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Author Archives: Justin Krueger

Louisville Football Preview: Special Teams

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Last Season: After losing both their kicker and punter due to graduation, the Louisville special teams needed new faces at those positions. Mason King took over duties as the team’s new starting punter, while Evan O’Hara and Blanton Creque split duties as the starting kicker throughout the season.

King had a solid season as a freshman, finishing in the top 20 in average yards per punt. The St. Xavier alum was the only freshman in the country to be in the top 20 in punting.

Blanton Creque finished 16/19 on the season, with a season-long of 47 yards against LSU in the Citrus Bowl. Creque took over after the Florida State game last year, also hitting 39 of 40 extra-point attempts.

In the return game, Jaire Alexander proved why he is one of the most dangerous returners in college football. The sophomore had a punt return for a touchdown against Florida State last season, and nearly had a second in the same game. Alexander finished in the top 15 in average yards per return in 2016.

Projected Starters: Mitch Hall (long snapper), Blanton Creque (kicker), Mason King (punter), Jaire Alexander (punt returner), Cornelius Sturghill & Traveon Samuel (kick returner)

With Colin Holba going to the NFL, Louisville recruited All-American Mitch Hall to replace him. Hall played in the Army All-American game last January, and was regarded as one of the best long snappers in high school last year. He’ll likely start at long snapper this year, giving the Cardinals a potential four-year starter at the position.

The rest of the starters will likely remain the same. Creque and King will likely retain their roles as starting kicker and punter, respectively. King showed improvement as the season progressed; he averaged 40.23 yards per punt in his first six games, and upped it to 46.11 yards in the final seven games of the season.

Creque took over duties in mid-September and had a decent season, mostly hitting field goals inside of 45 yards. U of L did not allow a kickoff or punt return touchdown in 2016, but the Cardinals were 111th in touchbacks last year (11 total), and did not attempt a field goal of 50+ yards.

Moving to the other side of special teams, Alexander will be the main figure at punt returner. Holding the position since his arrival in 2015, he only has one touchdown so far, but has come close to scoring a couple more and has been Louisville’s best special teams ace since Trent Guy.

Louisville rotated several guys as kick returners last season, but the best options so far have to be wide receiver Traveon Samuel and cornerback Cornelius Sturghill. Samuel is a stark contrast to the taller receivers at 5’7″, but he has great burst and the team has been able to use him in several different ways. He had a kick return for a touchdown in 2015 against Clemson, and has been used as a slot receiver and even running back. Think of Samuel as a player like Dri Archer or Dexter McCluster, one where the coaches try to get him the ball on designed plays to let him get yards in space.

Sturghill is a popular pick as the team’s other kick returner for one reason: speed. Sturghill has regularly been charted as one of the fastest men on Louisville’s roster, but missed last season due to a gunshot wound. Now that he’s back, the redshirt sophomore is a contender to start at cornerback and be in line for a big role on special teams. His speed could add another wrinkle to the return game.

Key Reserves: Ryan Betlach (long snapper), Evan O’Hara (kicker), Russ Yeast (returner)

Betlach is a senior from Tates Creek High School, and brings the most experience of any long snapper currently on Louisville’s roster. He’ll add depth to the position, in any event that Hall gets injured this season.

Evan O’Hara is the only other kicker on Louisville’s roster with game experience. O’Hara started Louisville’s first three games, hitting 3-of-6 field goal attempts last season.

Another guy to watch is cornerback Russ Yeast. Yeast was an Under Armour All-American selection, but can play wide receiver and on special teams. The son of former Kentucky standout Craig Yeast, Russ is currently the backup behind Alexander on punts, but his fluid hips and acceleration could get him some reps as a returner this season.

Be sure to check out our other previews:

Tight Ends

Quarterbacks

Offensive Line

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Louisville Football Preview: Offensive Line

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Last Year: It was a brutal finish for the Louisville offensive line in 2016. The Cards ranked 126th in sacks allowed (47), including an FBS-worst 33 on road/neutral site games. The team had a very bad stretch towards the end, with 27 sacks allowed in the final four games (including 11 at Houston and eight versus LSU). Since Bobby’s return to Louisville, the Cardinals have allowed 131 sacks, one of the worst in the FBS in that span.

In the offseason, Mike Summers was hired from Florida to become the co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Louisville. Former O-line coach Chris Klenakis moved to tight ends coach this season.

