On paper this is the best offense that UC has seen to date. They have good to great numbers across the board 46th in scoring offense, 18th in rushing offense, 41st in passing, and 21st in total offense. I don't think that they have the most talent, that distinction is still held in my mind by either Oklahoma or NC State, but they are undeniably effective. In some ways this offense is reminiscent of the days of Bobby Petrino. They don't quite have the same all conquering levels of talent, but it was never really the talent that set Petrino's squads apart on offense, it was the balance.
Petrino's season long goal was for his offense to achieve almost perfect balance. His ideal offense would be one that averaged 250 yards rushing and passing. That level of balance coupled with his love of multiple personal packages and and a quick pace made those Cardinal squads neigh indefensible. Mike Sanford, the new OC, doesn't have Petrino's flair or pedigree, but has fashioned something formidable on offense made up of parts left over from last years disaster.
Louisville has 56/44 run/pass balance which is very good. But they are a running team first and foremost. The offense revolves around Bilal Powell at running back. He is easily the most surprising name at the top of the Big East rushing charts heading into the meat of the Big East Schedule. Louisville will some zone read, and Adam Froman is a competent runner, but they won't beat anyone over the head with QB runs. The Ball goes to Powell on 48 per cent of all runs.
The Cardinal's passing game has the potential to be good independent of the running game, like the Oregon State game, where Powell was limited to 83 yards and 1 TD on 20 carries, by far his, and the run games, lowest output of the season. That was also a relatively strong game for Adam Froman. From what I have seen both last season and this year Froman has the tools to carry an offense for stretches, but he isn't the type of QB that you give the ball to and tell him to make plays. That isn't a slight on him, but he is pretty clearly better with a strong running game than without.
In the receiving core there are some players in there, though the loss of Doug Beaumont for round about half the season has clearly had an effect. #27 is still the receiving yards per game leader by nearly 30 yards over Josh Bellamy, the lightly regarded JUCO transfer. After Bellamy and his 15 receptions the next leading WR playing Friday is Andrell Smith who has caught 5 balls for 66 yards for the season with one score, last week against Memphis. The Cardinals do have some talented Tight Ends in Cameron Graham and Josh Chichester. Two interesting notes on Chichester, 1 he has a last name that sounds like the name of a gang from Gangs of New York, 2 he has finally moved down to TE after looking like a baby giraffe playing as a wideout the last two years. Apparently playing a 6'8" 240 pound guy at TE instead of receiver was a logical bridge too far for Steve Kragthorpe.
The Cardinal's offensive line is a vastly improved bunch this season, Dave Borbley has certainly earned his keep this season. The three most important metrics for getting a handle on the ability of an offensive line are sacks and TFL's allowed per game, and then team Yards Per Carry. Sacks are way down, Tackles For Loss are way down, and YPC is up almost two yards from last season. I would have a hard time arguing that this is the most talented offensive line UC has faced, that is probably Oklahoma or maybe Fresno State, but I have no trouble saying that to this point UofL's line has been the most productive.
This is going to be a good test for the UC defense, particularly the run defense. Bilal Powell has found a groove and is running behind a very good line. But I think the UC run defense will be up to it. I don't share Brian Bennetts sentiments about the run D. I still think that most teams are going to struggle to run against UC because of the strength of the defensive tackles, Derek Wolfe is a walking double team and John Hughes has become a very potent run stuffer at the off tackle spot. And with the way this defense is built with smaller, faster linebackers and Wes Richardson filling the ally from his safety spot it is very hard to get outside on this defense with the running game. UofL will be a challenge but this defense is, in theory, up to the task.
Preview of the Cardinal's defense coming tomorrow.