2006 Gator Bowl Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Louisville

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Monday, January 2nd, 2006, 12:30

TV: NBC National

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Click the “JAX Weather” link to the right.
Game time forecast, as of 3:30 pm Wednesday: Partly cloudy with a 20 percent
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Preview: #12 Virginia Tech (10-2) vs. #15 Louisville (9-2)


by Chris Coleman

Virginia Tech will try to rebound from their ACC Championship Game loss to
Florida State when they take on #15 Louisville in the Toyota Gator Bowl on
January 2. The game is one of many big bowl games of the day, kicking off at
12:30pm on NBC. The 12th-ranked Hokies still have a lot to play for, despite not
playing in a BCS game. They can finish the season ranked in the Top Ten, win 11
games for just the third time in school history and get a jumpstart into 2006.

Louisville is a very good team that many predicted would win the Big East in
2005. They fell short of that goal because they blew a huge fourth quarter lead
against West Virginia. (The Cardinals also lost an early league game to South
Florida.) Despite coming up short in the race for the Big East title, the
Cardinals are more than capable of beating the Hokies if Tech doesn�t show up
ready to play. The Hokies need to show up and get back to being the balanced
offensive team that they were throughout the majority of the season.

Make no mistake, the Big East would love to see the Hokies get knocked off by
one of the new Big East teams after Tech spurned the conference for the greener
pastures of the ACC back in 2003. Big East teams sent the Hokies to the ACC with
their tails tucked between their legs following Tech’s sub par 2003 season, and
deep down the conference would like nothing better than to give Tech one last
punch in the ribs.

Louisville will have their own motivation. They have played some big time
teams over the past few years and defeated some schools from major conferences.
Back in 2002, the Cardinals pulled off a dramatic 26-20 victory in a Thursday
night game over Florida State in a monsoon in Louisville. In 2004 they went
11-1, with the lone loss coming in a 41-38 defeat at Miami. The Cardinals had
all but wrapped up a victory over the Hurricanes, but a dropped interception
late in the game kept Miami�s game-winning drive alive. They have also blown
out a solid UNC team the past two seasons, including this year by the score of
69-14.

Except for the narrow loss at Miami last season, the Cardinals have not lost
to an ACC team since a 31-0 rout at Florida State in the 2000 season. They have
had a lot of success, and near-success, against some top-notch ACC teams, and
they would love nothing more than to keep their streak going against the Hokies.

The Louisville Offense

The Louisville offense is usually led by sophomore quarterback Brian Brohm,
who ranks second in the nation in passing efficiency. However Brohm will miss
the Gator Bowl due to a torn ACL in his right knee. Redshirt freshman Hunter
Cantwell will take over. Cantwell, a former walk-on, played well in his only
collegiate start against UConn, as well as in mop-up duty in six other games. He
is 24 of 36 for 424 yards. He has thrown two touchdown passes and just one
interception.

Despite being a young r-freshman, Cantwell doesn�t lack confidence,
recently making the following comments:

“I think we’re definitely going to move the ball … we’re definitely
going to score some points. How many we score will probably be a question, but
when you see an offense like this, and then you look at the playbook and see the
schemes, you’re not really too worried about a lot of what the other guys do on
the other side of the ball. It’s just don’t stop yourself.”

Cantwell will have a lot of help in backing up his claim. Louisville
possesses a number of talented wide receivers. The best of the bunch is senior
Joshua Tinch. Tinch is a big receiver at 6-3, 223. He leads the team in
receiving with 64 receptions for 800 yards and three touchdowns. He was one of
just two unanimous selections to the All-Big East Team, the other being
quarterback Brian Brohm. Tinch is very physical and can go up and make the tough
catch over defensive backs. The Hokies have some big, physical cornerbacks in
Jimmy Williams and Roland Minor, and it will be interesting to see who will win
this important battle.

Tennessee transfer Montrell Jones is the second receiver for the Cardinals.
Jones has caught 40 passes for 552 yards and five touchdowns. The big play
receiver for Louisville is 6-6, 220 r-freshman Mario Urrutia. Urrutia makes a
lot of plays downfield, catching 31 passes for 702 yards and a team-high six
touchdowns. His 22.6 yards per catch average leads the team as well. Urrutia is
a 2nd Team All-Big East performer. Harry Douglas is capable of making big plays
as well. He has 26 receptions for 450 yards and two touchdowns on the season.

Widely known as a passing team, it would not be wise to overlook Louisville�s
ground game, which is led by the enormous and talented Michael Bush. Bush is a
powerful 6-3, 250 runner who has good speed for a man his size. He ran for 1,049
yards on the season on 189 carries. Bush is bigger than any of Virginia Tech�s
linebackers, so they will have to gang tackle him. He is a major threat in the
red zone, leading Division I college football in scoring with 23 rushing
touchdowns. He also added 20 receptions and a receiving touchdown during the
season.

