January 15, 2008

Ballz: SPORTS COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Cards’ extreme makeover

When it comes to adding value, nothing fills the bill like an Extreme Makeover. Ask the family of Patrick Henry Hughes. He’s the locally renowned, blind and disabled member of the U of L marching band. Thanks to “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” the family is enduring extreme tax addition. Their real property assessment is thrice what it was before Ty Pennington and his phalanx of hammer wielders showed up for the redo.Hughes’ beloved Cardinal pigskinners, looking for a similar bump, took notice.Call it “Extreme Makeover: Defense Edition.” Beleaguered Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe, after orchestrating the most disappointing U of L campaign since the Schnell’s 1991 squad spit out the bit, is the ringmaster. With extreme encouragement from AD Tom Jurich, a guy with plenty o’ seats to peddle in a proposed Papa John’s Stadium upgrade, there will be several new faces directing Cardinal defenders next season.The cavalry’s reinforcements have arrived. It is none too soon.If there was an image that said “Cardinal football 2007,” it was of an opponent’s receiver cruising all alone downfield awaiting the pigskin’s arrival. Some wore Syracuse orange; some, Wildcat blue; some South Florida green; others, Utah red. It was the fastest, most secure delivery service this side of UPS brown.So long Mike Cassity, it’s been good to know ya. Enter Ron English. Trumpet crescendo, please.Late of Ann Arbor, where he was in charge of security in the Big House, coordinating the Wolverines’ defense, he’s hauling in new tools for a complete renovation. Along with new linebacker and D-line coaches, English’s mission is to add value to Louisville’s woeful defense. It was ranked 84th in the land during ’07’s mediocre 6-6 season.From the ever-optimistic perch of January, months away from spring practice let alone the next campaign, he sure seems like the guy for the job.The fellow’s been coaching the secondary his whole career. At San Diego State. At Arizona State. And for the team wearing those fabled maize-and-blue helmets, over which he was granted defensive coordinating duties in 2006. During that 11-2 Rose Bowl season, Michigan ranked 10th in the country in total defense. He’s the only secondary mentor to coach two consensus All-Americans in the same season. Which means he can really coach. Or really recruit talented defenders. Either will be a welcome improvement. Or both. Which would be boffo.Another image from U of L last season is that of an opponent, cornered in the backfield or on the edge, escaping for a significant gain. During that same 2006 season, the Wolverines were numero uno against the run.One service named English the defensive coordinator of the year for those efforts.2007 wasn’t quite as illustrious. U-M gave up 34 and 39 on consecutive Saturdays. In the Big House. Once against, you know, App State. English’s charges still finished 24th nationally in total D, 17th in pass efficiency defense.For comparison purposes, the Cards ranked 115th (of 119) in pass efficiency defense. It was not a pretty sight.English’s game plan: “I like my players to be sound, to know exactly what they need to do. We need to be good on first and second downs. Stopping the run is where it starts.”On the gridiron next autumn — assessment time — we’ll learn the ratings for “Extreme Makeover: Defense Edition.”Contact the writer at cdk@culturemaven.com