Hello again, Canes fam! Been a while, but we’re back for another opponent Q&A as the Canes head deeper into the 2023 season.
I returned the favor and answered some of John’s questions about Miami. You can check that out right here:
With no further ado, let’s check in with John and learn a little about Louisville.
Q1. Louisville is 9-1 and ranked 10th in the CFP rankings. I’ll be honest here: nobody expected this from this year’s Cardinals team. How has this happened? And when did you think something like this was possible?
John Powell: When Brohm got super aggressive in the portal I got the feeling that he liked a lot of the core but was looking for some solid pieces to add to it to be competitive in year one. When the schedule was released and the Top 3 favorites in the league weren’t on it (FSU, UNC, Clemson) folks around here started thinking a 8-9 win season in year one was not only realistic but probable. I think Brohm said as much this week but Miami and Kentucky next week are probably two of the most talented teams they’ll play this year outside Notre Dame, so the next two weeks will be a good litmus test to see if this team is 10+ win good or just “good”. No matter what happens, nine wins in year one is a great foundation for what he and the staff are building.
Q2. A quick follow up, how big of an upgrade are the Brohm brothers — Jeff at HC and Brian at OC — over Scott Satterfield? Seems like a huge one, no?
Powell: As you might imagine, lots of eyes around Louisville were following the career of Jeff Brohm after he left Louisville as an assistant and then eventually made his way to Western Kentucky and Purdue as the head coach. Fans, boosters, his family...everyone wanted him to come home back in 2019 but he kept his word to Purdue to finish what he started. So when Satterfield came in and won ACC coach of the year in 2019 fans were pleased with the hire and what he accomplished....then he got wandering eyes, interviewed for a job behind the back of the AD, and then tried to play it off with everyone as a friendly meeting. Nobody bought it, but I think it would have been less impactful had he continued to perform at that level, but he followed it up with average performances for a few seasons after. The team was fine, played well, but never really beat anyone noteworthy, was ranked just two weeks during his whole tenure, and got smacked around by Kentucky annually. It was frustratingly mediocre.
The difference with Brohm and staff is they “get” Louisville. Many of them played here but lots of others coached here previously. It’s a unique animal in that it’s a larger city in terms of population, so not a college town, but no professional teams locally so Louisville athletics is the big show in town. There is always a bit of a blue collar mentality and “Louisville vs. The World” attitude from a lot of the fanbase. Brohm put lots of pressure on himself and staff to come in here and succeed, and to put an importance on the big games, something the last staff seemed to downplay a bit. Already knocking off Top 10 Notre Dame at home, a win against Kentucky next week, and a win Saturday to clinch a trip to the ACC Championship in year one....Brohm basically triples the number of big game wins Satterfield had in four years in his first 4 months on the job. The big thing of course, ignoring everything above, is that Brohm unequivocally, by almost any measure, is a better coach, even without the intangibles and understanding of the program. I feel very comfortable saying there was a less than 5% chance the previous staff puts up nine wins or more this year with the same schedule, and that’s 2-3 win difference is what gets you from the Pop-Tarts bowl to the Orange Bowl.
Q3. Jawhar Jordan. Discuss.
Powell: The young man is an animal in open space, and has shown continuously that if you give him a sliver of a lane he will capitalize. Go take a look at some highlights and you can see the burst is a problem for defenses who often take wrong angles or underestimate his open field speed. Unless something crazy happens he will easily eclipse 1,000 yards rushing and that was not something many penciled in prior to the season for an offense that looked to lean on a sixth year QB who knew the offense, and the wideout transfers. I will say, the benefit for the Canes is catching Jawhar in Game 11, banged up a bit the last few weeks he’s tried to give it a full go but backup Isaac Guerendo has done a great job filling in that role. Jawhar got a crease last week against UVA and normally he’d be dancing in the endzone but he got tracked down from behind 30 yards later. Still a difference maker but maybe a bit dinged up and a step slower.
Q4. Who else on offense should we know?
