Winner gets the girl at the homecoming dance: a Louisville-UConn preview

Ah, the heady days of 2007.

Back before Louisville collapsed in on itself like so many red dwarfs (the star, not the British TV show), UConn fans were chanting "BCS! BCS!" on the concourse of Rentschler Field after the win over the Cardinals. I know, I was there. Though I was not one of the students who stupidly threw their furry blue-white hats onto the field in protest of a bad call. Thus, my head may stay warm and be sponsored by AT&T whenever I wish.

But I digress.

The win over Louisville was a huge deal. This was, after all, a team with an NFL-ready quarterback who went 12-1 the year before. They'd been upset by Kentucky and Syracuse, but surely, we thought beforehand, they'd right the ship against a vanilla UConn team.

We thought wrong.

As you all know, during the game, Larry Taylor waved to his invisible friend who was also on the football field, confusing UofL's punt coverage (HAHA STUPID LOUISVILLE PLAYERS FOLLOWING THE LETTER OF THE RULES). And a year later, we graciously apologized on behalf of all UConn fans.

Of course, what nobody remembers is Louisville blowing a 17-7 fourth-quarter lead to Capt. Noodle Arm (By the way, I can't tell you how happy it makes me that this blog comes up #1 when Google searching "Noodle Arm Tyler Lorenzen."). UConn drove all over the Cards in the fourth quarter, and their defense shut down Brian Brohm's desperation drive to seal the win.

UConn escaped with a 21-17 win, a 5-1 record and dreams of greater glories that would last about six more weeks before West Virginia taught a 3-hour Ph.D course in regression to the mean.

UConn's rise to above-averageness began on a rainy homecoming Friday night. That game, followed by the program-making victory over USF, also turned Rentschler Field into semi-OK off-campus facility into a Rain-God Temple/Fortress.

Two years later, the Cardinals return for the first time amidst a rare one-game winning streak.

It's homecoming. And it's going to rain. Only this time, UConn is expected to win. Will they? Let's find out in this super-mega-sized preview of today's game, below the jump:

The game: UConn (3-2, 0-1 Big East) at Louisville (2-3, 0-1 Big East)

The place: The Runway, E. Hartford

The time: Noon

The media: MyTV9, SNY, or wherever you get your Big East Game of the Week (TV), WTIC 1080-AM, WHUS 91.7 FM (radio)

The Vegas favorite: UConn, by 11.

According to the BigEastSportsBlog (SUBTLE LINK EXCHANGE REQUEST), these two teams are among the most underrated by Vegas. So...bet the under?

Series history: Louisville leads, 3-2

Last meeting: UConn 26, Louisville 21 (Sept. 26, 2008 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, Louisville)

We reacted with measured enthusiasm after Lawrence Wilson's pick-six improved the Huskies' record to 5-0.

The Cardinals, in a historical sense: Louisville football has a weird parallel with their basketball team, in that arguably the best player from each program (Johnny Unitas and Wes Unseld) played in the 50's, and both teams were starting to get really good around the turn of the millenium. All parallels between the teams ceased sometime in 2006, except for the one where UConn owns them in every major sport.

Notable Alumni: Porter will appreciate seeing Elvis Dumervil's name on the blog, but Louisville's got quite their share of non-Bronco NFL contributors: David Akers, Deion Branch and big Ted Washington, to name three.

Also, they graduated Connecticut senator Chris Dodd, which really is enough to declare any and all UofL degrees worthless. Yeah, Connecticut elected him, but they're about to unelect him in favor of Vince McMahon's wife. (Undertaker for Minister of Education/Darkness!)

Check out the game notes: Here for UConn; here for Louisville.

Preview Weekish Capsule: Here’s everything else we thought you needed to know about the Cards in August.

What Changed Since Then: Not a whole lot. When you think about what's happened since 2006, Louisville's fall is sort of tragic. But now, the program appears to be in a slow, monotonous descent which will continue until a new, evil-doll-like coach can be found.

On the field, the Cards' offense has regressed more than I thought. RB Victor Anderson, pretty much a consensus All-Big East preseason pick, has just 73 yards per game and four touchdowns in five games.

The quarterback situation is now officially worse than UConn's - ouch - with Justin Burke tossing more interceptions than touchdowns.

After an injury, Burke gave way to Adam Froman two weeks ago, and the numbers are slightly better (414 yards, 57% completions, 1 TD, 1 INT in two games) against solid competition.

The defense is about as bad as we thought it would be. The Cards have allowed 160 rushing yards to everyone not named Indiana State (which is an 0-6 I-AA team which has scored a grand combined total of 7 points in the four games since losing to Louisville. ISU scored 10 against the Cards.)

Absurdly, opponent quarterbacks are completing more than 70 percent of passes (not counting ISU) for ~215 ypg against the UofL defense. To give you perspective, Colt McCoy is completing 73.4 percent of his passes. So it's sort of like he's playing Louisville every week.

Media matters:

  • The computers inside Phil Steele's brain have UConn as a unanimous winner.
  • ESPN's Brian Bennett likes UConn by 10
  • After inspiring a rant in this week's RoundUp, Des Conner says this game will show if UConn can step up. I disagree. It can only show if UConn steps down.
  • Chip from the Register says UConn can't overlook the Cards, or else their season's over. More on this later.
  • The guys at the Daily Campus put out a football extra with some interesting featurey stuff, so check that out.
  • The AP preview is a game preview by the Associated Press. Feel the genericity!
  • The Courier-Journal does not like Louisville's chances, saying the "last two meetings with Connecticut came down to fourth-quarter scores. The Cardinals can only hope that happens Saturday." At least there don't seem to be any lame AVENGE THE UNFAIR CATCH columns this year.
  • Lastly, and certainly not leastly, our buddies at Card Chronicle are not looking forward to this game, or any game involving Steve Kragthorpe. Which poses a problem, since they're Louisville fans and all. Also of note: they can't look forward to games, they can't look backwards, so they're stuck in a weird dimension where soccer is king. Don't worry guys - UConn is going to beat you in that sport, too.

