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Summer Scheming: Louisville Cardinals Football

Scott Satterfield did a fantastic job of making the Cards viable in 2019.

Louisville v Miami Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Louisville football has been around since 1946 when Frank Camp started the program. Camp stayed on as head coach through the 1968 season, where he was succeeded by none other than “The Sunshine Scooter” himself, Lee Corso. Coach Corso compiled a 28-11-3 record in four seasons with the Cards before leaving for the Indiana Hoosiers.

Louisville struggled after Corso’s departure until some guy named Howard Schnellenberger took over in 1985 and guided the Cards to a 10-1-1 season and Fiesta Bowl win in 1990 and a 9-3 season in 1993. After a few rough seasons, journeyman John L. Smith took over in 1998 and got the Cards rolling in Conference USA. Louisville finished 41-21 under Smith over five seasons.

CFP National Championship presented by AT&T - Alabama v Georgia Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Bobby Petrino took over for Smith in 2003 and helped usher in the Big East era for the Cards. In Petrino round one, Louisville compiled a 41-9 record including an Orange Bowl win for the 2006 season. Petrino left for the NFL and Steve Kragthorpe failed to keep the momentum going. Charlie Strong put together an 11-2 season and Sugar Bowl win in 2012, then a 12-1 season and Russell Athletic Bowl win in 2013 as part of the ACC.

With Strong at Texas, Petrino returned and the landscape was much different than in CUSA and the ACC. Petrino succeeded in coaching Lamar Jackson to a Heisman Trophy winning campaign, but was fired after a 2-8 start in 2018. That’s where Scott Satterfield comes into our story.

Satterfield was the quarterback at Appalachian State from 1991-1995 before joining the staff as an assistant in 1998. Satterfield left App in 2009 to serve as passing game coordinator at Toledo, and then served as the OC under Mario Cristobal at FIU from 2010-2011. Satterfield returned to App State as OC in 2012, before taking over as head coach in 2013. The Mountaineers had a seamless move from the FCS Southern Conference to the FBS Sun Belt.

NCAA FOOTBALL: DEC 10 81st Annual Heisman Trophy Ceremony Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Under Satterfield, ASU finished 51-24 with four straight bowl appearances and three straight bowl victories from 2013-2018. Coach Satterfield took a risk leaving the safe confines of Boone, NC for one of the worst cultural nightmares in Power 5 football at Louisville. There was controversy with longtime booster Papa John, not to mention the cultural and recruiting negligence left behind by Bobby Petrino.

So what did Satterfield do in Year One? Finish 8-5, 5-3 in the ACC, and cap the season with a Music City Bowl victory over an SEC school in Mississippi State. The Cards five losses in 2019 were to: Notre Dame, Florida State, Clemson, Miami and Kentucky. Three of those five losses came on the road.

The Cards enter the 2020 season ranked 41st overall per Bill Connelly’s SP+, including 14th on offense but a lowly 84th on defense. Satterfield is an offensive guru that will need to invest in quality defensive coaching and recruiting emphasis on that side of the ball. Miami is 23rd in the preseason SP+, being ranked 63rd on offense and 9th on defense.


Louisville has six players on the Athlon 2020 preseason All-ACC teams. The Cards have dudes on the first team offense in two studs: running back Javian Hawkins and all purpose threat Tutu Atwell. Hawkins ran for 1,525 yards and nine touchdowns in 2019 as a redshirt freshman. Atwell threw one touchdown and caught 11 more as a receiver. He also hauled in over 1200 receiving yards, good for 18.4 yards per catch. Atwell also averaged 21 yards per punt return last season.

Virginia v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Louisville goes dark until the 2nd team specialists with kick returner Hassan Hall. Hall averaged 30.5 yards per kick return in 2019 including one touchdown, too. The Cards have no players on the third team, which shows how little talent they really have in Louisville.