Despite his talent and size, Bush is one of just three talented runners that
Louisville will play. Junior tailback Kolby Smith had 104 carries for 491 yards
and six touchdowns on the season. At 5-11, 215, Smith can run with power and
speed. But perhaps the most dangerous running back on the team is freshman
George Stripling. Stripling ran for 608 yards on just 76 carries during the
course of the season. His amazing 8 yards per carry average was the best on the
team. He scored seven touchdowns and had one run of 89 yards.

The Lousiville offensive line is big and physical. Four of the five starters
weigh in at over 300 pounds. Right guard Kurt Quarterman checks in at 6-5, 341,
while right tackle Jeremy Darveau is 6-7, 321. The left side of the line is the
best side. Left tackle Travis Leffew and left guard Jason Spitz were both 1st
Team All-Big East. The center is r-freshman Eric Wood. Overall this is a very
solid offensive line, allowing just 21 sacks in 11 games and paving the way for
a rushing attack that averaged 194.09 yards per game, the 28th best in the
nation.

The Cardinals average 300.64 passing yards per game, which ranks eighth
nationally. They are seventh in total offense at 494.73 yards per game, and
third in scoring offense at 45.18 points per game. They are much more balanced
than many people give them credit for. Louisville ran the ball 442 times on the
season and threw 339 passes. Those numbers included 21 sacks allowed, but you
get the picture. They like to run the football, and they will use a strong
running game to run play action passes. The Hokies need to shut down Michael
Bush and company and force the freshman Cantwell to beat them through the air.

The Louisville Defense

Another common myth is that Louisville is all offense and can�t play
defense very well. That simply isn�t true. The Cardinals are 22nd nationally
in total defense, allowing just 318 yards per game. They are 20th in rushing
defense, giving up 107.36 yards per game on the ground. Their weakness on
defense is in the secondary, where they allow 210.64 yards per game through the
air, which ranks 49th in the country.

You can�t mention the Louisville defense without mentioning All-American
defensive end Elvis Dumervil. Dumervil finished the regular season with 20 sacks
and 23 tackles for loss. His 63 total tackles was second on the team. He forced
an NCAA record 11 fumbles. His six sacks in this season’s opener at Kentucky is
also an NCAA record.

Dumervil is a force coming off the end, and it will be interesting to see how
Virginia Tech plays him. Using Marcus Vick in a variety of ways would seem to be
a good idea. Rolling him out, using play action and using regular drop backs
would help to keep Dumervil in check. Keep your eye on Dumervil during the game.
He will be wearing #58 and could be the best out of all the great defensive ends
Virginia Tech has faced this season.

The Cardinals suffered a huge loss when it was announced that 2nd Team
All-Big East defensive tackle Montavious Stanley would miss the Gator Bowl due
to a torn pectoral muscle. Stanley is a load to block inside at 6-2, 320 pounds.
He is very similar to Virginia Tech�s Jonathan Lewis, who also doesn�t get a
lot of credit because he plays next to a star defensive end. Stanley had ten
tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks on the season. The other Louisville defensive
tackles, Adrian Grady and Amobi Okoye, combined for just eight tackles for loss
and one sack.

Okoye is an interesting story. He is an 18 year old junior from Nigeria. He
was the youngest player in the country back in 2003, playing as a true freshman
at the age of 16. He will finish his eligibility at the age of 19 next season
when most other players his age are just starting to see the field for the first
time.

Weak side linebacker Brandon Johnson appears to be the best Louisville
linebacker. Tall and lanky at 6-5, 220, Johnson leads the team in tackles with
64. The other linebackers are Nate Harris and Abe Brown. The group does not
combine for a lot of tackles, but they do make a lot of plays in the backfield.
Harris has 9.5 tackles for loss, and Brown has 7.5 despite playing in just eight
games. Harris also has five sacks on the season.

In the secondary, Louisville starts Brandon Sharp and Antoine Sharp at the
safety positions. They are brothers from Jacksonville, Florida. Brandon has 42
tackles on the year, while Antoine had 27. They each have one interception. At
cornerback, former Virginia Tech recruit Rod Council receives the most playing
time. The Virginia Tech coaching staff was very high on Council and he is
showing why, starting as a r-freshman for a Top 25 team. He has 45 tackles, 4.5
tackles for loss and an interception on the season. Gavin Smart, William Gay,
and Bobby Buchanon split time at cornerback as well.

The only defenses that have given Virginia Tech trouble this season have been
those with super athletic front sevens that rush the passer relentlessly. While
Louisville has a good defense, they are not cut from the same mold as Miami,
Florida State and NC State. The Hokies should be able to move the ball in the
Gator Bowl. Look for them to establish the run early with Montavious Stanley out
of the game, and then run play action to try and take advantage of the Cardinals�
weakness in the secondary.

