Hello again, Canes fam! We’re back for another opponent Q&A.
Joining us today to talk about his beloved Louisville Cardinals is CardinalStrong (well, that’s not his government name but I’ve been sworn to secrecy on that part). He’s one of the writers over at our SB Nation sister-site Card Chronicle.
I returned the favor and answered some of CardinalStrong’s questions about Miami and you can see that conversation here:
Now, let’s get into the conversation about the Cardinals as they head down to Hard Rock Stadium to face off against Manny Diaz’s Hurricanes this Saturday:
Q1: It’s early, but what are your thoughts on the job Scott Satterfield has done in his first year at UL?
Absolutely without question killing it. While I don’t anticipate that happening an 0-4 run at the end of the season would be about the only thing that would tarnish what has been a great first year for Satterfield and his staff. Vegas had the over/under win total at 3.5 back in June and this team very well may double that total before its’ said and done. I think even the most optimistic fan was thinking a bowl eligible season would be a dang good year, and I feel comfortable that the guys can make that happen in the next four weeks. As with any major coaching success for this program my only concern in year two and beyond is retaining him. I’ll just enjoy it for now and keep my anxiety in check…unless he runs the table and pulls off 9 wins….then I’m freaking out again.
Q2: Louisville was TERRIBLE last year, but stand 5-3 and have been much more competitive this year. What have been the major positive changes?
I joked early this year that I couldn’t answer this question without using the Satterfield buzzwords of “family” and “culture”. While folks around here got tired of hearing about culture changes and a more family like environment in house for the eight months leading up to kickoff, there is no denying that these kids love the staff and are playing their faces off to try and stack the wins no matter how it needs to happen. The Cards have a pretty dynamic group of wideouts who were getting very little action early this year and we never heard a peep from them, just “happy to help the team win”. I think the new offensive approach has rejuvenated some of the skill guys and the new defensive approach (3-4 base) has allowed some guys to shift into a more natural position on the field and help get the best 11 out there. While Petrino had the “feed the studs” mantra I felt as if we still had talent that was not being used to their full potential last season and Satterfield has done a good job identifying those guys. High level example: Javian Hawkins had 8 carries and took a redshirt in 2018, this year he’s a Top 3 back in the ACC.
Q3: One thing Louisville can do is score points. What is the scheme and who are the players making the plays for the Cards this year?
Satterfield came in with the reputation for being a run heavy offense. At App State I believe it was around a 62%-38% split between run/pass the last 3 seasons, something that was going to be a big change from the style we saw Petrino run for many years. This season, if you just compare passing attempts against rushing attempts (ignoring if it was a designed pass play) that split is currently around 65%-35% run/pass. Javian Hawkins (RB) is putting up big numbers on the ground but owes a debt of gratitude to a much improved O-line and the utilization of the H-back position in Marshon Ford. In addition, the QB is asked to carry the ball as well and Cunningham (QB) is actually neck and neck with Hassan Hall (RB) as the second leading rusher on the team thus far.
When the Cards go to the air, they do look for the short routes with some level of consistency, but love taking shots downfield. Louisville currently has seven players that average over 10 yards per catch, including their top 3 wideouts in Tutu Atwell (16.29), Dez Fitzpatrick (19.24), and Seth Dawkins (20.21). Keep an eye out for Tutu in open space. He has “Florida speed” and can create separation fast.
Q4: RB Javian Hawkins has been a MONSTER this year. Where did he come from, and how is Louisville working the offense to use his skills to such great success?
Sorry for the “Spoiler Alert” in the previous question but yes, Hawkins has been a beast, and no, he is not doing alone. The scheme that Satterfield runs is predicated on O-line movement and flexibility. This isn’t your grandpas O-line with 350lb monsters just looking to create a hole in the A-gap. These guys slide together in both directions, can pull around the edge, get 10 yards downfield if they need to, etc. Coach Ledford (formerly at NC State) has made big changes up front on the O-line it’s allowed the run game to flourish. The use of the H-back is also key, often utilizing him as a lead blocker up the gut or off the edge. Hawkins is small in size but has speed, shiftiness, and will not hesitate to deliver a hit. There is a reason he’s averaging over a 110yards/game.
Q5: Louisville has several South Florida natives on the roster. How have those players been able to help the Cards both this season and historically?
