2006 Louisville Football - The Impact of the Michael Bush Injury
by Trevor Whenham - 09/08/2006
Louisville was my favorite longshot team in the national championship race this year. They have an offense that can put up ton of points a game, they play in a conference that is very winnable and they have a quarterback and a running back that are as good as you can get. Until last Saturday, that is. In one harmless looking play, running back Michael Bush took a pitch from QB Brian Brohm, didn't find much room and went down when being tackled by Kentucky's Wesley Woodyard.
Bush got his leg caught awkwardly under Woodyard, the bone snapped, and Bush's senior season came to a very premature end. He has undergone surgery and he will recover fully, but not in time for this season. He will have the option to redshirt and come back for another season if he chooses to, though it's doubtful he would make that mistake again.
Bush considered going pro last year, and he would have been a sure first day draft pick, but he came back to make a BCS run and guarantee a spot in the first round of the draft. Though Kentucky isn't the toughest defense in the world, Bush was well on the way to improving his stock with his performance before the injury. In the first half of the game Bush had already run for 124 yards and scored three times. That's the kind of half that would have put another Bush at the head of the Heisman race.
Bush's loss will be immense for the Cardinals. The impressive back led the nation in scoring last season, notching 23 touchdowns and averaging 14.4 points per game. He directly accounted for 28 percent of Louisville's high-powered offense. When a team loses a player that good, it has to hurt.
Bush will be missed, but Louisville should be able to replace him without losing too much. However, they will have to do it by committee. After Bush was knocked out of the Kentucky game, Kolby Smith and George Stripling took over and combined for 158 yards on 21 carries, and Stripling added two touchdowns in less than a half. Both backs are very capable, especially if they don't have to be relied on by themselves. Stripling ran for 621 yards as a freshman last year, including 137 and two scores against Syracuse and 96 yards against Rutgers. Smith is a senior that tallied 528 yards last season. The other back in the stable is true freshman Anthony Allen, who was the third rated high school senior in Florida last year.
The depth at running back means that teams that were going to struggle stopping the run against Louisville (and there are several in the Big East) are still going to have a hard time. None of the backs is Bush, but the Cards will still be able to stuff the run down the throat of opponents. On that front, the injury shouldn't change the fortunes of the team that much.
There's another, bigger issue, as well. The Cardinals are not one of those teams that is tied to their running game, even with someone as talented as Bush. The team scored 12.3 more points per game than any team in the conference, but they only put up the third most rushing yards in the conference. West Virginia scampered for 84 yards more per game. On the other hand, the Cardinals passed for 294 yards per game, 60 more than their closest rival and almost 180 more than rival West Virginia. Louisville has such a balanced and explosive attack that opposing teams couldn't afford to focus on the new running backs, even if they were weak. If anything, the Cardinals are a passing offense with a very good running option. Despite the incredible talent of Bush, Brian Brohm was the Big East Offensive Player of the Year, even though he missed the last three games of the season with a knee injury.
Louisville is unfortunately quite used to overcoming major injuries. When Brohm went down last season, the team survived. They won the game he was hurt in and their last conference game, then made a respectable showing against Virginia Tech in their bowl outing. The team definitely took a hit, but Brohm is more irreplaceable than Bush is in this offense. The team also learned a lot from losing a star like Brohm, and they will be able to build on that in this case.
So what does it all mean? In my eyes, not much. Louisville is still the somewhat flawed but very exciting team that has the potential to rock the BCS if it can survive tough tests against Miami and West Virginia. This injury is far from ideal, but it likely won't change any betting decisions regarding this team. The line might need to be a point or two lower, but that isn't much of a concern with a team that puts points up like the Cardinals do. I'm still on the bandwagon.
There is going to be a significant long-term impact to this injury, however. If you are a junior that has had a very good career and you are deciding whether to come back for another season, Michael Bush will stand as a very compelling reason not to. It was already hard enough to get great players to play as seniors, and this will just make it worse.