Special Teams

Louisville hasn�t shown much of a knack for getting big returns in the
kicking game. They rank just 71st in kickoff returns and 52nd in punt returns.
Wide receiver Montrell Jones is their primary returner for kickoffs and punts.
He is averaging 22.1 yards on kickoff returns and 9.7 yards on punt returns.

Louisville kicker Art Carmody is very good. Carmody is 13-of-15 on field goal
attempts this season. He has hit all five of his attempts from beyond 40 yards,
including a season long of 47. As a freshman in 2004, Carmody broke the NCAA
record with 77 consecutive extra points made without a miss.

Todd Flannery is Louisville�s punter. He averages 40.1 yards per punt. He
has had seven punts downed inside the 20 yard line and has booted a long of 64
on the season.

The Cardinals have blocked three kicks this year. Opponents have blocked two
Louisville punts and an extra point.

Conclusion

A couple of weeks ago in the round table discussion, I picked Louisville to
win. Not because I thought they were better than VT, but because I just thought
the Hokies would find a way to lose. I also thought that Virginia Tech would
suffer a bit from a case of pride going before the fall. Tech fans have ragged
the Big East constantly since the Hokies made the move to the ACC. I�m guilty
of some of that as well. Wouldn�t it be ironic if the Hokies, who finished the
season with a disappointing loss to FSU, made the season even more forgettable
by losing to a Big East team in the Gator Bowl?

But as I thought more and more about the game, I decided to change my
prediction for a few of reasons. First and foremost, the only teams that have
been able to beat Tech this year, or even come close, possess talented, deep
defensive fronts that are able to stay in Marcus Vick�s face all day long.
Louisville does have Elvis Dumervil, but they don�t have the layered depth
(pardon the phrase) of teams like Miami, FSU and NC State. Vick will have time
to throw for the most part, and the Hokies will be able to run the football with
Montavious Stanley out of the game.

The second reason is the dropoff in quarterback play. We all know that Hunter
Cantwell played well against UConn. Well let me tell you, there is a big
difference between the UConn defense and the Virginia Tech defense, which is
ranked first overall and second in passing defense. Brian Brohm had the second
highest passing efficiency rating in the country, and there will be a dropoff. I�m
not saying Cantwell will go out and throw a bunch of picks and complete less
than 50% of his passes, but he will not play as well against the Hokies as Brian
Brohm would. I think the Tech defense will play well in this game and cement
their place as one of Virginia Tech�s best defenses of all-time.

The last, but certainly not least, reason is that I really believe in this
group of seniors. This team has had a couple of setbacks, but they have never
shown me anything less than great effort. If Darryl Tapp, Jonathan Lewis, Jeff
King, etc. don�t have this team ready to play in the Gator Bowl, I�ll be
very surprised. From a leadership standpoint, as well as a talent standpoint,
this is one of the best groups of seniors Virginia Tech has ever had. I think
they�ll play to the best of their ability and get a big win in the Gator Bowl.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Louisville 17

Will Stewart’s Take: Recently the father of a friend asked me, “So
what’s going to happen in the Gator Bowl?” I gave him a shrug and a
non-committal “I don’t know.” He answered, “You’re the Virginia
Tech guy. You’re supposed to be able to tell me what’s going to happen!”

My answer? “When these kids start losing at the end of the season, I
have no idea what they’re going to do from week to week. I didn’t think they’d
lose to Miami, I didn’t think they’d pound Virginia like they did, and I didn’t
think they’d get crushed in the ACC Championship Game like they did. So your
guess is as good as mine.”

So there you have it. My analytical mind looks at the fact that Louisville is
starting a walk-on freshman QB and their star senior defensive tackle is out for
the game, and I like the way that stacks up. QB is, of course, the most
important position on the field, and defensive tackle is way, way underrated as
a position of importance. So those situations look good for VT.

Other than that, I think Louisville is a tough team that could give VT fits.
The Cardinals have won a lot of games in the last five years � 47, to be
exact, an average of over nine wins a year. The Hokies, in that same stretch,
have only won 46 games, so chew on that for a minute.

But like a computer, my analytical mind can’t gauge or predict the emotional
aspect of the game, and as you know, the emotional part is huge in college
football. I know that the VT fans don’t have much interest in this game, judging
by message board traffic, ticket exchange board traffic, and “gut
feel” picked up from being around Hokie fans who aren’t discussing the game
and aren’t going to it. One can only hope that the mindset of the coaches and
players is better than that of the fans.

So, let’s throw a dart at the board, and see where it sticks. Ah, yes �

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Louisville 24

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