Projected Starters: Geron Christian, Lukayus McNeil, Robbie Bell, Kenny Thomas, Cole Bentley/Mekhi Becton

If you look at the numbers, it was essentially a tale of two seasons for the offensive line. In five of the first six games, Louisville only allowed one sack in each of those games; other than the Duke game, the offense looked in sync and nearly unstoppable.

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Brandon Radcliff Signs Deal with Titans

Photo: Tim Haag/CardinalSportsZone.com

Former Louisville running back Brandon Radcliff has signed a deal with the Tennessee Titans, according to a statement from the team.

Radcliff, who went undrafted this spring, was signed to the Indianapolis Colts, but released in June. He was linked to a workout and potential deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, but opted to sign with the Titans instead.

As a member with the Titans, Radcliff will be fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster, alongside former Pro Bowler DeMarco Murray and former Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry.

Radcliff ended his collegiate career with a career-high 903 yards and six touchdowns in 2016, and posted 12 TDs in 2014. The former Louisville back ended his career with 2365 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns on the ground.

The Titans open their preseason schedule on August 12th against the New York Jets. The Titans also host the Panthers (Aug. 19) and Bears (Aug. 27), before closing the preseason on the road against the Chiefs (Aug. 31).

Mangok Inks Deal with Charlotte Hornets

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Credit: citebuzz.com

Former Louisville center/forward Mangok Mathiang has agreed to a two-way deal with the Charlotte Hornets, according to a report from the Charlotte Observer.

Mathiang, who played at Louisville from 2013-17, went undrafted last June but signed a Summer League deal with the team after the draft. Mathiang averaged 4.4 points and five rebounds in five games this summer, and had a stellar finish to his collegiate career (averaging 15.3 PPG and 7.5 RPG in the final four contests).

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Louisville Football Preview: Quarterbacks

NCAA Football: Louisville at Virginia

Oct 29, 2016; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Louisville Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass against the Virginia Cavaliers in the first quarter at Scott Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Last Year: Lamar Jackson took the entire nation by storm in 2016, setting numerous school records and scoring 51 total touchdowns to win the Heisman Trophy. Jackson’s victory marked the first time a Louisville player had won college football’s biggest individual prize.

Additionally, Jackson set the single-season record at Louisville with 1521 rushing yards. Highlights of his fantastic season included an eight-touchdown performance against Charlotte (in one half), two seven-touchdown games on the road against Marshall and Boston College and scoring five in the 63-20 win over Florida State.

Projected 2017 starter: Lamar Jackson (Jr.) (6’3″, 208 lb.)

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Sights of Omaha

Although U of L came up short being eliminated by TCU last Thursday, the Cardinals finished with a 53-12 record. The team set a school-record for wins, while also earning their fourth College World Series trip. Here are some pictures from my trip to Omaha. I hope you enjoy!

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TCU Ends Louisville’s Season in Brutal Fashion

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Another year, another brutal way for the Cardinal Nine’s season to end. After trailing 4-0 early, the Cardinals rally ended one run short, as TCU eliminated the Cardinals 4-3 on Thursday night in Omaha.

The loss eliminates Louisville (53-12) from the College World Series, matching their highest finish in the College World Series (5th/6th, 2007). TCU (49-17) will advance to face Florida tomorrow night, needing two wins against the Gators to advance to the Finals next week.

It was a game marred with a lot of controversy, with Louisville losing nearly every 50/50 call at the plate. The first came in a four-run second inning, where Stowers’ throw to home was not on time, allowing TCU to stay-alive with two outs and ultimately deliver the deciding runs.

The second thwarted U of L’s rally in the eighth inning. When Colby Fitch delivered a lead-off single in the inning, Ryan Summers came on to pinch-run. He was ruled out attempting to steal second base, but the replay almost seemingly confirmed he was safe. The call resulted in Brendan McKay striking out and ending the inning.

Head coach Dan McDonnell took exception to the call and was ejected for the first time since 2010. Despite the heated exchange, McDonnell was adamant that he won’t blame the umpires for the disputed calls.

“I fought for my guy,” McDonnell said. “Knowing the point in the game and how valuable that base was. But I’m never gonna stand behind the camera and blame an umpire. That’s not the reason we lost. I don’t know if I should have been thrown out, but that’s not my call to make … A lot of times you just read the body language of your guys, and you want to stick up for them.”

