Relentless pressure has turned the greatest of quarterbacks into ordinary ones.
It was at the root of the New York Giants' upset win over the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, when the Giants' front four were in Tom Brady's mug all night.
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It's played a big role in the Kentucky-Louisville series as well. Dave Ragone was a Heisman Trophy candidate for Louisville going into the 2002 season, but the UK defensive line gave him the beating of his life in the season opener that year, which sparked the Cats' surprising 22-17 victory.
The Kentucky defensive line is hoping for a similar showing Sunday when the two teams clash in the season opener.
The Cardinals have a pretty good quarterback now in Hunter Cantwell, a 6-foot-5, 236-pound senior who has thrown for 1,419 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions as a three-year backup.
Job No. 1 for the Kentucky front four will be to harass and disrupt Cantwell, a precise pocket passer with a strong arm who could dissect the UK defense if given the opportunity.
"You can't give him time to make a lot of decisions because he's proven that he's a very capable quarterback," UK Coach Rich Brooks said. "He's proven that he's good, so if you give him more time, we'll improve his odds of being good in this game."
Back in that 2002 game, the numbers didn't tell the complete story of how the UK defensive line dominated up front. Ragone was sacked only three times but spent most of the night on the run and was hit on nearly every one of his 39 pass attempts.
"They beat him to a pulp," then U of L coach John L. Smith said after the game.
The Cats' defensive line that year consisted of Otis Grigsby, Dewayne Robertson, Jeremy Caudill and Vincent "Sweet Pea" Burns. Robertson was the fourth pick of the NFL Draft after that season, and Burns was a third-round pick in 2005. Caudill was a solid college player, and Grigsby is currently with the Minnesota Vikings. The Cards, on the other hand, were breaking in four new starters on the offensive line that year.
"We had heard of them, but we had no idea going into the game that they would be that good up front," Ragone recalled. "They were constantly in our faces. We had a bunch of offensive linemen who had never played before, and they just controlled the interior. They made life very difficult for us."
Many feel Kentucky has its best defensive line since that 2002 group. End Jeremy Jarmon finished fourth in the Southeastern Conference in sacks last season, and Myron Pryor and Corey Peters provide a nice one-two punch at tackle.
If Kentucky can generate pressure up front, then the linebackers and the secondary can focus on locking down the Cardinals' skill players.
"Since the defensive front ought to be one of our strengths, I would hope that we could have a decent pass rush with four down linemen," Brooks said. "Then we can mix in pressures when necessary and try to keep them off balance."
"It solves a lot of issues if we can get pressure with our front four," UK defensive coordinator Steve Brown said.
The Cardinals' offensive line doesn't seem to be in the dire straits it was in 2002. Senior Eric Wood is one of the country's best centers, and left tackle George Bussey earned second-team All Big-East honors last season.
But there are some questions. Left guard Mark Wetterer and right tackle Jeff Adams are both making their first career starts, and right guard Abdul Kuyateh has made just one start.
"We know they have some new guys playing on the line," Peters said. "It's the first game of the season, they're probably not going to be in sync right off the bat, so it's important to come out and not let them get into a rhythm. We want to throw their timing off."
Brown said the Wildcats must first stop the run in order to get an all-out assault on Cantwell. They did just that to Ragone in 2002; he had 47 of Louisville's 55 rushing yards, and most of those came from scrambling to avoid a sack.
Ragone said once the running game is taken away and the quarterback starts taking hits, then it becomes a mental thing.
"A couple of things happen," Ragone said. "You start looking at the line and looking for the rush instead of looking downfield, and that just throws your timing off. You become tentative, and it throws off your mechanics. You don't step into your throws, and you don't have any confidence in your throws."
Kentucky's starting quarterback, Mike Hartline, will be making his first career start, and Ragone said that the team that does the best job of disrupting the other team's QB probably will come out on top.
"You have to come after them," he said. "Neither guy is (West Virginia QB) Pat White. Test them, and see if they can stand up to the fire. If I'm a defensive coach, I'd put eight guys in the box and say, if the kid beats us, he beats us."