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 get ready to host Manny Diaz’s Hurricanes this in primetime this Saturday night:
Q1: Louisville looks like a new program with Scott Satterfield as coach. What’s your impression on him after a year and a game at the helm?
CardinalStrong: I’m not really sure, as a fan, how you could ask for much more. The guy has done an incredible job taking a program that was not just underperforming on the field but was a legitimate toxic environment for many players and coaches, and turned it into a place where players feel cared for, coaches enjoy being, and as a nice little bonus they’re winning a good amount of football games. The overreactions and criticisms on silly things will be here soon enough I’m sure, but the man has been “in office” over a year and a half and is still hovering around a 95% approval rating. Nobody does that.
Q2: Micale Cunningham had a career day in the opener. How’d he make that happen, and what parts of that performance are most repeatable and which were likely outliers to what you expect to see from Cunningham on a game-by-game basis?
CS: While his passing game overall has been solid I would not anticipate him dropping another 340 yards this week. Western Kentucky in Week 1 basically said that Javian Hawkins, Hassan Hall, and Micale’s legs were not going to beat them and allowed Cunningham to make throws downfield…and he did. Cunningham had three passes alone (63, 48, 70) that totaled over 52% of his total yardage and one might be surprised to know that Tutu Atwell was not on the receiving end of any of those catches (I see your face, I told you that you would be surprised). Micale used his mobility when it was needed, including a 14 yard TD run, but he looked poised in the pocket and less prone to just take off if read one or two wasn’t there. I think we see Miami respect his arm a bit more than WKU and that may allow for opportunities in the run game.
Q3: Javian Hawkins is a beast. How has he progressed from last season? And who else do we need to know in the running game?
CS: Hawkins was a stud last year, without question. ‘Playstation’ ran all day and all night and racked up a single season UofL rushing record for RBs with 1,525 yards. This offseason the staff was just as high on Hawkins as last year but I kind of got the feeling they may try and share the load a bit more letting Hassan Hall get a few more reps. They split carries last week 19/6 so Hawkins is still the key driver, but Hall ended up with about the same total yardage on a couple big hitter plays. Hall is larger and has better speed in my opinion, but Hawkins is just tough to bring down, has good vision, and (I’m nervous to type this) great ball security. On 264 attempts last year he had zero turnovers.
Q4: Louisville has several dynamic receivers. The one we know best here is Tutu Atwell since he’s from Miami. Who else joins him as a weapon in the receiving corps?
CS: If UofL fans plan on mailing Bobby Petrino a hate letter about how he tried to ruin the program they should at least add a “P.S.” at the bottom saying thanks for the wideouts. Tutu Atwell was a pre-season All-American who by many accounts was “limited” last week against WKU. Of course, for Tutu being limited still translated to seven grabs for 78 yards. In addition, the Cards have outside threats in Dez Fitzpatrick and Justin Marshall, and another slot/inside newcomer in Braden Smith who went for 110yards receiving last week, playing off Tutu as a decoy or when he was out grabbing a breather. Smith is another speedster than can get great separation and cause problems for secondaries. Thankfully the Cards are also looking to get the TE more involved in the passing game as two different players (Pfeifer/Ford) caught TDs last week out of that position. Satterfield may need to wear a guayabera shirt on Saturday so he has enough pockets to hold all his weapons.
Q5: How has Louisville’s OL handled the NFL departure of Mekhi Becton?
It was a concern for sure, not only losing Becton but also Tyler Haycraft at RT who made the New York Giants squad a couple weeks ago. Replacing Becton with another large human in Adonis Boone (6-5, 310) certainly helps, and having Boone play in a few games last year including the bowl game allowed for a smoother transition. Boone struggled a but with DeAngelo Malone who is a legit pro prospect at DE for WKU, but overall the line played extremely well once they settled in, in fact Pro Football Focus actually graded them the best O-Line in the country last week. While they weren’t getting a great push in the run game their pass protection was solid and they seemed to gel pretty good for a group of five guys that had only played a handful of snaps together. They also have a bit more depth this season as seven guys played last week and they have another one or two that will likely crack the rotation in the coming weeks.
Q6: Louisville struggled to stop anything on Miami’s offense last year. The Canes had 196 yards rushing, and a program-record 6 TD passes. What has changed to help contain some of that explosion by Miami’s offense, and what is an area of concern for the Cards defense still?
CS: If I was ranking areas of concern I’m happy to report that ‘Defense’ would now be #2 on the list, unfortunately it’s because Special Teams looked like an absolute clown show last week breaking in a new punter and kicker. Last year Miami treated the Louisville defense like ‘SunPass’ tossing a few bucks at them while Louisville let them drive right on through. We saw some good things from the Cards defense last week and you can tell having a second year in the system is helping with some concepts and execution. My fear is that on designed runs Tyrrell Pigrome (WKU QB) still had some success, and while I’m not a draft analyst my sneaking suspicion is that D’Eriq King is a tad bit more athletic and a bigger threat to bust one open. I’m actually concerned more about the ground game than the pass, even with Miami’s success last season. A few new faces on the DL and in the LB group created disruption last week resulting in 10 TFLs and 3 sacks and they’ll have to pressure King this week as well to limit the big play.
Q7: Who are the standout players on defense that will impact the game for Louisville?
Rodjay Burns, Dorian Etheridge, and CJ Avery are the vets in the middle of the field at linebacker and they will make some plays for sure, but a couple newcomers or “newer” faces are Monty Montgomery (LB) and Yaya Diaby (DL). Both are put in the game to cause ‘havoc’ and they often have success. Monty had two sacks last week and seemed to always be in the backfield. Diaby does a great job sealing his edge and keeping plays in the middle of the field for Avery or Etheridge to swallow up. Another newcomer who we didn’t hear much from last week (and that’s a good thing) is Kei’Trel Clark at corner. The Liberty transfer didn’t get targeted a ton but had a couple pass break ups when they tried him.
Q8: What is more likely to happen: Miami scores 21 points in the first quarter or Louisville scores 28 points in the first half?
For all the struggles on defense last year they seemed to bend, bend, bend, and then break, meaning they would give up some early stuff but usually in the second half when teams would bust it open. The Cards only gave up 21 in the first quarter twice last season and that was to Miami and FSU. Every other team expect Notre Dame (14) had seven points or less after the first 15 minutes. I really don’t see them giving up three touchdowns early this week so I guess I’ll lean towards UofL with 28 at half. It may be 28-28 at that time, but probably more likely than the Canes putting up three TDs quick.
Q9: What’s your prediction for this top 20 matchup on Saturday night?
CS: I’m excited. After months and months of waiting and guessing if we were even going to play we get a Top 20 battle under the lights Week 2. I think the Louisville offense is going to be a problem for every team they play this year, so the question mark will be defensive consistency and surprisingly special teams. Louisville botched two punts last week that resulted in a one yard TD drive and a four yard TD drive by Western, essentially gifting them 14 points. That can’t happen. The Cards are also breaking in a new kicker and although they didn’t attempt a FG last week I’m nervous about how that may look if things are close late.
I did a prediction post earlier this year where I said Miami would win 49-45, and while the defensive effort in Week 1 gives me some greater confidence the special teams miscues balance out that optimism and make me think the Canes still find a way to get the win, albeit at a lower point total. Canes win 38-35 and I have to listen to how the ‘Canes are back’ on the ACC Network for the next two weeks. A cruel punishment.
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.