HEY GUYS! Welcome to the 2019 Louisville football season. It feels like ages since we watched actual football in this town…because it has been. I picked a hell of a season to start my “Keys to Victory” column, as last year would have been better served by a weekly “Keys to Survival” entry instead. But we got through it…barely. Bobby Petrino is gone, most likely pursuing his passion in pottery or organic soybean farming. Whatever he’s doing, he is somebody else’s problem at this point. The Scott Satterfield era has begun, and it looks promising. BUT, the Cardinal fanbase must have patience. Petrino left the roster an unbalanced mess, as evidenced by the rash of wide receiver transfers, positional changes, and the lack of depth at several key positions (most notably offensive line…where one freaking injury will leave us without a capable and ready backup at ANY position). But there are good signs everywhere you turn, from the star-studded assistant coaching staff, the clear change in attitude and apparent buy-in from the holdovers from last season, and a slew of other indications of the much celebrated (you guessed it) CULTURE CHANGE!!! As much as I am bought in to said cultural revolution, we’re going to need a corresponding talent infusion and a few years seasoning to get where I ultimately believe this program can go. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t expect some success in year one. As I did last year, each week I will lay out five keys to attaining that success, plus some notes on who and what to watch, and an inevitably horribly incorrect game prediction.
So, with no further ado…thus begins Season 101 of Louisville football, Season 2 of “Biscuit’s Keys to Victory”, and Season 1 of the Scott Satterfield Era. Let’s have some fun.
KEYS TO VICTORY (er…RESPECTABILITY)
- TAKE THE AIR OUT OF THE BALL – It’s not a secret that the 2019 Louisville offense will be run-centric. It’s equal parts Satterfield’s philosophy, roster makeup, and talent gap. The Cards will be deliberate, run the ball, and attempt to control the clock. Especially against teams with a pronounced talent advantage, it will keep the hands out of the opposing offense’s hands and slow the tempo waaayyy down. Against the Irish, that means keeping the ball away from Ian Book and his horses up front. Additionally, Notre Dame lost four starters from their defensive front seven, including their nose Jonathan Bonner and their 3 technique Jerry Tillery. Yes, they are replacing them with highly-touted players, but we’ll take any advantage we can get, however small. Might take some time for the fresh faces to get acclimated. Expect a steady dose of Javian Hawkins and Hassan Hall, and an array of misdirection in the run game.
- ZERO TURNOVERS – Last season, Louisville had issues with turnovers. Hell, Louisville had issues with everything. The truth is, UofL was struggling with turnovers well before the lost season of 2018. It’s imperative that Louisville does not turn the ball over against the Irish. If the Cards start handing the Irish short fields off short possessions, this game will get out of hand quickly. Get used to this as a theme this season. Louisville will be facing a talent disadvantage against most teams on their schedule, and lack the transcendent individual (i.e. Lamar Jackson) to overcome a negative turnover margin. To put it bluntly, I doubt UofL will win a game this season where they lose the turnover battle (save maybe EKU).
- LIMIT PENALTIES – Tale as old as time, this one…Bobby 2.0 was littered with undisciplined and sloppy play. One of the constant issues was penalties. All kinds of penalties. False starts, snap infractions, substitution penalties, too many men on the field, mismatched socks, late hits, swimming less than 30 minutes after eating, holding, wearing white after Labor Day, putting ketchup on their steak…and targeting. Simply put, this can’t happen against Notre Dame. I don’t expect NO flags. That’s unreasonable. But dead ball fouls and procedure penalties of any kind need to be at a minimum. Period. This ought to be a good indication of the team’s overall buy-in as well. As I’ve said a thousand times on radio and on the Crunch Zone podcast, everything that isn’t talent ought to be a massive upgrade.
- JAWON PASS – Jawon’s struggles were well-documented last season. He entered Louisville sporting an impressive offer sheet and lofty expectations, which were fanned by Petrino praise. Paradoxically, Puma seemed to have his best game against Alabama in the season opener. He stood poised in the pocket, often completing passes with multiple defenders in his face, even hanging off him. After the Bama game, we had many questions as a fan base, but quarterback was not one of them. That changed quickly. Jawon struggled against lowly opponents and was replaced by Malik Cunningham…multiple times. Going in to 2019, Cunningham was expected to compete for the top job, but a shoulder injury made Pass the unchallenged starter. Reports all offseason were positive. Pass has seemingly taken to the role of leader, and has certainly shown he is resilient. He had several chances to quit on this team, and yet here he stands. Reports from camp as to actual on-field performance have been mixed, but Coach Satterfield saw improvement over the last few weeks. If the Cards are going to compete with the Irish, it starts with Pass. He must be able to complete passes to keep the Irish defense honest, or they’ll just stack the box and stuff the run all day long. Puma can go a long way towards silencing his critics on Monday.
- DON’T LET THE ENVIRONMENT OVERWHELM YOU/TURN YOU BACK INTO THE OLD YOU – All The talk about culture change is all well and good, but it’s all talk until you play a game. You don’t have to beat a top ten Notre Dame to prove you’ve changed. But how you look out there, regardless of whether you win or lose, is very important. When something inevitably goes against you, when ND puts that first touchdown on the board, when your offense goes three and out, you have to resist the urge to hang your head. You have to forget those old feelings, that loser mentality that the team adopted last season. This will be the true test of that “culture change”…what the Cards do when the game goes south.
WHAT BISCUIT’S WATCHING
- The crowd. How many of you all are going to wear anything other than black? And WHY?
- Every single positive play I can hang on to. And I suggest you all do the same. This is going to be a long season, get used to celebrating the small victories with the team on the field. It will make the season far more enjoyable for you AND for them. However long last season was for us, it was twice as long for them. TRUST.
- The offensive line. Duh. It’s what I do. I have a good feeling about our top 6 linemen, and am interested to see how they operate as a unit. I expect a fair amount of zone blocking schemes. Nothing is a better indicator of how your O-Line is operating as a unit. Dwayne Ledford was the most important addition to a staff full of important additions, and I expect that to pay some immediate dividends.
- Notre Dame has a pair of play-making safeties and several pass-rushing edges. I’ll be keeping tabs on them all day. Guarantee Satt and the offensive staff will be, too.
- Tailgating. I am more of a free agent this season since one of my spots has disbanded. I might be coming through your lot. Look for me.
- Seth Dawkins, Dez Fitzpatrick, Tutu Atwell, and the rest of the receivers. We know they’re good, they just haven’t gotten to show it in damn near 2 years. Not sure how many opportunities they will have to shine this week, but I will be watching.
- Snap breakdown at a few positions, namely running back and defensive line. Amonte Caban and Ty Tyler were listed as 2nd string on the official depth chart, but I expect there to be a constant rotation.
- KICKERS! Blanton Creque and Mason King form one of the best duos of specialists in the country. Hopefully we see Blanton more than Mason.
- We’ve got Chick-fil-A, Ben’s Pretzels, and a whole mess of other concession stand additions this year. Cardinal Stadium is stepping their game WAY up.
- Ean Pfiefer. I am intrigued as hell by the former Vandy lineman turned tight end. He’s starting vs. ND because of the suspension of Jordan Davis. He should be an easy asset in the run game from day one…the questions come the first time he runs a route. I’m rooting for the former fat man.
I fully expect an invigorated, prepared Louisville football team against Notre Dame on Monday. That will only go so far against such a deep and talented Irish squad. The Cards will take the air out of the ball and keep it close in the first half, before that depth and talent wins out in the second half. There will be plenty of positives to take away from the game.
Notre Dame 41 – Louisville 17
As always, I hope I’m wrong. Go Cards.