McDonnell’s sentiments were echoed through the players, as well. “Yeah, it’s obviously tough,” Brendan McKay said. “It’s the competitor in every athlete, you see a play that’s bang-bang and you obviously want it in your favor. I mean, there’s no robotic strike zone or sensors for the baseball and the glove and foot for touching the base or anything like that … you can’t fault anybody for that.”

Controversy aside, TCU rode a four-run second inning to victory. Nick Bennett, who earned his first start since the Regional round, had a perfect first inning and then got the first two batters out in the second.

After that, Bennett fell behind the count with two outs and never recovered. An RBI double from Connor Wanhanen gave TCU an early run, followed by a Ryan Merrill two-RBI double to push the lead to 3-0. Wanhanen narrowly made it home to beat the tag, but the subsequent review was unable to overturn the call. Austen Wade added an RBI single, but was tagged out trying to reach second to end the inning.

Wanhanen was the only TCU batter with multiple hits, while Ryan Merrill had the two-RBI that provided the deciding runs for the Horned Frogs. Austen Wade, Zach Humphreys, Cam Warner, Elliott Barzilli and Merrill were the only other TCU batters with hits.

Nick Lodolo, who made an appearance as a reliever in Sunday’s loss to Florida, got the nod as their starter. Lodolo finished with three earned runs on five hits, two of which came on lead-off home runs in the fourth and fifth innings. Sean Wymer was credited with the win, only allowing two hits while striking out five in the final 4.1 innings.

On Louisville’s end, Bennett’s day was over before the second inning ended. His loss marked the first in his brief career, allowing all four of TCU’s runs on three hits and two strikeouts. Despite the early deficit, Wolf, Sam Bordner and Lincoln Henzman combined for 6.1 shutout innings and only allowed four hits with two walks.

“I thought they (Wolf, Bordner, Henzman) were outstanding,” pitching coach Roger Williams said. “Those guys probably don’t get enough credit at times. And I guess we as coaches really appreciate that group’s probably been the backbone of a lot of success we’ve had this year.”

Louisville’s usually stout bullpen was one of the main reasons for their success. The bullpen finished 23-1 on the season, and closer Lincoln Henzman never blew a save in 2017.

McDonnell made dramatic changes in the batting lineup, moving Taylor from the 1-hole all the way to the eight spot and Mann from third to seventh. Josh Stowers, who started as the leadoff hitter for the first time since April 23rd, made the most of his opportunity. He landed a soft RBI single to left field in the third to get the Cardinals on the board.

Louisville’s next two innings would feature back-to-back leadoff home runs. McKay would lead off the fourth with his 18th home run of the season to right-center, while Logan Taylor blasted one to left field in the fifth. U of L was fired up after seeing the speedy senior launch his first home run of the season, but cooled off after Sean Wymer entered the game.

Wymer shut out the Cardinals in the final 4.1 innings, but U of L had opportunities to get the runs they desperately needed. Summers was ruled out in the eighth inning attempting to steal second, with the momentum parlaying into McKay’s strikeout that ended the inning. Devin Mann scored a two-out single in the ninth, but was for naught when Taylor grounded out to end the game.

Stowers lead all Cardinals with two hits, including a one-out double in the fifth. Devin Mann also had two hits on the day, while McKay and Taylor had U of L’s only two home runs.

For Louisville, it was a third straight season with an agonizing end to it. 2015 saw the Cardinals lose the series on a controversial home-run against Cal State Fullerton, while 2016 saw U of L lose the series on a walk-off grand slam.

“You try not to evaluate every pitch or play that happens, and you wanna recollect on the season and all the success and the joy these guys brought us,” McDonnell said. “I’ve had so much fun with this group, and I’m really proud of them.”

2017 may have been the latest brutal end to a successful season. But Dan McDonnell believes it was still a great season. After all, Louisville made their fourth trip to Omaha, earned their first number one ranking and won more games than any team in school history.

“We lost a few years (ago) on a controversial home run, and I never lost sleep blaming an umpire for that,” McDonnell said. “I still remember opportunities we missed that night like it was last night. So tonight, you just live with a couple of things you could have done better … I’m big on being accountable, and it starts with me. And if anything, it just motivates me to want to be a better coach, to work harder, and get ready for next year.”

