Cardinals Hoping to Gain Momentum Against Erratic Utes

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Steve Kragthorpe and Kyle Whittingham grew up running on the sidelines at BYU games in the 1970s, watching their fathers -- Dave Kragthorpe as offensive coordinator, Fred Whittingham as defensive coordinator -- help LaVell Edwards lift the Cougars to national prominence.

Three decades later, not much has changed for the childhood buddies. Both are still on the sidelines, Steve Kragthorpe as the head coach at Louisville, Kyle Whittingham in charge at Utah.

And Kragthorpe knows he can review all the film he wants before Friday night's game against the Utes (2-3), he knows what to expect. He saw it 30 years ago when Fred Whittingham's blitz-happy packages put some teeth in the Cougar defense.

"They're going to pressure the passer, they're going to play a lot of man coverage," Kragthorpe said. "They're going to get up in your face and challenge you."

It's a challenge the Cardinals (3-2) have only met with middling success during a disappointing month in which they fell out of the polls while dealing with a leaky defense and several off-the-field issues. Linebacker Willie Williams was thrown off the team, and kick returner/wide receiver JaJuan Spillman and running back George Stripling have both been suspended for Friday's game.

Kragthorpe has stressed putting "blinders" on to block out the distractions, and the Cardinals seemed to right some of the wrongs in a win over North Carolina State last week. The defense forced five turnovers, and the Cardinals ran for 247 yards.

"We have improved, to say that we have arrived, I don't think is a fair assessment," Kragthorpe said.

If the Cardinals have any hopes of climbing back in the Big East race, they'll have to arrive quickly. The Utes are Louisville's final non-conference game and, like the Cardinals, have been equal parts dominant and disappointing.

Utah lost its first two games, then blew out UCLA, only to follow it up with a shutout loss at UNLV. Quarterback Brian Johnson returned from a shoulder injury to lead the Utes past Utah State last week, but Utah remains very much a work in progress.

Whittingham called Johnson "rusty" in his return last week, but Johnson did manage the offense efficiently against the Aggies. He'll need to do it again if the Utes want to improve to 6-0 all-time against current members of the Big East.

For all of Louisville's struggles stopping the pass, Whittingham said the key to beating the Cardinals may be in keeping Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm off the field. It means giving the Cardinals a steady dose of running back Darrell Mack, who ran for a career-high 132 yards last week.

Still, Utah doesn't rank higher than 73rd in the nation in any major offensive category, though the Cardinals have proven to be the cure for what ails most opposing offenses.

"We haven't made enough first downs in a game this year, and we're going to need to do that if we want to control the game," Whittingham said. "They're a high-octane offense, and it's not ideal to get into a a shootout with them."

Whittingham is actually 1-0 against Kragthorpe. The Utes beat Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl last year in Kragthorpe's final game with the Golden Hurricane, though Whittingham knows this time Kragthorpe may have the upper hand. Louisville is 24-2 at home since 2003, and the Cardinals are averaging 55.3 points per game at Cardinal Stadium this season.

"They put up a lot of numbers," Whittingham said. "It's going to be a challenge."

Though Spillman and Stripling are out, wide receiver Harry Douglas -- third in the nation in receiving yards per game -- and defensive tackle Adrian Grady should return after missing last week with injuries.

Kragthorpe, however, will continue to experiment with his lineup looking for results. He moved plenty of pieces around against North Carolina State, with solid results. Freshman cornerback Johnny Patrick had his first interception, and defensive tackle Earl Heyman had a sack and a fumble recovery after moving to end.

"When a position is vacated, it's an opportunity for somebody to step up and make plays and we've had some guys do that," Kragthorpe said. "I'm confident we'll continue to have guys do that in all three phases of the game."

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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