August 19, 2008

Awaiting Kragthorpe 2.0

The media was out in full force the day Steve Kragthorpe was introduced as U of L’s new football coach. Half a hundred strong, they were encamped at Press Level of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Cameras whirred and microphones clicked on as the elevator doors opened and the new mentor emerged with an entourage led by Athletic Director Tom Jurich. 

The group strode as royalty toward the Fourth Estate. Suddenly, Kragthorpe hung a sharp left into the men’s room for a pit stop. “There’s the money shot,” chirped one wag. 

A year ago Louisville coulda been a contenda. The Cards were defending Orange Bowl and Big East champs. Now the program is up on jacks. No pit stop: This is a major overhaul. 

The defensive coaching staff is new. The offensive coordinator is new. The field commanders are new. 

The red-and-black faithful, Tom Jurich — who has seats to sell during a major stadium expansion — and a beleaguered coach who had to hold a presser to say he wasn’t being run out of town last season all pray those are significant upgrades.

Kragthorpe 2.0 will be released 8.31.

Starting QB Hunter Cantwell completed eight throws last campaign. Leading returning rushers, Brock Bolen and Bilal Powell, tallied only 643 total yards. The three top returning receivers nabbed only 52 catches, 11 of those by a Trent Guy who is recovering from a gunshot wound. The three top returning defenders had only four sacks, seven tackles for a loss and one pick among them. 

When have Louisville fans, just now starting to recover from last season’s free fall, had so many questions?

For every positive — eight home games — there’s a negative, i.e. a linebacking corps that barely exceeds Toy Bowl height and weight maximums. For every credit — Ron English was National Defensive Coordinator of the Year at Michigan in ’06 — there’s a debit: His was the Appalachian State ’07 debacle. 

Never — never ever — has the opener against the evil UK Wildcats meant so much. (To the Cats also, but we’ll let them worry about that.) 

The defense has to be better, if only because it can’t be any worse. “With coach English it’s a lot more organized than last year,” according to safety Bobby Buchanan. “Our new system is a lot simpler. 

“This year we’ll disguise our defense more. Last year, teams would always know what we were doing. 

“Now we’re aggressive to the ball. You’ll have to beat us with the pass.”

Frankly, simply lining up in proper position will be an improvement.

The word “nasty” keeps cropping up when talking to those involved on the other side of the ball. Offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm used that n-word when addressing reporters. Cantwell used it when we chatted last week. 

The attack plan will be different. “This season we’re going to run to set up the pass,” says Bolen, the Cards’ leading returning rusher.

My sweetie threw out the tealeaves. There are no inkblots to examine in this computer age. The crystal ball is cracked. I have no idea what surprises, if any, this team might have in store. If freshman stud Dexter Heyman plays as good as he looks, the defense might amaze. If Cantwell steps up like Stefan LeFors, all could be well when Louisville has the ball. If English and Brohm add the value Louisville fans hope for, things could get exciting. 

Otherwise, the season will be as generic as the cover of the media guide, which requires a second glance to find the words “Louisville Football.”