 

Chomped. Gators Send Louisville Into Elimination Round

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What started as a pitcher’s duel ended up with Louisville blinking first. Singer delivered seven quality innings while striking out nine, as the Gators defeated Louisville 5-1.

Singer, who is listed as the top sophomore prospect on Perfect Game and Baseball America’s listings, showed his worth at the mound. The 6’5″ standout delivered a gem with seven innings, striking out nine and allowing one run on six hits. Louisville batters faced problems with Singer’s command all game long.

“Really, he’s got a tough angle,” Brendan McKay said. “And combined with the early shadows that we had … what I saw in the second inning was right when he released the ball that’s when the ball disappeared.”

“When you don’t have much to go off of, it’s tough no matter what,” McKay said.” “But he’s (Singer) got a funky little angle to him. He can spot up — obviously when you combine that with velocity and good offspeed pitches, as you see in any level, it’s tough to hit.”

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A Warm Welcome In Omaha: Louisville Defeats A&M

A big day for Colby Fitch, batting 2-for-4 with four RBI, was the difference as the slugger powered Louisville to an 8-4 victory over Texas A&M.

The win marks only the second in school history, their previous victory a 12-4 decision over Mississippi State in 2007. It is also McDonnell’s first win when opening pool play in the College World Series.

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McKay Wins the Dick Howser Award

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Add another award for Louisville superstar Brendan McKay, as the junior takes home the Dick Howser Award.

The award, first given out in 1987, honors the best player in college baseball,voted on by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA). McKay adds this award after winning the John Olerud Award to become the first three-time winner, and was also selected fourth overall by Tampa Bay in Monday’s MLB Draft. Recent notable winners include Buster Posey (2008), Stephen Strasburg (2009) and Kris Bryant (2013).

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A Beginner’s Guide To The College World Series

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The College World Series is set to begin, with eight teams vying for a coveted national championship.

For those that are attending in Omaha, or planning to watch the events unfold for the next ten days, here’s a primer for all eight teams remaining.

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McDonnell’s Inspiration Guides Cards To Another Trip To Omaha

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After winning their Super Regional on Saturday, Dan McDonnell had infielder Drew Ellis read the Lion Chaser’s Manifesto to the media audience.

The excerpt, pulled from Mark Batterson’s book Chasing the Lion, is the anthem that U of L baseball has lived by this season. The motto “Run Towards the Roar” is printed on the back of every t-shirt this year, with each passing victory. McDonnell uses similar excerpts of inspiration to convey a unifying message; that their journey will have a destination — paradise, even — if everyone comes together towards a common goal

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Ellis Powers Louisville To Big 5-2 Win Over Kentucky

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It was a record crowd, in front of rival Kentucky and Drew Ellis called his shot. His three-run homer was the difference, as Louisville took a 5-2 victory over Kentucky.

Ellis’ fifth home run came after he entered today 5-for-33 at the plate since May 14th. Ellis also plated an RBI groundout to kick off the first inning; his four RBI on the day was the most since March 1st.

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Around The Bases: Super Regional

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Yes, it’s happening. The Cardinals and Wildcats will settle the score in 2017 this weekend, with a trip to the College World Series on the line at the sold-out Jim Patterson Stadium.

The Cardinals are looking for their first College World Series since 2014, while Kentucky is seeking its first ever trip to Omaha. U of L went 3-0 in their stretch, while Kentucky rebounded from a loss against NC State to top the Hoosiers and Wolfpack (twice).

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Louisville Baseball Post-Game Press Conference

Josh Stowers, Logan Taylor, Lincoln Henzman and Head Coach Dan McDonnell spoke with the media following Sunday’s 8-7 thrilling win over Xavier.

Stowers Four RBI Pushes Louisville To Fifth Straight Super Regional

 

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In a game that featured five lead changes, 21 combined hits and four errors, the nearly four-hour broadway at Jim Patterson Stadium produced a lot of drama. But for Louisville baseball, this story would not end in tragedy again.

Stowers’ four RBI day, including scoring the go-ahead run in the seventh inning, propelled Louisville to an 8-7 victory over Xavier.

Louisville’s victory marked the fifth straight regional title for the Cardinals, with U of L also hosting its fourth straight Super Regional next weekend. The win also marked the fourth time in the last five seasons that head coach Dan McDonnell has won 50 games in a season.

