Bridgewater and Cardinals set sights on Bobcats in season debut

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Updated: 8/28/2013 12:20 pm

Louisville, KY (Sports Network) - The ninth-ranked Louisville Cardinals will be tested right away as they welcome the Ohio University Bobcats to Papa John's Stadium for their 2013 season opener.

Ohio was on track to be a BCS buster in 2012 after it won its first seven games with impressive road victories at Penn State and Marshall highlighting the early season run. Coach Frank Solich's squad lost steam down the stretch, but it coasted to a 45-14 win over ULM in the Independence Bowl to arrive at a 9-4 overall record. Including bowl games, the Bobcats have won nine of their last 10 non-conference contests.

Charlie Strong ended his third season as Louisville's head coach with an astounding, 33-23, victory over the fourth-ranked Florida Gators in the Sugar Bowl. Louisville captured the last two Big East titles and will be looking to claim the American Athletic Conference crown this time around. The Cardinals have won their last six non-conference tilts.

This is the first meeting between these schools on the football field since 1959. They split the first four meetings.

"I'd probably say it's the most focused team I've had because it's also a much older team," said Strong. "They understand that they really have to work now because the level of expectations has risen. They want to set the standard for the program and know how to manage those expectations."

Louisville's junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is on many preseason awards watch lists, including the Heisman Trophy, after completing 68.5 percent of his pass attempts in 2012, throwing for 3,718 yards and 27 touchdowns against just eight interceptions. His 8.9 yards per pass average was the fourth highest among FBS players.

Bridgewater does a great job of spreading the ball out to his receivers. Four different players made at least 40 catches for Louisville last season and all but one of them are back with the big play threat DeVante Parker (744 yards, 10 TDs, 40 catches) highlighting the group. Damian Copeland is also a part of that unit as he led the team with 50 receptions for 628 yards.

Senorise Perry, Dominique Brown and Auburn transfer Michael Dyer are all going to see time at tailback. Perry was Louisville's second-leading rusher (705 yards) last season and was named the starter by Strong. He missed the last two games of 2012 with a torn ACL. Brown missed all of last year because of a knee injury sustained in spring practice as did Dyer, who sat out after compiling 2,335 yards and 15 touchdowns during his two seasons at Auburn.

The Cardinals were ranked in the top 25 in total defense last season with an average of 340.3 yards allowed per game. Preston Brown (109 tackles) was the leading tackler for Louisville last season and he will be back once again at middle linebacker. He thrived playing behind a defensive line that is bringing back all four starters, including defensive end Marcus Smith, who recorded four sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception as a junior.

The defensive backfield is going to be tough as well with Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor manning the safety positions. Pryor finished with 100 tackles last season and forced a team-high five fumbles. Smith had 73 takedowns and seven passes defended.

Tyler Tettleton has stood out as a leader at Ohio since he became the starter prior to the 2011 campaign. As a sophomore, he threw for 3,306 yards with 28 touchdowns against 10 interceptions and took the Bobcats to within a field goal of winning the MAC Championship. His overall production was not as great due to the fact he missed one game with an abdominal injury and attempted 46 less passes. Tettleton did cut down on his mistakes (18 TDs to four INTs) in 2012.

Beau Blankenship stole the show in Athens last season while starting at halfback, ranking 10th in the FBS and third in the MAC in rushing with 1,604 yards and 15 touchdowns on 312 carries. He has a very reliable backup in Ryan Boykin.

Ohio's leading receiver from a year ago, Donte Foster, is back after setting career-highs with 59 catches, 658 yards and eight touchdowns. Chase Cochran stood out in the bowl victory over ULM with three catches for 162 yards and a touchdown. He is going to be a key component of the offense as an upper classmen.

"This is probably the deepest receiving corps that we've had since I've been here. We're bringing a lot of these young guys along, and they're really catching on, so that's great to see," Tettleton said. "We're really going to need that come MAC play and coming down the stretch."

Although they were inconsistent, the Bobcats had the fourth best defensive unit statistically in 2012 with allowed averages of 388.4 yards of total offense and 24.8 points per game. Keith Moore was the heart and soul of the defense last season with a team-best 98 total tackles, which is 28 more than anyone else on the roster registered. He will have just as much pressure on him to perform in his final tour of the MAC being one of just two returning starters on the defense.

Ohio's front four is comprised of all newcomers but its secondary should be improved by senior cornerback Travis Carrie, who led the squad with four interceptions in 2011 before missing all of last season with an injury.

Louisville's junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is on many preseason awards watch lists, including the Heisman Trophy, after completing 68.5 percent of his pass attempts in 2012, throwing for 3,718 yards and 27 touchdowns against just eight interceptions. His 8.9 yards per pass average was the fourth highest among FBS players.

Bridgewater does a great job of spreading the ball out to his receivers. Four different players made at least 40 catches for Louisville last season and all but one of them are back with the big play threat DeVante Parker (744 yards, 10 TDs, 40 catches) highlighting the group. Damian Copeland is also a part of that unit as he led the team with 50 receptions for 628 yards.

Senorise Perry, Dominique Brown and Auburn transfer Michael Dyer are all going to see time at tailback. Perry was Louisville's second-leading rusher (705 yards) last season and was named the starter by Strong. He missed the last two games of 2012 with a torn ACL. Brown missed all of last year because of a knee injury sustained in spring practice as did Dyer, who sat out after compiling 2,335 yards and 15 touchdowns during his two seasons at Auburn.

The Cardinals were ranked in the top 25 in total defense last season with an average of 340.3 yards allowed per game. Preston Brown (109 tackles) was the leading tackler for Louisville and he will be back once again at middle linebacker. He thrived playing behind a defensive line that is bringing back all four starters, including defensive end Marcus Smith, who recorded four sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception as a junior.

The defensive backfield is going to be tough as well with Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor manning the safety positions. Pryor finished with 100 tackles last season and forced a team-high five fumbles. Smith had 73 takedowns and seven passes defended.

Pryor, Smith and the rest of the Cardinals will have their hands full as they try to stop Ohio's senior duo of Tettleton and Beau Blankenship.

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