The game everyone circled on the calendar all season has finally arrived. Like a present from Santa, the Keg of Nails sits under the tree. Cincinnati will play the Louisville Cardinals for the 53rd, and maybe final for a long while, time tonight. Cincinnati hasn't played Louisville at Nippert since 2009. Speaking of Nippert Stadium, this is the Nippert finale until 2015.
With Louisville ranked 16 and Cincinnati ranked 23, it's the first matchup of ranked teams in American, the conference not the nation, history. This the first Keg of Nails game where both Cincinnati and Louisville have been ranked. Coincidentally enough, Louisville was ranked 16th last season.
If Cincinnati has any shot at winning a share of the American title and advancing to a BCS bowl, the mission is quite simple, beat Louisville. The table is set for an incredibly fun night at a sold out Nippert. I can not wait.
Spread: Louisville -3.5
Game time: 7:30 pm
Series: Cincinnati 29-22-1
Last Meeting: Louisville 34-31 OT, October 26, 2012
In Cincinnati: UC 16-12. Cincinnati has won the last 2 meetings in Cincinnati, the longest streak since the mid-80s.
Streak: Louisville – 1
Record: 9-2, 6-1
Coach: Tommy Tuberville 9-2 (140-79)
Quarterback: The Bearcat QB playing his final game has never thrown an incomplete pass against Louisville. He was 1-1 back in 2009. Brendon Kay is 225-320, 70.3%, for 2,817 yards, 22 TDs and 9 INTs. He's rushed for 129 yards and 4 TDs. Kay put up his lowest completion percentage of the year as a starter against Houston by completing 58%. He also threw for a career high 406 yards. His last 5 games have all been near 300 or much better, 300, 321, 299, 405, 406. He's thrown 13 TDs against 5 INTs in that span. INTs have been Kay's bugaboo lately. Can't afford mistakes tomorrow. He hasn't made many this year.
Running Backs: The Bearcats leading rusher is Hosey Williams. He's rushed 97 times for 575 yards and 4 TDs. Hosey is averaging 5.9 yards a pop. He added to it with 6.5 yards a carry against Houston. He's been a revelation lately. Williams has over 140 yards more than the second man on the list, Ralph David Abernathy IV. RDA IV has 113 carries for 433 yards with 3 scores. He ran for 39 yards with 2 flashy TDs against the Cards last year. Tion Green is the third man with 371 yards and 7 TDs. Jordan Luallen, the Show Off, has 203 yards and 3 TDs. Only Abernathy, 17-129, is a receiving threat.
Receivers: The leading receiver in terms of receptions is Shaq Washington with 74. He's picked up 736 yards with 1 TD. The leading receiver in yards is Anthony McClung. He has 61 receptions for 811 yards and 5 TDs. They have been a huge 1-2 during the winning streak and I think one of the best duos in the country the last month. I'll put their numbers against anyone. Chris Moore has 36 grabs, 9 of which have scored. He has 507 yards. Max Morrison has 27 receptions for 418 yards and 3 TDs. Mekale McKay has 14 catches for 405. He's second on the team with 7 TDs. He was bottled up against Houston last week. Let's see if he can break out tonight. Blake Annen has 14 receptions for 173 yards and 2 scores as well.
Offensive Line: Eric Lefeld – Austen Bujnoch – Deyshawn Bond – Sam Longo – Parker Ehinger are listed as the UC starters. They've been listed as the starters all year but have only started 5 games together. Houston was one of those. Andre Cureton has started 4 of the last 5 games for Bujnoch and Lefeld. Cincinnati averages 6.4 yards a play, 8.8 a pass and 4.3 a rush. The Cats have given up 11 sacks.
UC has 273 first downs. They are 80-159, 50% on 3rd down. UC is 7-15 on 4th down. UC is 35-48, 73% in the red zone. You'll find out later how bad that is. Tease.