It was a game that featured many moments, both dramatic and bizarre. Xavier broke a scoreless tie after three innings with a two RBI single from Nick Soria in the fourth. Stowers would follow it up in the bottom of the inning with a three-run homer to right center.

Xavier and Louisville would trade leads four times after that. Ethan Schmidt led off the fifth inning with a home run to tie the game. The Cardinals would rebound with a three-run sixth inning. Jake Snider and Logan Taylor added RBI singles to left field, while Brendan McKay had a high-arching infield single that would score Snider later in the inning.

But as was the theme throughout, Xavier answered the bell almost every time. Percy Fallon’s sacrifice bunt with two outs in the sixth gave the Musketeers a 4-3 lead. The Musketeers added three more runs in the seventh on a Rylin Bannon RBI single, and LaRue’s fielder’s choice plus an error to hold a 7-6 lead into the bottom seventh inning.

Stowers would add an RBI double to tie the game, and later score the go-ahead run in the seventh from Logan Taylor’s RBI single down the left field line. It was the third time in as many games that the Cardinals rallied to win in their regional; the Cards needed runs late to break a 6-6 tie against Radford on Friday, and then busted out ten runs in the final two innings to beat Oklahoma on Saturday. At the plate, Stowers (2-for-3), Taylor (2-for-4, two RBI) and Jake Snider (3-for-4) were the only Cardinals with a multihit game.

With Louisville’s usually stout bullpen struggling after Bennett left, McDonnell opted to put All-American closer Lincoln Henzman at the mound. Though Henzman did not record the save, the closer improved his record to 3-0 on the season with 2.2 innings of perfect pitching. Nick Bennett earned his first start since early May, pitching five innings while U of L used three relievers before settling on Henzman.

The Cardinals (50-10) now await the winner of tomorrow night’s regional final between Kentucky and NC State, with Super Regional times and dates announced on Tuesday.

 

Boomer Cardinal! U of L Uses Big Eighth To Beat OU

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Logan Taylor used three RBIs — both the game-tying and go-ahead runs — as U of L scored ten runs in the final two innings to run away with an 11-1 victory over Oklahoma.

It took a while for the Louisville bats to get going, as the Cards only mustered one hit and one run in the first seven innings. U of L would lower the boom on Boomer Sooner in the final two innings, though.

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Calvin Pryor Dealt To The Browns

Credit: AP via newyorkjets.com

Announced via Twitter today, the Cleveland Browns traded for former U of L safety Calvin Pryor in a deal with the New York Jets.

Pryor, who was a first round draft pick for the Jets in 2014, started 38 games for the Jets during his three-year run, recording two interceptions in 2015 and two fumbles.

Despite the reliability as a starter for the Jets, New York took two safeties – LSU’s Jamal Adams and Florida’s Marcus Mayes – in the NFL draft last month. Pryor’s fifth-year option was also declined, bringing his future with the Jets into question.

Pryor was dealt to the Browns in exchange for LB Demario Davis. Pryor could compete for a starting spot as a safety for the Browns, but will have to contend with first-round pick Jabrill Peppers, along with current starters Ibraheim Campbell and Ed Reynolds.

Louisville Baseball Hosts as Top Eight Seed Again

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As announced on ESPN, the U of L baseball team will be one of the top eight seeds for the NCAA Tournament, which starts this weekend.

The NCAA announced on Sunday that the Cardinals were one of 16 regional hosts, joining four other ACC schools (UNC, Clemson, Florida State and Wake Forest) and Kentucky on the list. Today, the Cards were announced as the number seven overall seed, meaning they will host a super regional if they advance this weekend.

Despite the 1-4 finish to their 2016 campaign, the Cardinals were ranked fifth in the RPI as of this morning. U of L (47-10) was also ranked number one for a week during the season, a first in the program’s century-long history.

U of L is also one of three schools to host a regional in the last five seasons, joining Florida State and LSU.

Around The Bases: ACC Tournament Primer

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After dropping their final three games to close the 2017 regular season, the Cardinals are looking to rebound in the ACC Tournament. Despite the three-game skid, U of L earned the number one seed after a rain-out cancelled the Saturday series finale against Florida State.

The Cardinals will host Florida State and Notre Dame in their pod tomorrow and Friday. Should the Cardinals advance, they will face the winner of Pool D between Virginia and Duke.

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