After a somewhat disappointing start to the season, Louisville had a much-needed bye week to regroup and refocus. Waiting on the other side of that break is a struggling Georgia Tech squad, sitting at 1-2 on the season. GT head coach Geoff Collins is in year two of rebuild and complete philosophy shift within the Tech program, where Paul Johnson’s option attack ruled for a decade. That kind of sea change is not easy, and Tech is experiencing some of those growing pains in real time.
The Cards have had their own share of issues in the early season, with inconsistency being the theme through three games. The defense has looked improved in two out of three games, but looked confused and overwhelmed against Miami. The highly-touted offense has had moments of brilliance, but has been plagued by slow starts and looked absolutely overmatched against a very good Pitt defense.
Friday night football, folks. Feels like the old days! With absolutely no further ado, here are the keys…
THE FIVE KEYS
- Force Sims to make mistakes – Jeff Sims is an uber-talented true freshman out of Jacksonville. He was rated as the #6 dual-threat QB in the nation and is one of the highest rated recruits to ever sign with the Yellow Jackets. But, like most freshmen QBs, he has had his struggles. He’s looked very good at times, but through three games he’s thrown EIGHT interceptions, including four against Syracuse. The Cards defensive front has struggled to get pressure out of its base defense, but I expect Bryan Brown to bring extra men on a regular basis, and throw some different coverage looks at the young signal-caller in an effort to confuse him and force a few turnovers. He WANTS to throw picks, man. He WANTS to. The Cards just need to take advantage of that.
- Win 3rd Down – One theme early in the year is Louisville’s struggles on third down, on both sides of the ball. On offense, early down struggles (too many plays for no gain or loss) have set up longer 3rd down situations, resulting in only 34% of those downs being converted, good for 61st in the nation (out of only 74 teams.) This has led to too many three and outs, and fewer sustained drives. On defense, the Cards are middle of the pack (44th) at 43%. Beyond the surface numbers, there have been several moments where UofL’s opponents have converted long third downs, which can be demoralizing (and exhausting) for a defense. Against Tech, the Cards need to improve these numbers on both sides of the ball. Shorten possession on defense, and lengthen them on offense.
- SCORE EARLY – This isn’t the first time I’ve included this as a key, but frankly it remains one until the offense gets it together. UofL has yet to score a touchdown on their opening drive this season, as they’ve been marred by slow and halting starts. As I said previously, I think you can trace much of the offense’s struggles to the offensive line. They seem to be struggling early in games to get on the same page and in synch. I think some of it is adjusting to the speed and style of the defenses they face, but ultimately this should not be an issue, especially with the veteran interior. We saw it early against WKU (especially DeAngelo Malone,) the entire first half against Miami’s front, and the entire game against Pitt. I also need to include the tight ends in this (Marshon Ford in particular has struggled blocking) and the backs, who have often been underwhelming is pass pro. The Louisville offense, especially the line, has to set the tone early, impose their will, and “dictate the terms” of the engagement. To be fair, the Cards have faced two of the best defensive lines in the conference, and likely won’t see anything like Pitt’s front the rest of the year. All the more important to jump on a team like Tech and bury them early.
- Malik needs to play like Micale – I’m kidding…sort of. As Kelly Dickey recently pointed out, Malik Cunningham has had a great deal more success when he went by Micale (8-3 as Micale, 0-6 as Malik.) I think we all know it has nothing to do with his name (maybe…) Against Pittsburgh, Cunningham went 9/21 for 107 yards and 3 INTs, and left the field at the end of the game on a stretcher. It was easily the worst Malik has looked since becoming the full-time starter. It also had very little to do with him. Malik was sacked seven times and rarely had time to throw. True, when he had receivers open and a few seconds to make the play, he didn’t execute. But in a game when you are constantly under pressure and getting hit at a regular clip, even the throws when you have time are affected. I am inclined to toss the entire Pitt game away, at least when evaluating the rest of the offense (outside of the line.) All of that being said, Malik has still looked less than sharp on his deep ball (arguably his best asset) and has missed a few throws you just can’t miss. He has thrown as many picks through three games as he did all last year, and is completing less than 60% of his passes. But any calls for a change at the position are ludicrous. Malik’s return as a stable playmaker at the QB position was one of the main reasons there was so much optimism heading in to the 2020 season, and one bad game shouldn’t affect that. I expect Cunningham to return to form against GT.