Defensive Line: Silverberry Mouhon is the Cat to watch up front. He's the team leader in sacks with 8.5. His 9 tackles for loss rank him third. He has a team best 7 hurries and has forced 2 fumbles. Jordan Stepp has 34 tackles, 7.5 for loss and 6 sacks. Brad Harrah is second on the team in tackles for loss with 9.5 All Brad Harrah does is make tackles for loss. So much so that's less of a joke and more of just the facts. Adam Dempsey has 7 TFL with 3.5 sacks. Terrell Hartsfield still has 3 TFL and 1.5 sacks. Seems like it's been a while since those numbers moved. Marques Aiken has 2 TFL.
Linebackers: No surprise that Cincinnati's leading tackler is Greg Blair. He's made 78 tackles on the season, 6.5 for for loss with 1 sack. Blair has forced a fumble while recovering another. He's forced 4 hurries and broken up 3 passes. I don't know if he'll be first time All-American conference, but he's had a very good year. So has his running mate Nick Temple. Temple has 64 tackles, 11 for loss with 4 sacks. He's picked off a pass and forced a fumble. It seems like Temple has hit everything that moves this season. He's the Bearcat leader in tackles for loss. Jeff Luc has 35 tackles, 6.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks. He's forced a pair of fumbles. He leads the team in showing off his stomach in his jersey.
Secondary: The freshman Zach Edwards leads the secondary in tackles from his safety spot. He's made 59 of them, 2.5 for loss. He's picked off 2 passes, broken up 4 more and forced a fumble. He's had a great season. Arryn Chenault is the other starting safety. He's made 49 tackles, 1 for loss. Chenault has picked off a pass while breaking up a team high 6. Adrian Witty has made 38 stops, 2 for loss. He picked off a pass for a TD. He's broken up 3. At corner we have Howard Wilder. His numbers are modest for the level of production he's given, 28 tackles, 1 INT, 3 passes broken up, 1 forced fumble. Deven Drane leads Cincinnati with 3 INTs. He's second with 5 passes broken up. Leviticus Payne has made 20 tackles with 1 TFL and 1 INT. Mike Tyson has picked off 2 passes. He gets mentioned because he's Mike Tyson.
Kicker: The Golden Toe Tony Miliano kind of sounds like an ironic nickname at the rate he's gone, which makes me feel bad. Tony was 1-3 last week. He's 3 for his last 12 and just 5-14 on the season. He's hit 1-2 from 20-29, 3-6 from 30-39, 1-5 from 40-49 and missed a 51 yarder. I really want him to make a big kick because he seems like a really nice guy and he's my favorite player. Have a good game, Tony. I'm sure he reads this and this will give him the motivation he needs to go 5-5 if need be.
Holder: Brendon Kay
Long Snapper: Kirk Willis
Punter: John Lloyd has punted 26 times for a 43.3 yard average with a long of 61. 8 of his 26 punts have been inside the 20 with 3 touchbacks. Brendon Kay has punted 13 times for a 40.3 yard average. 7 of his 13 punts have been inside the 20 with 4 touchbacks.
Kick Returns: RDA IV has returned 16 kicks for a 21.9 yard average. His long is 38. It's been a modest year for him. RDA took a kick back 41 yards last year. Maybe Louisville is what he needs.
Punt Returns: Teams have punted at Anthony McClung more and that hasn't been the best thing. He's returned 16 punts 55 yards, a 3.4 yard average. His long is 12. Shaq Washington has returned 11 punts 109 yards with a long of 35. Please kick it to Shaq.
Record: 10-1, 6-1
Coach: Charlie Strong 35-15
Quarterback: The Cardinal quarterback is Teddy Bridgewater. You know all about him because he's really great and could be the first pick in the NFL draft. Bridgewater is 245-345, 71%, for 3,268 yards, 25 TDs against 3 INTs. The only thing that can stop Teddy Bridgewater is the Louisville game plan. He's had 2 games where he completed under 65% of his passes. He hit 57% and 56.8%. Only once this season has Bridgewater not thrown a TD pass. He does have just 2 TDs the last 3 games. Bridgewater lit up Cincinnati to the tune of 416 yards passing last year.
He's really damn good. I don't know what else to say about him besides that. Anyone who says during the game that he's overrated should have you who is reading this say 'I wish my quarterback put up overrated Teddy Bridgewater's numbers,' and throw a tomato at them. Bring a tomato tomorrow. You toss it in the air as a celebration or throw it in disgust at a loss. Or eat it. Win win win.
