Today we conclude our Q&A with SBN sister site, Card Chronicle. John Powell (CardinalStrong) has been beyond gracious with his time in giving us a peek behind the curtains of Alabama’s first opponent of the 2018 season.
Again, thanks to everyone for their time and work.
6. Few teams have been as intrepid conference-hoppers as the Cardinals have. Football-wise, I’m trying to decide where Louisville’s natural rivalries lie in the ACC — except perhaps FSU. Who have the Cardinals developed some bad blood with? Who do the fans think of as their primary rivals and what makes them so bad? Can we at least agree that Clemson fans are awful?
When the Cards joined the ACC, the natural progression of the fan base was to “rival” with FSU and Clemson, two foes in the ACC Atlantic they would play every single season and the two teams considered top dogs in the conference.
For the first three seasons in the ACC, the talk was literally reserved to how the Cards would play in those two games. “Can we split FSU-Clemson this year?” “Can we take both games this year to get over the hump?” Even being new to the conference, it was assumed that Louisville could handle the also-rans in the Atlantic with ease, and frankly, they did. In the first three seasons in the ACC (2014-2016) UofL lost only two conference games to teams not named Clemson or FSU.
If I’m being honest, I think the FSU “rivalry” lost some luster the last couple seasons as the Cards demolished them in 2016 on the national stage and stole another win last year in Doak, with a team that really wasn’t playing great. With Willie Taggert taking over down there I assume they’ll start ascending once again and maybe those feelings change but right now, I’m looking forward to playing NC State more.
Clemson, on the other hand (shaking my head). They are the Eddie Haskell of football. Our first season in the ACC they could not have been nicer or more welcoming to Louisville as a whole. The Cards went into Death Valley, stared at that dumb rock, listened to the extra crowd noise they piped into the stadium, and gave away a victory with some poor clock management in 2014, losing 23-17. In 2015, same song, different verse as the Cards were knocking on the doorsteps with seconds left and couldn’t close the deal, losing 20-17. The 2016 game was primetime, two top 10 teams, Lamar vs. Deshaun Watson and, wait for it….the Cards couldn’t hold off a late score from Clemson and lost 42-36. This game had a few questionable calls and the niceties between the two fan bases had finally subsided. Louisville fans weren’t feeling the “good game” back slaps anymore and the elitist attitude as if they’ve got decades and decades of winning tradition stacked against little ol’ Louisville.
I won’t speak for everyone but I know took a little bonus pleasure in watching Clemson fans cry (and continue to cry) about Lamar winning the Heisman over Deshaun in 2016. While I find it difficult to view as a true rivalry considering the Cards have yet to beat them since joining the ACC, the disdain is alive and well.
I say all this of course speaking strictly to conference rivals. I tread lightly bringing this up, as I know 90% of Kentucky basketball fans also just so happen to be Alabama football fans (eye roll,) but UK is and will always be Rival #1. Even though the Cards have won 6 of the last 7, and 13 of the last 19, it never gets old beating up on the ‘Cats.
7. The receiving corps for the Cardinals is excellent, and require no introduction. And, we know Bobby’s MO around these parts: Run enough to make a pretense of balance, but his heart lies with the forward pass. So, what should Alabama fans know about Louisville’s running game?
Just like Alabama, it will be a running back by committee approach in 2018. Last season the Cards running back room could have been a M.A.S.H. unit for two-thirds of the season, as Dae Williams, Jeremy Smith, and Colin Wilson all suffered what the coaches envisioned to be season-ending injuries at one point or another. The Cards were forced to play Reggie Bonnafon, a young man who was their starting QB just two seasons prior, at running back because they didn’t have the bodies during the spring. He held onto the job all year but even the biggest Reggie supporters knew it wasn’t his natural position.
With a healthy Dae Williams and Colin Wilson back. they will look to split the load with RS Junior Trey Smith (son of former Jaguar Jimmy Smith) who has stepped into a leadership role as an upperclassman and looking to make a name for himself out of the backfield. While all three are capable backs, I personally like Dae Williams’ downhill approach and aggressiveness.
If I’m Alabama I’m not overly concerned with any of those three beating you by running down your throat. My concern would be keeping an eye on freshman backs Javian Hawkins and Hassan Hall. Both can absolutely fly and can turn a five-yard bubble screen into a 60-yard touchdown, quick. Petrino has placed a big emphasis the last two recruiting cycles on getting speed at all positions and both Hawkins and Hall fit that mold.
8. Louisville makes this a one-possession game late in the fourth quarter, and the Cards have the ball and a chance to win. What have the Cardinals done to get there, and who is the improbable MVP going into the final possession?
It’s hard for me to envision Louisville in a tight battle in the fourth unless Puma Pass plays incredible. I don’t mean that he needs to drop 500 yards and 3 touchdowns; I mean he needs to manage a nearly-flawless offensive gameplan from Petrino, where they hit the short routes, bang 3- or 4-yard gains on the ground, mix in an occasional deep shot, stretch the field and hopefully the game clock. Jaylen Smith (if healthy), Seth Dawkins, and Dez Fitzpatrick, as you referenced above, may be a Top 5 wide receiving unit in the country and will give Puma plenty of targets and opportunities to succeed, especially against an Alabama secondary that has yet to prove itself.
On the other side of the ball, I will be grinning from ear to ear if this completely restructured defense can hold Damien Harris/Najee Harris/Josh Jacobs and whoever ‘Bama trots out there at QB under 21 points. My gut says if they can keep it under three touchdowns, we’ve got a real good one late.
9. Alabama will win this game if _____.
This isn’t to diminish the team I cheer for or to make light of the competition, but this list could be pretty long.
There are multiple ways that the defending National Champion can walk out of that building against a Louisville team with a new quarterback, a new running back, a new Defensive Coordinator, and likely eight new defensive starters with a ‘W’.
There are two specific scenarios though that scare me the most.
First, Alabama comes in and delivers an early knockout punch, putting up 14 or 17 in the first quarter and holding the Cards to one score. Coming back from 10-14 points is challenging enough, but doing it against the preseason #1 squad, while also stopping their offense from continuing to score, is improbable.
The second (and I hate to even put this out in the atmosphere) is a Puma Pass injury. Similar to last year with Francois going down, I think Puma missing an extended portion of this game and/or the season is detrimental to any goal they may have about winning the ACC or beyond. The current backup is Malik Cunningham, a player that looks much closer to Lamar in style of play. And while he showed flashes in the Spring, I don’t think he’s ready for the bright lights/big stage just yet.
With all that said, I believe that UofL can beat Alabama. I think they have the horses (see our Media Guide) to run with them, and enough talent that if things go as planned they can make it a one possession game in the fourth quarter. If I’m a betting man, there are too many question marks to take the Cards outright, but I really like the look of that 25.5 spread.
10. Defend those Christmas ornament helmets. Can you even do so?
The only defense I have for them is that…..they’re awesome! When you have 37 National Championships you can lazily throw a cute little number sticker on the side of your helmet and label it ‘tradition,’ but if you haven’t noticed these young guys today like a little ‘swag’. Chrome helmets, all black uniforms, military appreciation uniforms, wings on the sleeves, wings on the pants, we don’t care. We’ll even come out and beat ya in our ‘Murderbird’ unis. Me personally, I don’t get caught up in the glitz and glam. I’d be fine with them rocking a standard uniform….and a ’91 Fiesta Bowl Patch.