Halfway through the season and we know what Louisville Football is: DEFENSE.
The Cardinal Defense has been LIGHTS OUT thus far in 2014 through 6 games. Louisville has the #1 Total Defense in the nation and have allowed just 12.7 points per game (6th). Much of the focus has been on the offense and getting that signature Bobby Petrino video game production…..but that’s not in the Cards this season. Louisville, however, does need to match it’s personality.
Right now, Louisville has lost 13 turnovers……..THIRTEEN!!!! In just six games, that is astronomically high. At 5-1 (3-1 ACC) Louisville’s only loss came in a game versus Virginia where the Cards turned the ball over FOUR times all in its own territory. The final score was 23-21 and the Cards turned the ball over on its own 15 (resulted in TD), 17 (Cards INT’d), 38 (resulted in FG), and 25 (resulted in FG) totaling 13 total points.
The Cardinal Defense might want to consider a nickname: “The Bail Bondsmen”. The group is constantly ‘bailing’ the offense out of its mistakes. In fact, UofL is allowing just 31.25% (7th) Touchdowns in Red Zone trips…..and when Louisville has turnovers aplenty inside it’s own zone THAT is a big deal and a reason why the Cards are able to be 5-1.
Moving forward, the Cards are going to see #25 Clemson, 4-2 NC State, #1 Florida State, 3-2 Boston College, #6 Notre Dame, and 4-1 Kentucky. Turnovers like that can not continue if UofL hopes to build on it’s 19-2 record in its last 21 contests. Louisville MUST completely match the personality of its football….and that’s defense.
1) Stop turning the ball over. Louisville’s defense has bailed the Cards out of short fields all season, but now the schedule gets much tougher. The Cards should continue to work on the offense and attempt to play behind a stellar defense to give the team the best chance to win. This can happen through play-calling and personnel.
2) Penalties must be eliminated. No football game is completely clean, but Louisville’s penalties must be mitigated in order to match it’s defensive personality. The game really is going to be a grind and about field position. Of course Louisville will try and make the big play and maintain drives, but especially on special teams, what good is a 40 yard punt with a 10-yard penalty? 3rd & 3 is manageable but a 5-yard false start that creates 3rd & 8 is not an ideal scenario for any offense.
3) Win Special Teams. This can be simply fair catching a punt, kneeling kickoffs in the end zone, covering good punts & kickoffs. At this point, any special teams play WITHOUT a penalty or turnover (see above) is HUGE for the Cards. Louisville has turned several 40-yard punts into 50-yard nets with block in the back penalties. These must stop.
Once the Cards can confidently play mistake-free football in special teams, THEN we can focus on James Quick and Corvin Lamb breaking big plays in the return game, and try to create disruption and go after some blocked punts. John Wallace’s field goal kicking has been superb, Louisville needs every yard it can earn to get Wallace into range to score points……with this defense every point counts. Also, the Cards have had some punting inconsistencies, that must change. Special Teams is 90% about winning field position, Louisville needs to do a better job here.
4) Allow the defense to create opportunities. Louisville has not won field position this season (see above 3 points), but the Cards have done a great job or winning time of possession. One of the reasons is because its defense gets opposing offenses off the field so quickly. If the Cards can improve the 3 areas above, then we can start talking about another aspect of winning football…..defense creating opportunities for the offense. Short fields for the offense increase odds of points dramatically and the Cards have the Defense to do it if the Cards will allow their defense to start dictating play-calling and decision-making on the football field.
5) Hit the hole! Playing behind a defense means punting when necessary, not turning the ball over, winning field position through special teams, and gaining 1st downs on offense when you can. The reason why Brandon Radcliff has won the starting job at Running Back the last 2 weeks is because he hits the hole with reckless abandon and does not hesitate. Sometimes experienced backs try and find the big hitter to their own determent. Louisville needs its running backs to accept short gains and run through holes (or non-holes) powerfully in order to wear down the defense and occasionally break a big play.
More than anything not taking losses (you notice a theme in these points?) in the running game, or sacks in the passing game are HUGE. I’d love to see Dominique Brown assert his will at the line of scrimmage along with Michael Dyer, Corvin Lamb, and LJ Scott. But right now the reason why Brandon Radcliff is the Energizer Bunny for the Cards is because he gets the ball and he hits his gap with authority. If nothing else Brandon Radcliff is going to fall forward at the line of scrimmage. As football fans, we are all about the big play….but the Cards must establish the running game and make life difficult for tacklers. Brandon Radcliff is doing that so he gets the rock.