Running Backs: The Card running attack has become a two man operation. Former UC commit Dominique Brown leads the way with 129 carries for 704 yards, a 5.5 yard average and 7 TDs. He's been the top dog for the Cards lately. Senorise Perry has 119 carries for 550 yards and 6 TDs. Perry has only had 50 yards once since the middle of October. Stopping the big man is the key. Perry was bottled up pretty hard with just 36 yards last year.
Out of backs, Brown is the receiving target. He's hauled home 21 receptions for 200 yards and a TD. Perry has 12 catches for 115 yards.
Receivers: Teddy Bridgewater's top target is Damian Copeland, also known as Honey Mustard for the reason you can see in the picture of him holding the Keg. Copeland has 49 receptions for 655 yards and 4 TDs. He had a big game with 5-96 last year. The big play receiving threat is DeVante Parker. He's made 37 receptions for 639 yards with 9 TDs. He leads Louisville in yards per game because he missed one. Parker had a monster 4 catch, 120 yard, 2 TD outing in 2012. Eli Rogers had 37 receptions for 466 yards and 4 TDs. Florida transfer tight end Gerald Christian has 24 catches for 377 yards and 4 TDs as well. Robert Clark has hauled home 22 passes for 200 yards and a score. Kai De La Cruz has just 15 receptions but 271 yards and 3 TDs. He's a game time decision tonight. Bridgewater mixes the ball around to everyone. The defense has to stay on their toes.
Offensive Line: Jamon Brown – John Miller – Jake Smith – Kamran Joyer – Ryan Mack make up the Louisville line. Brown, Miller and Smith have started every game. Joyer has started the last 4, 6 total. Mack has started every game in the opener. Louisville has given up 22 sacks on the season. They average 6.8 yards a play, 9.5 per pass and 4.2 per rush.
The Cards have managed 248 first downs. They are the second best team in the nation at converting 3rd downs. UofL is 85 of 149, 57%. They are 0-4 on 4th down though. Louisville has burned up the red zone. They are 44-50, 88%.
Defensive Line: The main man to watch on the Cardinal front is Marcus Smith. He's had an All-American type of season. Smith has 12.5 sacks, the second most in the nation by half a sack. He's the national leader in sacks per game. Smith is tied for 13th in the NCAA with 15 tackles for loss. He has forced 3 fumbles. Smith has also blocked a kick on special teams. Whatever tackle sees him is going to have to buckle up. Lorenzo Mauldin is the other end. He's made 12 tackles for loss with 9.5 sacks. The duo rank 1 and 3 in the American in sacks. Mauldin has also forced 3 fumbles. Tackle Roy Philon has also made 12 tackles for loss. He's got 4 sacks. Brandon Dunn has 31 tackles, 3.5 for loss with a sack. His numbers look under whelming compared to the rest. BJ Dubose has 4 TFL and 1.5 sacks, Sheldon Rankins 4 TFL, 3 sacks. Deiontrez Mount just has a cool name.
Linebackers: A former Bearcat recruit leads the Card defense. Preston Brown has made 80 tackles, 9.5 for loss with 3.5 sacks. He's forced 3 fumbles while recovering 2. He's a really good linebacker. He's joined by James Burgess. Burgess has made 61 tackles, 5 for loss. He's picked off a pass and broken up 4 others. Burgess has forced a fumble as well. Keith Kelsey has made 21 tackles, 1 for loss.
Secondary: The Cardinal secondary is led by Calvin Pryor. He didn't play last week because of a disciplinary issue, he is expected back tonight. He's a big addition back. He's made 57 tackles, 3.5 TFL while forcing 2 fumbles. Pryor has also picked off 3 passes. He's also got a reputation for being a big hitter. Not the best videos. The other safety is Hakeem Smith, who has made 38 tackles, 2 for loss and 1 sack. He's picked off 2 passes. The top corner is Terell Floyd. He also has 38 tackles, 2 for loss. Floyd leads the Cards with 4 INTs. Charles Gaines is the other corner. He's got just 19 tackles. Gaines is tied with Floyd with 4 INTs. He's broken up a team high 6 passes. Gaines has blocked a kick.
