards fans for getting annihilated twice by James Burgess when he was a running back. The fact that he was moved back to safety is either a good sign for the running back depth or a bad sign for the group of safeties that includes former four-star Jamal Carter. The fact that Crawford looks to have been a starter even before Rayshawn Jenkins was lost for the season leads me to think it's the latter. Bush is a playmaker that showed his ability when he sackedTeddy Bridgewater for a safety in the bowl game. He also picked off Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston last year. Carter was the heir apparent to Gerrod Holliman in high school and was a highly regarded recruit last year. I wouldn't be surprised to see the three of them rotate in some way.
Tracy Howard and Ladarius Gunter would likely like to forget the bowl game all together. DeVante Parker got a lot of publicity for having a monster game, but the entire group of receivers found themselves open for the majority of the game. Throw in an inexperienced Artie Burns and there wasn't a single cornerback for Miami that could hold their head high by the end of the game. Gunter ended up with 3 PBUs and 6 tackles, but no one was able to make a play that really impacted the game. As I stated before, the lack of a pass rush should take plenty of the blame for hanging these guys out to dry. However, there were plenty of plays where receivers were wide open on three-step drops. With an offensive system that focuses much more on deeper route combinations and working different levels, it will be a long night for these defensive backs if they can't at least stay with a very talented group of receivers.
KEY PLAYERS: MLB Denzel Perryman, DE Anthony Chickillo, CB Tracy Howard, CB Ladarius Gunter, FS Dallas Crawford
Excitement Level: 9.6
I mean, it doesn't get much better than this as far as season opener's are concerned. ACC debut, national holiday, a premier program coming to town, and the entire nation watching on the only Monday Night Football of the college season.
Conference championship implications? Recruiting? The growth and national perception of the program? Forget about that for a while, just dream with me. Anything's possible at this moment, and that's pretty cool.
Wherever you are, enjoy the day.
Pregame Meal: Chips, dip, pasta salad, burgers, queso, other assorted tailgate foods, grown-up water...cookie cake. It's all happening.
Game Attire: Black 2013 national championship polo, black and white L hat, red Cardinal bird shoes.
I seriously, seriously debated going with the (formerly?) cursed black Art Carmody jersey, but I'd never be able to forgive myself if we lost and I had to throw it for a fourth time. National championship polo has treated me well in non-game situations before this, so I trust it's ready for the big stage.
Bold Prediction: Louisville runs a gadget play to perfection
Petrino has apologized to Cardinal fans with words a number of times now, but something unspoken like this would probably mean more to a large chunk of the fan base. A perfectly scripted opening drive would also suffice.
Predicted Star of the Game: Gerald Christian
You could put every starter's name into a hat for a blind draw and make a case for just about any name you'd pull out, but I'm going with Christian. He's been discussed all summer long as a potential breakout star, and he more than lives up to that hype on week one.
Griffin Uhl Playing Alert Level: Atomic Tangerine (no idea, but I'm going to say...good?)
Motivational Opposing Player Tweet:
I expected a lot more from Miami, but the Canes have been quiet all week, which means we have to reach back to this Denzel Perryman quote from the ACC Kickoff.
We'll toss this in for good measure:
--Miami is 60-27-1 all-time in season-openers.
--Louisville is 51-38-6 all-time in season-openers.
--After failing to defeat Miami in their first 10 meetings, Louisville has won its last two games against the Hurricanes by a combined score of 67-16.
--Louisville was 22-1 under Bobby Petrino from 2003-06. Over that span, the Cards scored 40 or more points 16 times.
--Louisville will wear all black Monday night and fans are encouraged to do the same. Miami will counter with white tops, dark green bottoms and dark green helmets.
--U of L is 2-1 all-time in "Black Out" games at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
--This will be the third time in program history that U of L has opened a season with a conference game, and the first time since 1973. The Cards are 1-1 in those situations all-time.
--Miami's Duke Johnson needs 133 yards to become the ninth 2,000-yard rusher in school history.
--Louisville wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas played for Miami from 1988-1992. He left as the school's all-time leader in receptions (144) and helped the Canes win national championships in 1989 and 1991. He was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame in 2013.
--Miami coach Al Golden is 0-2 against Louisville, with one loss being a 62-0 throttling at the hands of Petrino's 2006 Cardinal team, and the other being last season's Russell Athletic Bowl.
--A two-year starter at cornerback, Louisville's Terrell Floyd will start at safety for the Cards against Miami.
--Bobby Petrino is 1-1 all-time against Miami, with both of those games coming during his first tenure at Louisville.
--Miami's Brad Kaaya will be the first true freshman quarterback for the Hurricanes since Jacory Harris got the nod against Charleston Southern on Aug. 28, 2008.
--Louisville's current six-game win streak is tied for the fourth-longest in the FBS.
--Louisville is 23-3 over the last two seasons, the fifth-best record in the country over that time.
--Miami's Stacy Coley was the only FBS player to score a TD four different ways (rush, receiving, punt return, kick return) in 2013.
--Louisville is 2-3 all-time in games played on Monday, with their most recent appearance being a 35-24 loss to Virginia Tech in the 2006 Gator Bowl.
--Louisville has 20 players on its roster that hail from either Miami-Dade, Broward or Palm Beach counties.
--Dating back to 1980, Louisville is 143-15 when scoring 30 or more points in a game.
--"I've always enjoyed opening with a game that had a lot at stake. This is a great opener for us, to be able to play on a Monday night on national TV." --Bobby Petrino
--"Honestly, I just remember them trying to run the score up - just disrespecting us pretty much. I just feel like they were out there talking a lot of trash or what not because they've got a lot players on their team from here. It's a competition thing." --Miami cornerback Corn Elder
--"We have to take care of our business, not worry about anybody else's." --Miami coach Al Golden
--"I feel like I have a good grasp of the offense and the defenses that we'll see and make good decisions. It's tough when you lose a guy like DeVante. But with the guys we have at receiver, I know they're going to step up and have a great game against Miami." --Will Gardner
--"The quarterback will not have all the pressure. I will accept that role." --Miami RB Duke Johnson
--"Duke Johnson is one of the best running backs in the country. It's certainly going to be a great challenge for us." --Bobby Petrino
--"No matter who you're playing or what you're doing, you have to stop the run. Obviously if you have a guy as talented as him back there, you'll want to run it, so we have to make sure we play team defense and know ... we have to set the edges on the defense and build a wall on the outside." --Todd Grantham
--"I think we're going to be an awesome team. We have weapons on both sides of the ball." --Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya
--"We've tried to make our players understand, they're two completely different teams. We have a different offense, a different defense; they have a different quarterback and some of the same guys back on defense. But it's two totally different teams and it's going to be a battle. We have to go out there and perform well, play with great intensity and try to find a way to win the game in the fourth quarter." --Bobby Petrino
--"Bobby Petrino knows how to win. We have no worries, no doubts at all. His past is the past, but everybody deserves a second chance. I trust in him. The fans love him. The players love him." --Lorenzo Mauldin
--"That's the challenge we have to answer. We can talk about it all we want, but at the end of the day, there's a great challenge and I thought they improved in the spring, I thought they started to play together a lot more. I thought there was more harmony. I think our tackling was better. So at the end of the day, it's going to be about going out there and proving it. What better opportunity to go against a prolific offense that Louisville has? It's going to be a great challenge for us on Monday night." --Al Golden
CC Prediction: Louisville 27, Miami 24
I've admitted it before and I'll admit it again: I have absolutely no idea what to expect on the field tonight. But I'm awfully excited about it.
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