With a little more help, Cantwell shows potential

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

For a couple of years now, Louisville's Hunter Cantwell has been touted as an NFL quarterback prospect, even though he spent most of his college career on the bench behind Brian Brohm.

So if curious fans checked in on Cantwell's first start of his senior season, they were probably left wondering what the big deal was. Cantwell completed just 20-of-43 for 152 yards and threw three interceptions against Kentucky as the entire offense struggled to get anything going.

Funny what a healthy running game, more seasoned receivers and solid protection can do for a quarterback's numbers.

Cantwell reminded everybody of his vast potential Wednesday night against Kansas State, going 22-of-33 for 274 yards and two touchdowns with no picks.

"He was very efficient in everything he did," head coach Steve Kragthorpe said. "His feet were really good, he was very crisp throwing the ball and he put the ball on the money."

The thing scouts see in the 6-foot-4 former walk-on is his ability to fit the ball through tiny windows. Cantwell made some NFL-caliber throws on Wednesday night, including: a 10-yard out that zipped into Josh Chichester's chest as a cornerback broke on the ball; a perfectly placed, 26-yard strike between the linebackers and safeties to tight end Johnnie Burns on a third-and-16; and a late-game dart to Doug Beaumont on a post route.

Few other college quarterbacks could make those throws, or would even try them.

"Sometimes with what you see on the field, you have to cut loose," Cantwell said. "If you start second-guessing yourself, that's when you're late on a throw, that's when you miss open guys. There were probably a couple I can go back and look at on the tape and say, 'Yeah, that was pretty close.' But when you have confidence in your [wide receivers] and good protection up front, you can take some chances."

That wasn't necessarily the case in the Kentucky game. The receiving corps, decimated by the injury to No. 1 wideout Scott Long, had almost no experience, and its route-running reflected that. The offensive line got manhandled by the Wildcats' front. And the running game was virtually nonexistent. Cantwell forced some throws in that game, especially late, but he didn't have many other options.

The young receivers have gotten appreciably better. Beaumont, a sophomore, has become a go-to guy and had nine catches for 119 yards versus K-State. Josh Chichester dropped two sure touchdowns but still had a score and 55 yards on his four receptions. Troy Pascley has two catches this year, both for touchdowns.

"They're all coming along real well," Cantwell said. "I'm real excited about the way our wide receivers are playing."

Led by Victor Anderson's 176-yard night, the Cardinals plowed through Kansas State for 303 yards on the ground. That put Cantwell in manageable down-and-distance situations and made the play action an effective weapon. The offensive line, despite missing two starters, gave him time, and Cantwell stood in whenever the rush came.

Coming into Wednesday, Kansas State's junior quarterback, Josh Freeman, was starting to garner serious NFL attention. He threw for 313 yards and three touchdowns but also had 20 incompletions and two interceptions. Freeman forced some throws into coverage and scrambled for his life under heavy pressure. He had almost no running game to take away the heat.

Funny how those things can help a quarterback realize his potential.