BC heads to Louisville this weekend on the heels of back to back losses. The only way to forget about the pain is to move forward. This week we’re commiserating with John Powell from over at Card Chronicle, SB Nation’s site for the Louisville Cardinals. He was kind enough to share his thoughts on Louisville’s season so far and what we can expect when the two teams clash on Saturday.
BCI: Scott Satterfield’s team is coming off a tough 4-7 season after winning eight the season prior. Now, Louisville is off to a 3-3 start to the season, but 1-2 in the ACC thus far. Both teams are coming off two straight conference losses. What are the expectations as we enter the second half of the season?
CC: Satterfield has been out on these streets “playing with my emotions” since the summer. He came in this season trying to win back the fan base after some South Carolina job flirtations last year and then basically laid an egg against Ole Miss in the Labor Day Chic-Fil-A kickoff (promotional ad placement looking for some free chicken sandwiches), and fielding a team that looked uninspired in a win over in-state foe Eastern Kentucky. The Cards stole a win against a good UCF team and he “totally redeemed himself” for the slow start. Folks were high on the expectations the remainder of the season, especially with the ACC looking a bit rough early on. Escaping Florida State and then dropping two very winnable games to Wake and UVA has the fans ticked off again. Conservative play calling on both sides of the ball allowed both games to slip away and folks aren’t happy knowing there are literally 3-4 plays away from being 5-1, (whispers) but also about 3-4 plays away from being 1-5. Not gonna lie, Saturdays game is a big piece of putting together a respectable second half of 2021. If they drop this one, postseason play is in danger...and that ain’t gonna fly.
2. BCI: Louisville has posted 30+ points in each game so far this season. Malik Cunningham struggled with turnovers last year, but seems like he’s corrected a lot so far. Coach Hafley went on about Malik deserving credit as a passer too this week and even at the beginning of the season. What makes Cunningham and the offense so potent, and where can they even further improve?
CC: Malik is balling out this year, and his stats point to this being his best season at Louisville over the last three years. So why is he not getting any All-ACC buzz or national love? Because Louisville is 3-3. Folks around here have finally come around on Malik after a three year Lamar Jackson hangover, like that Waffle House and Pedialyte finally kicked in and they can see clearly now that Cunningham will likely leave as a top 5 QB in Louisville history, according to the stats.
The concern in 2020 was ball security, but he has absolutely emphasized being more protective of the ball and not forcing things which aren’t there. His escapability shows up on the highlight tape a bit more, but Hafley is right in pointing out his improvement as a passer. He’s missed some easy throws this year, but he’s also had some absolute dimes across the middle, deep balls, and even some back shoulder throws outside the hash. Everyone can point out the flaws of their own players better than other teams, but I think the fans are starting to realize he’s a real problem for defenses, and can make plays few other QBs in the country can, consistently.
3. BCI: On the flipside, the Cardinals secondary is allowing nearly 300 yards per game. Why such a porous secondary? Is the run defense any good or do teams not even bother? I ask because of a still suspect BC passing offense.
CC: [grinding teeth trying to think how to answer this nicely] Louisville’s defense is performing below expectations. Frankly, I thought this team was a Top 5 ACC caliber defense from top to bottom in both the pass and run game. I’m wrong. We see flashes, we see great play for a quarter or a half, but they have really yet to put together four quarters, so it’s fools gold to me. If you ask the casual fan 90% of the issues stem from play-calling. Our DC Bryan Brown has a tendency to get a bit conservative when the Cards go up a couple scores and has allowed multiple times this season for teams to claw back into the game late and even steal victories because he wants to avoid the big plays by only rushing 3 or 4 guys and dropping the rest. The problem is it’s not working, like, at all. I wrote something earlier this week about this topic if your readers are interested, they can check it out here. I know Jurkovec is out but Dennis could be a real menace if we don’t change the approach. Any D-I QB in the ACC can find space in the zone so if Louisville doesn’t change anything I expect to see BC slice them up as well.
The run defense is a bit more stout upfront as they do a good job not getting burnt for big plays on the ground. Yaya Diaby and freshman Ashton Gillotte can help seal the edges and get to the QB and the second level has a couple vets at linebacker that limit most backs from getting into the secondary. I’d be lying if I told you it was all stellar play as some of those deflated numbers are a result of attacking the Cards through the air, as you noted. I think they have the talent to be really good, but so far they just aren’t.
4. BCI: Some key players to replace around the program. Javian Hawkins, Dez Fitzpatrick, and Tutu Atwell come to mind offensively. Who’s flying under the radar this season, and are there any key injuries we should make note of?
CC: Last week was a bit of a ‘welcome back’ party for Hassan Hall at running back as he had not been at 100% all year. Last week he went for 162yds and a touch which was really encouraging to see. The other back (Jalen Mitchell) you’ll see mostly is more of a power back but can beat up that front seven over the course of a game banging out 4-5 yards here and there. The other guy to keep any eye on offensively, if you can, is Tyler Harrell. The freshman was hand clocked this summer with 4.2 speed, and before you laugh, he’s got TD’s for 75 yards and 92 yards the last two games where he basically just ran right past the defense like a roadrunner cartoon. I’d expect Satterfield to call the “run fast, score TD” play a couple times on Saturday.
The Cards did lose starting linebacker Monty Montgomery earlier this year and starting wideout Braden Smith. Both are done for 2021. They also have a couple guys on the O-line banged up and starting TE Marshon Ford has missed some time recently, but I think they are all eligible this week after getting some recovery time last weekend.
5. BCI: The Cardinals look to be around a 6.5 point favorite at home. The Eagles have come up on top three of the past four years, and they’ve all been pretty much shoot-outs. How does this one play out?
CC: I was going to go back and look at my preseason prediction to see what I thought about this matchup back in August but at this point those thoughts and words are as irrelevant as UMass athletics (Marcus Camby ain’t walking through that door). The Cards had the benefit of a bye week to heal up a bit and hopefully watch a crap ton (US standard measurement) of film to see where they are shooting themselves in the foot week after week. I have no reason to anticipate this wont be another back and forth game with a late score being the deciding factor. This time I think UofL makes the late play on offense and then the defense actually gets a fourth quarter stop to seal the victory. I’ll say Cards 31, Eagles 27.
A UMass dig to top it off. Talk about playing to the audience. Thanks again to John (@CardinaIStrong) for giving us all the info we need ahead of Saturday’s matchup. Be sure to check out all of John and the rest of the staff’s coverage this week at Card Chronicles, and our end of the Q&A here.