Powell: Wideout Jamari Thrash was the prime target for Plummer (QB) early this year and they were not afraid to take the top off and let Thrash go for some long balls. In weeks past defenses seem to be covering up that long ball with a man over the top so Thrash has been limited to shorter routes and trying to make a play on his own. As a result of that, it’s opened up the field for guys like Chris Bell (glorified TE playing WR), speedsters Kevin Coleman (editor’s note: a one-time Miami commit before flipping to Jackson State to play for Deion before leaving there and landing here at Louisville) and Amari Huggins-Bruce, and we’re slowly seeing the real TE position get involved more with Joey Gatewood catching a TD last week. They have some dudes, but my money is on them trying to balance the ground game with intermediate routes to spread the field.
Q5. How has the Louisville defense played this year? Who are the players of note/impact on that side of the ball?
Powell: They have impressed me, and played above their level in my opinion. Losing a few guys to the NFL last year, especially up along the line, I thought defensive pressure would be a problem. The NFL-ready Ashton Gillotte is playing out of his mind this year, getting double teams and fighting off holds nearly every down, but it’s the “other guys” who have really played well up front getting into the backfield and forcing quick decisions by the QB. In the secondary Quincy Riley has done a great job locking up his side of the field and Storm Duck has played well replacing the injured Jarvis Brownlee. Louisville was Top 25 nationally last year in overall defense and Top 11 in scoring defense. As of today they sit at #16 and #13 respectively in those same categories, showing they have equaled the level of production they were seeing last season.
Q6. The ACC in their infinite wisdom (sarcasm, I assure you) made this a “Tentpole” game, an annual rivalry on the schedule. This will be the only year of this status, since the league has expanded since the previous schedule format was announced. That being said: what does Miami-Louisville mean to the program overall? Why were you or weren’t you here for this as an annual tentpole game on the ACC schedule?
Powell: I touched on this a bit in my questions back to you (which the SOTU readers should go check out), but in my opinion the story of Louisville football includes Miami, especially if we are filling a three part Netflix docuseries or something. The game in 2006 was the “welcome to the party” game, blowing out a good Miami team en route to a Top 5 ranking and a shot at making a splash in the National Championship if not for a late season fall. The second was the first ACC game in 2014 where the Cards, even after just beating Miami in a bowl game the year prior, were finally sitting at the big boy table in the ACC after fear of being left out just a couple seasons before. Winning that game and making a mark in Game 1 of their ACC tenure was important. I think the Schnellenberger connection is also something noteworthy between the programs. Does it have the juice of an annual rivalry? Probably not, but I was okay with it as long as it got us out of the annual UVA game.
Q7. Call your shot: how do you see Saturday’s game play out?
Powell: There have been games this year I felt pretty good about, games I felt really nervous about, and a handful I really didn’t know what to expect. I think this falls into the later, as looking at records alone one would think this was a heavy Louisville lean, but having seen their weaknesses, it’s hard to feel confident against a very talent rich Miami team who it feels like week to week could compete against any team in the country (last week notwithstanding). I think Miami’s run defense can create problems for Louisville and force Brohm into a quick trigger on looking at trying to win through the air, but Plummer has only shown one time all season (BC) that he can be relied upon for 60 minutes to make the plays needed in the passing game. While TVD doesn’t scare me, he’s not a scrub by any means, and it seems like his ball security issue could easily disappear for a game here or there, and he looks like a Top 25 QB for that one week.
What I hope to see is an emotionally drained Miami team coming off a rough week, walking into an NFL stadium for a noon game with maybe 25-30k people in attendance and they have no juice out of the gate. The Cards ground and pound, mixing in some mid-range throws and get out early like 17-10 or something at half. Miami finds some life in the locker room and the Cards struggle again with making halftime adjustments when winning. We got a tight one that comes down to the final drive, but the Cards intercept TVD to close it out late and punch a ticket to the ACC Championship, where hopefully we have the backing of the Miami faithful in taking down FSU. Cards 31-27.
Thanks to John for joining us for the Q&A this week. You can check out his work, and the work of other talented writers covering Louisville Cardinals athletics, over at Card Chronicle.