I gave my preview of the Cards yesterday, but to get a better sense of what the Tops are up against, I did a Q&A session with mr Justin Krueger, aka @KruegerMania, who writes for a few different U of L sites. Namely, you can find a lot of his stuff on CardChronicle.com, home of SBN’s Louisville community.
For those that don’t know, I actually did my undergraduate work at Louisville and Justin and I are old friends/coworkers. Forgive me if I get a little nostalgic.
1. Following Lamar Jackson is a tough task. How’s Jawon Pass handling it?
Mentally, he’s been as ready as one can be, given the circumstances. On the field, it’s been a mixed bag for Puma. He had a decent performance against Alabama, given that he faced arguably the best team in the country.
Then came the Indiana State game. Puma was 8/14 for 89 yards, and threw an interception that led to Indiana State scoring their only touchdown. Louisville was having little success on offense until Bobby Petrino decided to pull him. Redshirt freshman Malik Cunningham came in the game and led Louisville to 24 second half points, scoring on four of his five drives.
It’s created discussion as to who should start, given Cunningham was so successful in his limited sample size. That said, Puma will be the starter on Saturday, but I’d expect Cunningham to play a little bit. There’s still time for Puma to right the ship and be the quarterback everyone believes he can be, but that window is closing.
2. Toss out the Alabama game. Louisville’s game against Indiana State seemed like it had some positives and negatives. What were your thoughts on how the Cards looked in that one?
I thought it was a shaky performance by Louisville. I understand that there were weather delays and it rained almost all night, but they definitely could have played better all-around.
I’ll start by sharing some positives I found. On offense, I like that Louisville has found themselves a capable backup quarterback. Cunningham was able to make plays with his feet and manage the short passing game well. Even if he doesn’t start, I think there is room for him to see the field in some package plays. Watching offensive tackle Mekhi Becton dive for a one-yard touchdown was worth staying until 1:00 a.m. to witness.
Rodjay Burns also had a punt return touchdown early in the game, and nearly had a second. With an offense that has lacked consistency so far, that certainly helps Louisville’s cause.
Defensively, I did like Louisville’s ability to rebound after a tough first half. There were times when Indiana State was having some success on the ground. But Louisville settled down once Cunningham was building momentum and made a lot of key stops, even when linebacker Dorian Etheridge exited the game with an injury. Indiana State hadn’t shown a lot of promise as a prominent passing team, so the fact they were one-dimensional made their jobs easier.
Now to where Louisville has room to grow. They absolutely need someone to break out at running back. He’s used as many as six or seven so far, from power runners like Dae Williams and Jeremy Smith to freshmen speedsters Hassan Hall and Javian Hawkins. Smith and Colin Wilson had some success last week, combining for 108 yards on 13 carries. If they can continue to build their momentum on Saturday, it’ll help Louisville build their offensive identity, and open things up for Puma and Louisville’s talented trio of receivers (Jaylen Smith, Seth Dawkins, and Dez Fitzpatrick).
On defense, the recipe for improvement is simple: they need to get pressure on the quarterback, and they need to play disciplined. With Jonathan Greenard out indefinitely due to a wrist injury, the Cards need someone like Tabarius Peterson or Jared Goldwire to step up in his absence. This is especially important, given that the Cards only have two sacks so far.
They’ve also had issues with discipline in recent years, and so far that remains an annoying trend. The Cards have 18 penalties already this season, most of which have extended drives and kept the offense off the field. Louisville is also -3 in turnover margin, so they need to find a way to improve that through pressure or their secondary making plays.
3. Who’s the MVP of the Cardinals defense this year?
I mentioned Jonathan Greenard earlier, he is definitely the “most valuable player” for Louisville’s defense in the most literal sense. He had 15.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks last season, and has the versatility to play at multiple spots on Louisville’s defensive line.
Given that he’s out indefinitely with a wrist injury, my nomination would go to linebacker Dorian Etheridge. The sophomore played all 13 games last year as a true freshman, and led the team in tackles. Given that Louisville has a lot of new pieces on their defense, he’s the glue holding them together right now.
4. Who wins this game and what will the final score be?
I think this is the perfect game for Louisville to get a lot of its issues fixed. WKU has had issues protecting Drew Eckels in the pocket, so this is the time for Louisville’s defensive line to step up, make plays and get some confidence back. I think Eckels (if he plays) and Lucky Jackson will get their share of points in this game. But if Puma comes to play, Louisville’s depth at wide receiver and their speed should score on WKU’s defense.
5. Is Mt. Fuji sauce still as delicious as I remember?
MAN! You brought this up, and I realized how long it’s actually been since I’ve had Mt. Fuji at UofL. I may actually have to get some tonight.
Yes, Mt. Fuji is still the bomb-dot-com. They have undoubtedly the best hibachi in the city of Louisville. Shrimp hibachi with the Fuji sauce is a must for me, every time.
I also did a Q&A with CC which you can read here.