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Louisville’s remodel comes with plenty of explosives

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Slowing down the Cardinals’ offense ain’t gonna be easy.

NCAA Football: Virginia at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Say this much for Bobby Petrino: the man knows how to make an exit. His departure from Louisville didn’t involve any motorcycle accidents, at least, but it did feature the utter cratering of the program.

The Cardinals were terrible at everything in 2018, and that included trying, which was obvious enough in the results: Louisville didn’t win a game after Sept. 15 and lost every game from October onward by at least 18 points.

The good news for Scott Satterfield was that he didn’t inherit a roster as bereft of talent as those results implied. Louisville has its talent deficiencies, to be sure, but Satterfield at least could make some modest gains just by getting the players to ratchet the effort back up. It turned out that the gains would be more than modest.

See if you can spot the big change on the field from last year to this one:

Louisville’s 2019 Transition

Cardinals Off. SP+ Rank Def. SP+ Rank
Cardinals Off. SP+ Rank Def. SP+ Rank
2018 102 99
2019 36 92

The Cardinals still stink on the defensive side, but they have an offense that can compensate, and in with the ACC going through a down year around them, drastic improvement to the one unit has paid off substantially in wins.

The Louisville offense has improved from 5.3 yards per play in 2018 to 6.6 in 2019, buoyed by enormous improvement in the passing game. Louisville leads the ACC in passer rating, and averages 9.9 yards per pass attempt, which is miles ahead of second-place Clemson (8.3 YPA) in this category. Louisville quarterbacks threw more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (10), while this year they’ve managed 18 touchdown passes against seven picks.

Leading the way there is breakout sophomore Micale Cunningham, who ranks among the top five nationally in passer rating and yards per attempt. The Cardinals have several receivers with great yards-per-catch numbers: Tutu Atwell (17.2), Dez Fitzpatrick (18.9), Seth Dawkins (21.3).

You’d think we were talking about an option offense with all of these gaudy per-attempt numbers, and while that obviously is not the case, the Cardinals do key their passing game off of the run: they average about 44 running plays and 24 passing plays per game. I figure they could stand to throw it more frequently, but what they’re doing now is working just fine, thanks.

Gutted as it has been by injuries, is NC State equipped to anything about Louisville’s big-play tendencies? I, uh, have doubts. The Wolfpack is struggling in so many different ways that it has to get a little lucky in some situations and make some breaks for itself—that’s been true of every matchup for a while now. And the next time State actually manages to do those things will be the first.