When Louisville has the football on offense in Sunday’s season-opener, the 25th-ranked Cardinals will have the services of eight returning starters, including sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater as well as a full complement of experienced blockers up front. On the other side of the ball, Kentucky returns five defensive starters, led by linemen Collins Ukwu, Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble. U of L enters the final stages of preparation ready for to kick things off.
“I feel like we’ve had a good camp and the guys picked up this fall where they left off in the spring,” said Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. “We want to play clean football and we’re not there yet, so we have a lot of things we must continue to work for. We won’t be a finished product until the last game, but we are getting better every day.”
Offensive success for the Cardinals will start up front in the trenches as senior center Mario Benavides leads a talented unit that includes tackles Alex Kupper and Jamon Brown and guards John Miller and Jake Smith. Despite having three sophomores in that group, every player earned multiple starts last season and the unit is much more experienced than the eligibility would suggest. The key for the group will be handling the pursuit up front of the Wildcats’ experienced trio of linemen.
“Well, you look at Collins (Ukwu), who is an outstanding rusher, and (Donte) Rump and Mister Cobble in the middle. You are looking at two big guys you are going to have to move,” said Cardinals’ head coach Charlie strong. “We are going to want to run the football, so it is going to be our concern to move those guys out of the way and run the ball. If you are strong enough up front, which Kentucky is this year, it (UK) can create issues.”
If the Cardinals can win the battle up front, they have a wealth of talented skilled players to use while challenging the Kentucky defense. Bridgewater, who threw two touchdown passes in last year’s win at UK, is joined by a trio of athletic running backs in Jeremy Wright, Dominique Brown and Senorise Perry. U of L also has numerous options on the outside in receivers DeVante Parker, Scott Radcliff, Charles Gaines, Eli Rogers and Damian Copeland, as well as tight ends Nate Nord and Ryan Hubbell. Those weapons should help Louisville find success with a balanced attack.
“At running back, all three guys have done a great job (in the preseason),” said Watson. “It’s a tight battle (for No.1 on the depth chart) and it’s a good one. All three can play and all three will run the ball. The receivers are another talented group and they’re very experienced. They have a lot of speed and a lot of size. They can be explosive when they touch the football, so we’re blessed to have a really good group. Probably the best thing that’s happened to us is how our tight end position has developed. The development of Nate Nord and Ryan Hubbell has really helped our personnel groups and multiplicity.”
Kentucky returns the services of starting defensive backs Martavius Neloms and Mikie Benton, but they are joined by a relatively inexperienced group of players in the Wildcats’ back seven defensively. Benton will anchor one safety spot, while Neloms moves from his starting safety role last year to a cornerback position in 2012. The linebackers are led by Alvin Dupree, the only player with starting experience after gaining starts in the final three games last season. Those two groups will face a test in handling the Cardinals’ running and passing games in the highly anticipated opener.
“I’m very excited for this university and this program,” said Bridgewater. “I’m excited for my teammates. We went through the off-season and this fall camp giving our all, so it’s going to pay off this weekend.”