Kicker: The UofL kicker is John Wallace. He's hit 16-20 on the season. He's 2-2 from inside 20, 7-9 from 20-29, 7-7 from 30-39. Wallace has attempted only two kicks longer than 39. One was a 45 yard attempt against Rutgers, the other a 50 yard attempt against Memphis. He missed them both.
Holder: Ryan Johnson
Long Snapper: Grant Donovan
Punter: Ryan Johnson is probably a good punter but thank god he's not the elite type of punter UC has seen this season. Johnson has 34 punts with a 41.4 yard average with a long of 54. He's hit 10 of 34 inside the 20 with 5 touchbacks. He's had a kick blocked.
Kick Returns: Robert Clark has been the primary returner with a 15.6 yard average, which isn't very good. Charles Gaines has taken 7 kicks for 241 yards. One of them was a 93 yard TD. I suggest kicking to Clark.
Punt Returns: Two Cards have returned 10 punts. Kai De La Cruz has taken 10 for 29 yards with a long of 7. Eli Rogers has taken 10 for 82 yards with a long of 29. Methinks we see Eli Rogers back there.
Teddy Bridgewater and Brendon Kay rank 2nd and 4th in the NCAA in completion percentage. It seems to me that whatever team can lower that percentage for the other passer is going to be in better shape.
Louisville gives up 82.8 yards rushing. Cincinnati gives up 91.5. Those also rank 2 and 4. Whoever runs the ball better will probably be in better shape.
A win by Louisville would give them their first undefeated road slate since 1972. If that's not a fun fact, I don't know what is.
The last time the schools closed out the regular season against each other was a decade ago in 2003. In my humble opinion, it was the best game in Keg of Nails history.
Louisville hasn't lost to a ranked opponent since 2010.
Cincinnati hasn't beaten a ranked opponent since 2009.
The Cardinal 3rd down defense is the best in the nation. Their opponents are 38-144, 26.4%. The next closest team is at nearly 29%. They have been dominant.
Cincinnati's 3rd down defense has also been exceptional. UC opposition is 49-154, 31.8%. That's tied for 8th best.
Louisville is 6th in red zone defense, Cincinnati is 10th. The red zone offense is going to be a huge area of concern. Louisville has been just as good as Auburn, they are tied. Cincinnati has been worse than Southern Miss and Purdue.
The biggest defensive difference is in passing yards allowed. Louisville has given up 1,756, the second best mark in the country. Cincinnati is 24th with 2,319 yards.
Brendon Kay has to be holding because UC is going to use a trick play, right? Right? I say we see a trick play.
The losing team won't break 85 yards rushing, bold prediction.
The winning team won't break 120 yards rushing, bolder prediction.
Mekale McKay has 150 receiving yards, boldest prediction.
Don't forget that it's a blackout. UC announced it before the season. There was a hint of a different uniform. There are definitely altered helmets.
I really hope that this is a great game. I'm really wary that the series will continue. If it does, it won't be any time soon. It's great that it gets to go out on a grand stage with a sellout crowd on national TV with 2 ranked teams for the first time ever. It's exciting and a little bittersweet. This is the biggest rival that Cincinnati has. Losing them would be a really big blow for the schedule and for general enthusiasm. The one game everyone was pointing to all season was this one. The first 11 games were the appetizer, this is the main course. I guess we start a rivalry with UCF or whatever next year, but it won't be the game. If Louisville has to pick between playing Cincinnati and Kentucky, well that's not really a choice. This game is important to a lot of people for a lot of reasons. It's important to me. I hope that tonight's game kicks so much ass that the schools have no choice but to keep things going. I know life doesn't work like that, but a guy can hope.
I've said all year that I think Louisville is better than Cincinnati and that they were going to win. If I had to throw out a guess, I would say something like:
Louisville 34 Cincinnati 27
But I have no idea who is going to win. I genuinely don't. I can see it going either way. It'll either be the score on top or
If Cincinnati is going to win, Tony Miliano is winning this shit.
Cincinnati 31 Louisville 30