- Keep making plays in the opponent’s backfield – Despite the defensive inconsistency, Louisville has done some things very well. They rank 10th nationally in tackles for a loss with 27, with Dorian Etheridge leading the way with 8.5 (good for 4th nationally.) As expected, the Cardinal LB corps has been the strength of the defense, with Etheridge, CJ Avery, Yasir Abdullah, Rodjay Burns, and Monty Montgomery leading the way. They’ve all shone at different times this season, and need to continue to do so in Atlanta on Friday night. The more plays they can make on first and second downs, the more pressure on Sims, and the more likely he is to make mistakes. The defense looked good, especially in the second half, against Pitt. And that was largely due to the front seven consistently making plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. I look for them to continue the trend against the Ramblin’ Wreck.
WHAT BISCUIT’S WATCHING
- Offensive Line rotation – I stated on the podcast and radio that I did not expect wholesale changes on the offensive line during the bye week. I still believe the starting five we came into the season with has the makings of a good unit. But you have to think that Dwayne Ledford used the bye week to maybe give some of the other guys reps with the first team offense. Cam DeGeorge has already proven to be a very valuable 6th lineman. Will we see more Trevor Reid? Or maybe Jackson Gregory, Joshua Black, or Luke Kandra? Something to watch.
- Zone running game – Outside of the 75 yard burst that Javian Hawkins had against Pitt, he only had 3 yards on 12 carries. And if you take out the 31 yard fake punt by Tabarius Peterson, UofL had 10 yards on 28 carries. Granted, seven of those “carries” were sacks for negative yardage on Cunningham, but it’s no secret that the Cards have struggled to consistently eat up yardage in the base outside zone package. Even that 75 yard scamper was a straightforward H-back lead. It was well blocked, for sure, but struggling so much out of the bread n butter set is concerning.
- James Turner – the new placekicker remains perfect (4/4) on FGs and extra points. Shout out to the young man for being a stable factor after the graduation of Blanton Creque.
- QB Spy – Jeff Sims can absolutely hurt you on the ground as well as through the air. I expect Bryan Brown to employ a QB spy in most sets like they did against WKU and Miami. Look for CJ Avery & Monty Montgomery to fill this role.
- ACC Network Camera Crew – I realize this week’s game is on ESPN (thankfully) but I will inevitably be watching the ACC Network on Saturday, and thus will be treated to another round of “WHO WANTS TO BE A SPORTS CAMERAMAN????” I mean seriously, some of the most shoddy camera work you will ever see. Unnecessary close-ups, wild jerks of the camera, or no movement at all…it was quite a journey.
- Offensive Play-calling – I don’t think any amount of creativity would have helped the offense against Pitt ( the line was just thoroughly dominated,) but I will be interested to see if Satterfield looks to pass on early downs to loosen the defense. Maybe some quick-hitters to our speedy slot receivers. When the outside zone has been so inconsistent on early downs, may be time to shake it up a bit. I realize you can’t really change the DNA of this offense, but a little here and there could do wonders.
- Fire Adam Gase. Now. Please. For my sake. For Mekhi’s sake. And sell the team, Woody Johnson.
- FATMAN – Watch this trailer…please
WHAT BISCUIT’S COOKING
For Pitt we did some classic baby back ribs (mostly for my friend Rudy who blew out both of his knees and is incapacitated at home…all because he tried to play pick-up soccer at 37. Moral of the story? Leave soccer to the Europeans.) They were slamming, per usual.
This week I think I’m going to either hit some classic Biscuit marinated hot honey wings, or I may hit the timeline with the quick smoke-fired salmon, a staple of my arsenal. Per usual, check the Twitter timeline (@BiggestBiscuit) for the results.
Even against the best defense in the country (not calling Pitt that at all) you need to win more reps than Louisville did last time out. I think the bye week came at just the right time for the Cards to refocus and reenergize before facing a rebuilding, bottom third of the ACC Georgia Tech team.
I expect there to be a little more consistency in the offense this week, with the defense putting enough pressure on the young quarterback Sims to force multiple turnovers. Scott Satterfield and the Cards avoid a three game skid ahead of the big showdown with Notre Dame.
Cards – 41 Yellow Jackets – 24
I am not one for hyperbole, but this is simply a game you cannot lose if you expect to be taken seriously as an ACC contender. You can explain away the last two losses. Not this one. Go Cards. Beat Georgia Tech.