Cardinals, Wildcats Struggling to Stop Opponents

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Earl Heyman kept popping the tape in, reliving the nightmare.

Seven, eight, nine times the Louisville defensive tackle reviewed the carnage of the ninth-ranked Cardinals' ugly 58-42 win over Middle Tennessee last week, looking for something positive to build on.

Bright spots, however, are hard to come by when you allow 555 yards and six touchdowns to a team that had managed just 217 yards and 13 points the week before. Bleary-eyed, Heyman saw nothing but missed tackles, missed assignments and missed opportunities.

"Obviously, we had some problems and things that need to be adjusted," Heyman said. "The good thing is that it's over."

Maybe. But if the Cardinals (2-0) don't get better fast, their nightmare could just be beginning.

Louisville travels to arch rival Kentucky (2-0) on Saturday in a game that could produce enough points to make Rick Pitino and Kentucky counterpart Billy Gillispie envious.

Led by quarterback Brian Brohm, the Cardinals are the top-rated offense in the nation, averaging 692 yards and 65.5 points a game. The Wildcats are eighth in the country total offense, averaging 526 yards and 53 points per game.

Things aren't so rosy on the other side of the ball. Louisville's defense is ranked 86th in the nation, while Kentucky is 48th.

Though Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe said the defense played "awful" against the Blue Raiders, he stressed the offense shared some of the blame for having several drives get bogged down in the red zone, forcing the Cardinals to settle for field goals.

"We should have scored 80 points," Kragthorpe said.

If Louisville's defense doesn't find a way to slow down Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson, the Cardinals might have to.

The Wildcats have hardly been better. Kent State rolled up 524 yards and blew several chances to take control of the game in the first half by turning the ball over. A riotous halftime speech by coach Rich Brooks seemed to get his team's attention, and Kentucky pulled away for a 56-20 victory.

"In the first game you come out, and you really don't know what to expect," Kentucky defensive tackle Corey Peters said. "You may come out flat. But we have the kinks worked out."

And they just might. Despite their defensive problems, the ever-grumpy Brooks has praised the work of his pass defense, which has already intercepted four passes.

"This may be one of those times where statistics may lie because even though our defense is not totally nationally ranked, our pass defense (has played well) in the first two games," Brooks said. "It's going to get a lot bigger test than it's ever gotten."

The Wildcats have passed their first two tests by not giving up the big play, something the Cardinals have struggled to do. Middle Tennessee averaged 10.1 yards per play and had nine plays of 20 yards or more.

"You may give up a touchdown drive, but it can't be in two or three plays or one play," Kragthorpe said. "I'm all for when we're doing it, but not when our opponents do it. That's something we definitely have to minimize."

Even worse than the big plays was the way in which the Cardinals were attacked.

The Blue Raiders picked up 52 yards when the Cardinals left wide receiver Patrick Honeycutt all alone at the line of scrimmage. Middle Tennessee added its final touchdown on a 79-yard run by Phillip Tanner when three Cardinals failed to wrap him up after seemingly stopping him for a short gain.

"We've got to do a better job of communicating on the field, getting guys lined up, getting them in positions to make plays," Kragthorpe said. "Ultimately, when we do get in position to make plays, we have to make those plays."

Kragthorpe became so frustrated by the fourth quarter that he decided to take the game out of Brohm's hands and churn out the victory with running back Anthony Allen.

While Kragthorpe tweaked former coach Bobby Petrino's offense when he took over, the defensive scheme hasn't changed much under coordinator Mike Cassity. But replacing seven starters has proven more difficult than imagined. It didn't help when safety Latarrius Thomas went down for the year with a knee injury against Middle Tennessee.

"It's just having guys learning what to do," Heyman said. "It's getting a feel for the guys. We've got some new guys that haven't been out there and some old guys too. It's just jelling together and becoming a cohesive unit."

Louisville has won four straight in the series. To make it five, Kragthorpe said the Cardinals will have to be more disciplined against one of the most explosive offenses in the nation.

"I'm very confident it can be fixed," Kragthorpe said. "The one positive thing that came out of the Middle Tennessee game is we had our back against the wall a little bit, we had to face adversity, which we haven't had to do this season yet." is happy to provide a forum for commenting and discussion. Please respect and abide by the house rules:

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