Football takes a full team effort to win games. While the 2012 Governor's Cup won't be an exception, there are five key players that are crucial to Louisville pulling out a win on Sept. 2 against their in-state rival.
QUARTERBACK TEDDY BRIDGEWATER It has to start with the play of sophomore quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater was thrust into action last year as a true freshman after starting QB, Will Stein, went down with an injury. Bridgewater came in and played well as he completed 10 out of 18 passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns. Scott Radcliff let what would have been a third touchdown go right through his hands, but Bridgewater was still very impressive and showed the poise of a seasoned veteran, not a true freshman.
Bridgewater has back most his offensive line and wide receivers and Kentucky loses some key players from their defense like Linebackers Danny Trevathan and Ronnie Sneed and defensive backs Winston Guy and Randall Burden. Expect Bridgewater to control this game and put up some big numbers.
RUNNING BACK DOMINIQUE BROWN Next, you have to look at the running game. The team that runs for more yards usually goes on to win the game and have the better season. While we don't know for sure yet who will be the starter at running back for the Cards, I expect Dominique Brown to get the bulk of the carries. Dominique started out last year as the third string quarterback and by the UK game he was the leading rusher for the day with 14 carries for 93 yards.
Dominique is now a year wiser and is really learning how to hit holes and see the lanes. That coupled with a very good offensive line that returns four starters should spell bad news for UK. I think Brown will get close to twenty carries and be around the 100 yard mark by games end. Let's move to the defensive side of the ball for a minute.
CORNERBACK ADRIAN BUSHELL The third key player for the Cards is senior cornerback, Adrian Bushell. Bushell is one of the most athletic guys on the team and that was evident last season as he had huge plays on special teams such as blocking a field goal that led to a touchdown return by Andrew Johnson against West Virginia and returning a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against Connecticut. Bushell joined the team late last season after transferring from Florida but soon made his presence felt.
Bushell will get the task of going up against UK's best receiver most of the day and with the Cats inconsistencies at the quarterback position and the fact that they do not have a true "go to guy" at receiver, you have to think that Bushell will get the best of his opponent. I don't look for UK to put up very good numbers against Bushell and the rest of the talented UofL secondary therefore the Cats will likely be one dimensional on offense and will punt the ball a lot.
SAFETY HAKEEM SMITH The fourth key player is also on the defensive side of the ball. Hakeem Smith is a former freshman All-American and All-Big East safety with NFL caliber skills and he has steadily improved each year. Smith has proven to be a terrific cover guy and has shown that he can lay the wood and stop the run. Smith has a knack for making big plays and always being around the ball. While he did not have gaudy interception numbers last year, he did lead the team with 9 pass break ups. There is no doubt that Smith will be looked at by his peers as a leader and the coaches say that he has become more of a vocal leader than in the past.
"With Hakeem, you have a guy that is pretty quiet and he let's his play on the field do the talking but he has stepped up this past spring and is becoming more involved with telling the younger guys where to line up and things like that," said head coach Charlie Strong.
I asked Smith at the Fan Day recently, "What's your overall impression of the team this year and what would you say is the biggest strength of the defense?"
Smith replied, "I think we have a team that can win the Big East conference outright and have a chance to play for the National Title. Our biggest strength is just the overall talent level everywhere on defense. We have guys running with our two's and three's that could start for a lot of teams."
The Cardinals may be young but they do have good amount of guys with game experience and now have more depth than they have in a long time. I fully expect the defense to finish the season ranked in the top 10-20 in total defense and, if the offense has improved as much as some sources have said they have, watch out!
WIDE RECEIVER DEVANTE PARKER Home grown and big play sophomore DeVante Parker is poised to have a breakout season and showed flashes of his ability last year as he led the team in touchdowns scored with six and trailed only kicker, Chris Philpott in points for the season. With a deep and talented group of receivers, Parker played sparingly but made the most of his opportunity and also stuck a dagger into the Cats last year at Commonwealth Stadium by catching a lead taking touchdown on a terrific throw from Teddy Bridgewater.
Parker turned 33 percent of his catches into touchdowns and averaged 16.2 yards per catch for a total of 291 yards. With the recent season ending injury of fellow wide receiver, Michaelee Harris, look for Parker to become more involved in the offense and most likely at least double his numbers this season. Parker who is 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds is a tough matchup for most cornerbacks and can definitely go up and get the ball. Kentuck's secondary is definitely not their strong point and it could be a huge day for Parker and the rest of the talented receivers. The former Ballard star reminds me of another former Cardinal great, J.R. Russell and the sky is the limit for Parker.