Or why its still our Keg.
This is one of my favorite games each and every year. In addition to contesting a trophy which is the ultimate expression in badassery, it is two long term rivals that share a similar mindset and history, simultaneously separated and united by the Ohio River. That makes and interesting and fascinating long term history. The game this year will defiantly have a different vibe to it. It will be the first Keg of Nails contest for both Butch Jones and Charlie Strong, the second time in 4 years that this has happened, it will be the first time it is contested in the newly expanded Cardinal Stadium. So even for a game which carries a very high level of interest and intrigue at any time, it will undoubtedly be a touch higher than in previous years.
The biggest news out of Louisville has to be the hiring of Charlie Strong the former Defensive Coordinator at Florida. He has certainly energized the fan base in Louisville, ticket sales are up over the last year of the Steve Kragthorpe era. He has designs on recruiting in the city of Cincinnati, he even flipped a couple of UC commits late in the process bringing Dominique Brown and Preston Brown down to Louisville. In a nutshell Charlie Strong is the best thing that UofL fans could hope for in their attempts to forget the unmitigated disaster that was the Steve Kragthorpe era. Though at this point all the good work he has done has been off the field, and Louisville is a very results orientated place.
Strong has put together a very good young staff, though the biggest name outside of coaching circles is Mike Sanford who compiled a 16-43 record with nary a winning record in 5 seasons as the head coach of UNLV. Sanford is best known not for his offensive and/or game planning prowess, but for petulantly and spectacularly losing his shit following a "controversial" 16-10 loss to Iowa State in 2006. The point is that Strong has put together a good staff, most of whom have earned their stripes in the pressure packed coaching crucible known as the SEC. But there is going to be a learning curve, a pretty big one.
The learning curve will surely be exacerbated by the talent level on hand in Louisville. Its not entirely his fault, most of the upperclassmen on the roster are products of Bobby Petrino's last recruiting cycle in 2007, you know the one where his foot was already out the door and he forsook recruiting almost entirely. That was quickly followed up with a couple of years of the Kragthorpe recruiting like he was still at Tulsa in his two full cylces, just loading up his classes with JUCO's. In the world of college football recruiting, filling a class with over 20 or 25 per cent JUCO prospects is the act of a desperate man. In 2008 Krags signed 11, in 2009 he signed 9. Thats 20 JUCO's out of a possible 55. So he tried to sacrifice the long term health of the program to win right away. And then he didn't win. Anything. So strong has been blessed with a pretty barren cupboard in Louisville where he no doubt discovered that there is a big difference between Bradnon Spikes and Brandon Heath.
It is hard to predict what Louisville will look like on offense. Sanford ran the spread at UNLV, but he didn't do it all that well. It wasn't a case where an innovative and creative force on offense was shackled to a bad defense. UNLV vacillated between dreadful and throughly average in the years of his stewardship. The only link he has with the people that are shaping the offensive revolution in College Football was two seasons in Salt Lake City with Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen coaching the Utes. The offense will be spread based, but I have no idea what his iteration of the spread will be with the talent on hand in Derby City.
On defense I have a better idea based on what he ran at Florida. They will be in a 4-3 the majority of time, they don't blitz a ton, but do run quite a few games with their defensive lines. He believes in getting pressure with your front and playing tough hard nosed man to man defense in the secondary. They will mix in some zone from time to time, but it seems like the only reason they played zone at Florida was to make their zone blitz's that they had in their package work. You have to think that the version of Strong's defense at Louisville will be pretty massively scaled down from the group at Florida. For a start this is the first year in a brand new system for the players, second they don't really have the type of corners needed to play the scheme they used last year at Florida. Johnny Patrick is a very nice corner back for them, be he is a man apart in that secondary. But the biggest reason Strong will scale down his defense a bit is that the Cards just don't have the talent or, more importantly, the depth to do some of the things he did with the Gators. Strong prefers to play a lot of guys in his front seven to get maximum production out of the them. He can't really do that with Louisville. Not only are the starters several notches below what he deployed for the Gators, but the depth is pretty non existent.
Charlie Strong is a good coach for the job, but the job he has, getting the Ville back on top of the Big East, is pretty massive. Louisville does have some players on board Victor Anderson is a very nice back and Doug Beaumont is a pretty explosive target at receiver. Though he has started 24 games without hauling in even one TD. The QB situation is a bit dicey but Adam Froman should start. The line brings back four starters and should be better, if only because the standard it set last year was so low. On defense UofL was not that bad last year, but they will take a pretty large step back this time. In addition to the inherent continuity issues anytime a new staff takes over, new schemes, new techniques and what not just four starters return from last years group. Greg Scruggs, Malcum Tatum, Brandon Heath and the aforementioned Johnny Patrick. Things are definatly looking brighter for the Cardinals under Strong, but the payoff is pretty far on the horizon.