The fourth team offense has QB Micale Cunningham and offensive lineman Caleb Chandler. The fourth team defense has LB Rodjay Burns rounding out the Cards preseason All-ACC team members. Cunningham averaged an eye popping 11.6 yards per passing attempt last season while throwing 22 touchdowns with only five interceptions. He also completed 62% of his passes while running for over 400 yards and six more rushing touchdowns. Burns came away with 83 tackles and 11 tackles for loss a year ago as Louisvilles lone defensive player to make this list.

Scheme on O

Micale Cunningham is an absolute stud behind center for the Cards. Satterfield brought his ASU offense to the Cards, keeping his 21 (two running backs, one tight end) personnel sets and love of motion and triple option plays alive in the ACC. It’s a modern twist on Rich Rodriguez’s offense at West Virginia, mixed with some of Paul Johnson’s triple option and modern RPO elements.

Triple option

This play starts off with a dive read. The QB is going to read the unblocked defensive end. If the DE plays the dive (squeezes or comes down the line) the QB will pull. If the DE sits or runs up field at the QB- the QB gives. Typically you teach this by reading dude’s jersey- if his numbers show: give, if they disappear: keep. However, in college football the QB often starts to read distance: the distance the DE shuffles down towards the center as defenders started to learn more about QB reads they didn’t commit as much to turning their shoulders.

This is the pitch portion of the triple option. If the QB has kept now he has to decide to run it himself (“call his own number” as the idiots on TV often say) or pitch to the receiver. The QB here is reading a safety. When the safety runs down to play the WR the QB cuts up field and runs for a TD. In reality, the defense wants the QB to pitch because the room for error (read: fumble) is greater.

Below is the full GIF of the triple option.

The Cards run game is pretty fun using a lot of different styles of option and RPO to keep defenses guessing and slow down their opponents. They might need to use less option the more Satterfield can close the talent gap but until he does he’ll stick to his guns from ASU.

Everything Louisville does revolves around forcing the defense to switch their responsibilities mid-play and thus play slower. Whether that’s triple options where they switch reads and change who is blocked and isn’t; or in the passing game with stacked receivers, and the use of crossing routes.

Of course play-action passes will be absolutely necessary in any run-heavy offense. Louisville runs a lot of play-action and uses it for big shots downfield.

In order to beat Satterfield’s offense, or at least slow it down, your defense has to play sound, assignment-based football. The DC can’t risk freelancers, or guys who can’t line up right and adjust on the fly- because the motions and stacked receivers will cause some quick changes pre-snap. Blake Baker has to be ready to call less and let his players do more versus the Cards.

Scheme on D

Above- you can see how Louisville lines up on defense against the Syracuse 20 personnel picture. Rhett Lashlee runs some 11 (one back, one tight end) personnel groups with a 20p picture (the h-back is in the backfield instead of in a wing or inline as a TE). Satterfield brought his defensive coordinator in from App and the Cards run a 3-4 defense.

Syracuse runs an RPO here with a pop pass attached to the fullback. You can see a diagram below. If the linebacker (red “B”) runs up hard to play the run the QB will pull the ball from the RB’s belly and throw the RPO. If the LB (red “B”) sits or drops, the QB will hand off to the RB.

What that does is causes confusion for the linebackers. With the run action of the backfield and offensive line, the inside backers run up hard to play the run. The running back even takes a shot off the fake.

Canyonero Keys to Victory

First, against Louisville in 2019- the ‘Canes did what they should’ve done all season. Anytime you’re facing a defense with limited pass rush and bad defensive back play you should get in the gun, and take some deep shots. Louisville’s defense wasn’t as coached up or prepared as Virginia’s. While UVA plays deep quarters and gets pressure, the Cards don’t and can’t.

The 2nd key to victory for Miami is slowing down Cunningham. Easier said than done. But they hype behind Nesta Silvera, Quincy Roche, Jalean Phillips, et al on the defensive line, and the experience of Zach McCloud should offset the QB’s abilities, at least somewhat.

The 3rd key is keeping Atwell from hitting the big play. A four man pass rush can help this but so can DJ Ivey and Al Blades Jr being on top of their game against one of the nation’s most explosive players.