Offense vs. Louisville defense:

Five weeks into the season, I am decidedly optimistic with how the offense is progressing.

Cody Endres has looked - dare I say it - serviceable as a BCS-level quarterback these last few weeks. He threw for nearly 300 yards against Rhode Island (completing 23 of 30 passes) and was efficient against Pittsburgh (17-23, 197, TD). And he threw a beauty of a play-action bomb to Marcus Easley for pretty much the best passing play in UConn history post-2004.

He's already thrown as many TDs as Tyler Lorenzen did last year, and he hasn't thrown one interception (which earned him a mention in Pat Forde's ESPN column this week.) That discounts his catastrophic fumble in field goal range last week, but on the whole Endres has done all that can be asked of a sophomore. He's the right choice at quarterback until he gets a bad case of interceptionitis.

Last week, his performance should have been enough to lead UConn to a solid road win, but as it turns out he needed to make a big play in the fourth quarter. And he didn't. Not his fault. Endres just isn't capable of being the "guy who makes plays" at this point in his career. He needs help, and Edsall's continuing reliance on Formula 2007 apparently won't cut it.

Luckily, he'll get help this week in the form of a poor Louisville defense, as noted above. This is one of the few teams UConn should score in bunches against. Andre Dixon, who has been getting an ever-increasing number of carries each week compared to Jordan Todman, figures to have a big game.

The pair are averaging 180 yards per game, although Todman has been mostly quiet since the Ohio win.

And it feels so long ago, but Dixon actually was enormous in the 2007 game: 115 yards and the game-winning touchdown run.

The gameplan remains the same for UConn's offense: run, run, maybe pass. In the rain and cold, against this defense, it should be enough to score 28-35 points.

Advantage: UConn

Defense vs. Louisville offense:

I'm not sure I agree with Shuttlesworth's contention that UConn's defense is a bunch of choke artists. They're just tired.

In the first few quarters, UConn's defense is very good. But because they run a no-huddle offense (and crucially, a low-octane one at that), the defense is on the field more often than not (usually with no change in the score).

You can get away with that against Baylor and Ohio, but Pitt and (to a lesser extent) UNC are fairly legit teams with athletes everywhere. The latter two were able to wear down UConn over three quarters and embark on long scoring drives, coming up big on a handful of plays against a tired defense.

This is my suspicion, anyway. I don't know exactly what methodology I'd need to prove it with numbers, but this is the sense I get from watching and reading.

So, Louisville, there's your gameplan. You've got an enormous O-line (four 300-pounders, four fellows at 6-5 or taller) to use against UConn's speedy, undersized defensive line. UConn is short on linebackers and Lutrusity once again, thanks to Scott Lutrus's stinger reoccurance.

And you've got Victor Anderson, the reigning Big East rookie of the year who can do crazy silly things if he finds an open hole. If Louisville can pound on the UConn D-line and run the ball effectively (Pitt did this spectacularly well in the second half), they can hang around, wait for the UConn offense to trip over its own two feet, and see if they can't make something happen in the evil fourth quarter.

Do I think this will happen? Not really. But for some reason, Louisville's lingering reputation as a dynamic offense remains with me.

The smart money says Kragthorpe's playcalling will be predictable and UConn's defense will give them a quite reasonable amount of hell. So that's what I'm going with. I swear, if this is the one game where Kragthorpe decides to be a Division I head coach...

Advantage: UConn

Special teams and coaching: Did you see that video at the top? I shouldn't even have to go further before giving this one to UConn.

Anyway, UConn's special teams hasn't been godawful to this point, much to my surprise. The coverage teams rank in the top half of Division I (punt coverage, 31st; kick coverage, 51st). The return teams are slightly more mediocre (punt returns, 63rd; kick returns, 48th).

On the plus side, Desi Cullen is Kentucky Hammering his way up to 22nd in the country in punt yardage. Cullen is also 12th in the country in kickoff yardage, meaning he's (theoretically) pinning teams deep in their own end. PK Dave Teggart is 5-for-7, with misses coming from 42 and 45.

Decent, solid, unspectacular, and 150% better than previous years.

As opposed to the Cardinals, who are 69th in punt coverage and a grotesque 116th in kick return average. It'll be interesting to watch if UConn can win the field position battle consistently.

Louisville's kick return team is ranked 9th in the country (28 per return), so maybe they'll just keep returning kickoffs for TDs for 60 minutes.

Oh, and as for coaching, FireRandyEdsall.com has not been active for two years. We win.

Advantage: UConn

The prediction:

This is a game UConn has to win. A loss here, given the remaining schedule, could mean the Huskies will miss a bowl game. A win keeps them right on schedule for 7-5, as predicted here.

UConn is better in at least two and a half phases of the game. Louisville is at a local maximum of pleasure after beating Southern Miss, but they continue to trend down. It's at home. It's homecoming weekend. It'll be raining. It's coming off of a frustrating blown loss seven days ago.

If a dead guy were trying to contact us via Ouija board, I'm sure these are the signals he would be sending to communicate the coming UConn win.

Far be it to ignore that dead guy. It might be George Washington, for all I know.

UConn 34, Louisville 21

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