Week one predictions: Louisville vs. Ohio

It’s officially September and the pigskins are flying around again. Having won their past two season openers under coach Charlie Strong, the Louisville Cardinals are coming off of a monumental BCS bowl win and will field perhaps the most talented team in program history in 2013. But that hasn’t curbed speculation that the Cards are vulnerable in week one against veteran coach Frank Solich and his Ohio Bobcats. With that in mind, we’re prepared to contribute some hard-hitting, evidence-based analysis to the pregame discourse. I mean, maybe not prepared at this exact moment but it feels like something will take shape before kickoff. Ask me again after I get a pot coffee in me and we’ll reevaluate. Until then, this is all we’ve got:

Best Case

A packed Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium sets the tone for the afternoon, and Joe Tessitore says something complimentary about the fan support in Louisville as ESPN kicks off its broadcast with the requisite horses-and-baseball-bats montage. The Cardinals’ defense  settles down and makes some adjustments after giving up a couple of big plays early. Michael Dyer shows promise with a couple of carries in garbage time, but a healthy Senorise Perry steals the show today with two rushing touchdowns. Ohio’s defense shifts its focus to stopping the run, and its big defensive backs are left to contend with Teddy Bridgewater‘s surgical accuracy and the speed of Eli Rogers, Robert Clark and the rest of Louisville’s receiving corps. Bridgewater picks up where he left off in the Sugar Bowl and negotiates the skilled Ohio secondary with a lot of play-action, finishing with an efficient 250 yards.  Bloopers of Kentucky’s loss to WKU appear on the jumbotron after Bridgewater throws his third touchdown. It’s 90 degrees outside and your car is parked a mile away but you don’t even care because you’re loaded off of daiquiris from that shack on the Party Deck and oh my god: football is back.

Rufus the Bobcat

Rufus the Bobcat plays by his own rules

Worst Case

The Cards’ offense proves to be the finely-tuned machine everyone expects, but the run defense is a work in progress. Louisville’s front seven gets some penetration into the backfield but struggles to contain Frank Solich’s spread option attack, anchored by the senior tandem of keg-shaped Beau Blankenship and MAC superquarterback Tyler Tettleton. Blankenship rushed for 15 touchdowns and a school-record 1,604 yards in 2012, and resembles the kind of north-south bruisers who carved Louisville’s defense up last year—guys like Cincinnati’s George Winn and Syracuse’s Jerome Smith. Vance Bedford decides to load the box and dial up some exotic blitzes here and there to slow him down, and Tettleton takes advantage by orchestrating a couple scoring drives through the air. Now that you’re really watching them, Ohio’s offensive line looks big for a non-BCS team. Like, crazy big.

Psych—it’s the 1999 Nebraska Cornhuskers, lured to the Ohio River Valley under the pretense of a reunion barbecue at Coach Solich’s house. They’re big and mean and they stare at you through the vacant eyes of men hardened by mortgages and back problems and years of domesticity. And they’re hungry: Solich told them they’d be eating brisket in half an hour when they got on the party bus but now they see through his subterfuge. It’s 14-10 Bobcats Huskers in the third quarter. A 34-year-old Eric Crouch rushes for two touchdowns and now everyone is crying. Somewhere in East Hartford, Towson scores another touchdown and Bovada downgrades Teddy’s Heisman odds.

Final Verdict

Ohio is who we thought they were, and not the 2000 Fiesta Bowl champions. The Bobcats present the best offense Louisville will see until mid-October, but it won’t be enough to pull this one off. Blankenship keeps his team within striking distance in the first half, but ultimately can’t keep up with Bridgewater and company. UofL 41, Ohio 24.

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