This week I caught up with CardinalStrong, who is a contributor over at Card Chronicle. We discussed Louisville, because alas, the football season must go on. You can find my answers to some of his questions over at Card Chronicle later today or tomorrow.
BTP: Safe to say that Louisville’s first year under Scott Satterfield has gone better than most of us expected. What’s been the biggest surprise?
CC: The wins. I mean, most fans saw the state of the program at the end of last season, and frankly Steven, it wasn’t great. Coaches had thrown in the towel, fans had grown frustrated, and players had not only shown minimal effort on the field, but they were transferring faster than a James Gatto money transfer to Dennis Smith Jr. It was bad.
Enter one Coach Satterfield and he quickly changed the culture around the program and had the players buying into what he and the new staff brought to the table. With all that said, the message around town was, this may be the guy, but let’s temper expectations. Vegas said 3.5 wins this year, I called for five wins, and most fans and media were hovering around that same area. There is no one who thought Louisville would be sitting at five wins with four games left to play, and I’m not sure even the coaches felt like the success in the win column may turn around this quick. While I’m not complaining I have a legit concern that this is happening to fast, to where a dip in the W-L totals next season results in panic and pitchforks.
BTP: From a scheme standpoint, what are some of the differences in Louisville’s offense in 2019? What are they doing well?
CC: Louisville’s offense is almost completely different than what NC State fans have grown accustom to seeing the last five years. The “air raid” mentality of Petrino was slightly exaggerated, especially when he began to rely heavily on the legs of his quarterback, but there was no denying that he liked to throw the football and mix in the run to keep you honest. Satterfield is almost a complete 180, with a heavy focus on establishing the ground game and then hitting you up with a 20 yard post when you crowd the box. Taking a peek at the stats from the last few seasons Louisville did not have a running back crack the 550 yard marker the last two seasons, and the quarterback had led the team in rushing every year since 2014. This season, Javian Hawkins is 22 yards away from hitting 1,000 yards on the season and the #2 guy (Hassan Hall) has almost 400 yards to his name as well. Satterfield likes to run outside the tackle and use team speed but isn’t afraid to run the smaller Hawkins in the A gap either. The offensive line has improved this year, and the utilization of a H-back often as a lead blocker has created big lanes for Hawkins and Cunningham to take advantage of.
BTP: On the other side, Louisville has had significant problems getting stops. Is that more of a personnel problem? Injuries? Youth?
CC: There really isn’t one thing to point at as the problem, but man, is it a problem. The Cards are on their fourth DC in the last four years so continuity is certainly an issue and I’m pretty sure Louisville thought you were only allowed to recruit offensive skill players for two or three seasons in row which creates another set of problems as well. The frustrating part for me in watching Louisville sink each week into the depths of defensive hell is that they have some “dudes” on that side of the ball that are really good. A couple upperclassmen have the potential to play at the next level, and they have some young guys in the last class who are already performing too, but to reference the comment above, the “white stuff” in the recruiting Oreo is causing some headaches.
The new DC Bryan Brown runs a scheme that I can get on board with (3-4 base) but the results just aren’t showing yet. Louisville fielded one of the worst defenses in Power 5 history last year and while we aren’t there yet, they are trending back in that direction in 2019. A struggling offense (such as, NC State for example, just to pick a school at complete random) could see some success on that side of the ball.
BTP: Who are a couple of under-the-radar guys that might have a big impact on Saturday night?
CC: Not sure how under the radar they are but here the guys you should tell your buddies about at the tailgate or around the TV so you look like college football genius:
Javian Hawkins (RB): “This Hawkins kid is elusive, but not afraid to lay a hit on someone. He’s third in the ACC in yards/game right name and produces some solid YAC”
Tutu Atwell (WR): “Fastest guy on the field at all times. I bet they run a jetsweep with him a couple times for big yards”
Micale Cunningham (QB): “He used to be named Malik but changed his name earlier this year. He can make some good throws down field but don’t let him get outside the pocket, he’s got legs like a Robert Palmer video”
BTP: Can you just let us have this one?
CC: Man, if you would have asked me like a few weeks ago maybe we could have worked something out. We offer up a win, you guys admit to Cat Barber rubbing boogers on our players…we could have made it work. But, Cards have lost two of the last three and really need to get this win so we can “unclench” regarding postseason play. You all won by like 50 last season so, I think we’ll play this one straight up.
BTP: How do you see this one playing out?
CC: I’m sure I’m in the minority on this one but I honestly don’t think NC State is a raging dumpster fire as some expressed. I think they have taken a few steps back in their pursuit for a championship so to speak, but I think they still have some talent on defense, and inversely our defense has been making guys look like Heisman contenders on a nearly weekly basis. I do think the road environment will translate to a slow start for the Cards, but eventually they settle in and their athleticism and constant pounding in the run game result in some big plays and some separation late. I’ll say Cards win 35-24 and punch their ticket to a bowl game. Just like a Clemson player punched Jarvis Byrd back in 2013. Or should I say the Cards don’t choke away the opportunity for a postseason appearance, like Clemson player Ben Boulware choked Lamar Jackson in 2013. No matter the results can we just agree to hate Clemson?