By Matt Bradshaw —
Louisville football faces Alabama this Saturday at prime time to kick off the first weekend of collegiate play. It’s only fitting that the Louisville Cardinal confers with the Crimson White to preview the matchup.
In a series of questions and answers, I interacted with the Sports Editor of Alabama’s student newspaper: Cody Estremera. Read below for our views on the matchup, the quarterbacks, the final score and beyond.
Matt: Saban has remained ambiguous on who he will start. Who do you believe he should start and why?
Cody: While I believe that it’s a closer competition than others do, I still think that Tua Tagovailoa will start. His arm is his best weapon and can wreck a defense, and he’s just as mobile as Jalen Hurts. From everything that I’ve heard, Tua’s decision making, which at times was questionable last year, has improved as you would expect from a second-year player.
Matt: Alabama lost a great punter in J. K. Scott, now replaced by freshman Skylar DeLong. With punting perhaps not the same as it was, do you feel Saban will switch things up with the way he ends possessions?
Cody: Scott was one of the best punters in the country, so that’s hard to replace. Even though Skylar isn’t J. K., I believe Saban won’t change much up on that regard. He has mentioned changing things up in terms of the actual kick and could possibly move more towards the rugby style kick that is becoming more popular.
Matt: How do you feel Alabama’s cornerbacks will measure up against Louisville’s receivers?
Cody: I think this is the key to the game. With Louisville bringing back most of its skilled receivers and Alabama losing its entire starting secondary from last year, it will be tough on ‘Bama. I have confidence in Trevon Diggs, because he really understands the system now, and Deionte Thompson, who is a serious threat at safety, but besides those two I’m not 100 percent sold just yet.
Matt: Who do you think will win and could you predict the final score?
Cody: I think Alabama wins 27-13.
Matt: The Crimson Tide are nearly always in contention for a National Title. What is it like covering a football team with such high expectations, year to year, and what is your prediction for how the season will play out?
Cody: Covering the team is crazy. The fan reaction to games always amazes me. If there is a close game in favor of Alabama, some fans believe it’s already a win and leave at halftime. Other times, like the Mississippi State game last year when Alabama had to come from behind, make fans sick to their stomach. Saban has ingrained a sense of purpose in this program that is hard to replicate.
With that being said, I feel like this team will win the SEC West fairly easily. The game at LSU is always low-scoring and seems like it could go either way, so I see that as probably the biggest challenge. I think that Alabama will play Georgia in the SEC Championship this year, but I can’t predict how that game will go.
Cody: The biggest question mark offensively is the quarterback position for both teams. How do you think Jawon Pass will do replacing Lamar Jackson?
Matt: It’s nearly impossible to replace the numbers of a Heisman winner like Jackson, but Pass may be up to the challenge for a couple of reasons. One, the 6-foot-4 redshirt sophomore has a pass-first mentality that has been missing in prior seasons. Lamar could certainly throw, but what was most valuable was his ability to run (1,601 rushing yards in 2017). Pass won’t run the ball that well of course, but his ability to throw the ball anywhere on the field and a knack for making plays on the run still make him a great quarterback.
The second reason: Receivers. Louisville returns their top three wide receivers in Jaylen Smith, Seth Dawkins and Dez Fitzpatrick. Arguably, the trio form one of the best receiving groups in the nation and make the transition for Pass much easier.
Cody: How do you feel Louisville’s offensive line will hold up against Alabama’s pass rushers, especially Raekwon Davis?
Matt: Louisville has a clear starting five for the offensive line, comprised of veterans and returning starters that seem up for the challenge. Along with the receivers, the o-line is one of the strongest position groups of the team. I don’t think they’ll completely stop the Alabama pass rushers, with the Tide first in the nation last season in rushing defense.
They’ll put up a fight though and they’re confident in their abilities. When asked if Louisville can match up with Alabama’s defense, fifth-year senior guard and team captain Lukayus McNeil had this response: “Definitely. I definitely think we’re capable of going out, starting off fast and dominating their D-line.”
Cody: Do you feel that special teams will have an impact in the game?
Matt: The Cards have solid kickers, punters and return specialists that all return as veterans, but I don’t think they’ll have a big impact on the game. At the moment, most place Alabama as a 20-plus point favorite over Louisville.
If the matchup was predicted to be closer, then yes I might say that special teams could tip the scales. With the way things are, I believe the game will be decided on how effectively Louisville’s untested defense can work together, and how efficiently Pass can run his offense to find the end zone.
Cody: What do you think is Louisville’s biggest strength in this game?
Matt: Receivers. As I previously stated, Louisville’s wide receivers are the most exciting position group to watch on the team. If Pass can hit his targets, and if the receivers can find a way to gain significant yardage after their receptions, then the Cardinals can be strong on the offensive end.
Cody: Who do you think will win and could you predict the final score?
Matt: I think Alabama wins 38-10.
You can follow the Louisville Cardinal on Twitter @thecardsports.
Photo courtesy / The Crimson White