Louisville, like most southern schools, love Florida. When Charlie Strong was walking the sidelines it felt as if 80% of the roster was built out of the sunshine state, and the Cards fielded some damn good squads using that talent. Petrino tried to keep that pipeline alive when he came back in his second stint and faired pretty well in pulling in those guys the first couple years. I guess this is as good a time as any to say “Thank You” for handing over Lamar Jackson, Teddy Bridgewater, Eli Rogers, Brandon Radcliffe, and the host of others I’ve likely forgotten. Appreciate it.
On this year’s squad Hawkins is from Titusville (Orlando Area), a linebacker I absolutely love in Yasir Abdullah is from right outside Miami (Miramar), a good young corner in Trenell Troutman, and of course, Tutu Atwell is from right there at Miami Northwestern. Keep the studs coming.
Q6: How have things changed on defense for Louisville this year? Who are some players to know?
Things have changed enough to satisfy most folks, but there are still some big areas of improvement needed. The Cards were, statistically speaking, one of the worst Power 5 defenses to ever take the field last year…like, in the history of college football. They gave up tons of yards and tons of points every single week. They were ranked 120th or worse in all major defensive categories, and it was painful to watch. The shift to 3-4 has helped some on the backend and moving a couple guys (Rodjay Burns to LB and Russ Yeast to safety) has helped get some athletes on the field in other positions. Currently Louisville is giving up 31.9pt/g (99th nationally) which looks bad, until you realize they finished 2018 allowing 44.1pts/g (128th). Last game the defense looked much better against a good Virginia team, holding them to 21 points and 78 yards on the ground, but that is currently the outlier and I need some more evidence before I’m convinced that’s the new norm.
Baby steps are happening to get this team back into a respectable range in scoring defense and total defense but right now a formattable offense is going to put up points, Louisville just knows it needs to outscore them.
Q7: Special teams matter. How have they been for UL this year?
Very sore subject for me right now as one of the best to ever do it for the Cards, kicker Blanton Creque, was injured last game and is done for the season. A guy connecting at an 83% clip lifetime is tough to replace. Backup Ryan Chalifoux has a leg on him but lacks experience so a tight one down the stretch could put my man Ryan in a “pucker up” situation.
Punter Mason “Da” King is still bombing balls like a boss (43yd avg) and return man Hassan Hall still leads the country with a 38.70yd return average. One other item of note is that teams have kicked 5 onside kicks against Louisville this year already and have recovered three of them successfully. Something to watch for.
Q8: Do you still eat Papa John’s? I mean, better ingredients, better pizza, amirite?!!?!?
I got three kids at home under the age of seven. I am in no form or fashion a pizza snob and will admit to throwing a Totino’s in the oven on a late Tuesday night as recent as two weeks ago. If you throw Papa Johns in front of me, I’m eating it. Same for Pizza Hut, Dominos, or any other chain that make my belt a tad more snug. It’s all good to me. If I’m footing the bill, I will say there are probably a couple other local spots I’m hitting up first, but pizza of all shapes and sizes deserves love. Except pineapple pizza people. They can go row a boat.
Q9: Louisville has won the last 3 games they’ve played against Miami. What needs to happen to make that a 4-game win streak vs the Canes?
Jump out early. Louisville has had success when they hop out to a 7-10point lead and then control the game the rest of the way. Running the ball with so much success allows them to not only keep the clock moving but keep their defense off the field. If Louisville can come out of the gate with a long drive that goes for six and then follow that up with a stop on defense and another score, I like the chances of riding that off into the sunset on a cool Florida night. One thing they need to continue to do is to the use the speed they have to get guys in space. Body on body in the trenches, scratching for a yard or two here and there…that may not work on this Miami defense.
Q10: How do you see the game playing out? Include a score prediction, please.
This one is tough for me. I called it a loss at the beginning of the year but Louisville is better than I thought they would be, and Miami is maybe a notch below my expectations back in August. I think the Miami defense can limit the Cards ground game some and will force Cunningham to make some throws in order to beat them. Louisville has overachieved so much I just feel like they are due for a clunker, and a road test against Miami is tough to overcome without you’re ‘A’ effort. I’ll go Canes 35-27, with them dropping 14 points in the 4th quarter to seal the win.
Bonus pick: I think the Cards win the last three and finish 8-4.
Thanks to CardinalStrong for joining us for the Q&A this week. You can check out his work, and the work of other talented writers covering UL sports, over at Card Chronicle.