Hello ladies and gentleman and welcome to this week’s Five Keys. Last week was…disappointing, to say the least. The offense was choppy and slow to start, and we saw defensive lapses that were far too reminiscent of the ineptitude under Van Gorder, Sirmon, and the like. The game against Miami felt like the first time in the Satterfield era that I felt like more of the loss was on coaching and/or *mental* mistakes than personnel (progress???.) I’m not saying the roster is “there” yet, it’s not, and Satterfield said as much post-game. But this game just felt like less a product of that deficiency than of coaching and execution. It was unexpected and surprising, and I don’t expect a repeat.
This week the Cards look to bounce back with a strong performance against the Pittsburgh Panthers, one of the best defensive teams in the ACC. Pitt presents challenges for the Cards, albeit completely different from what Miami brought to the table. Louisville will have to be sharp to come away from the Steel City with a victory. Without further ado, let’s get to THE KEYS!
THE FIVE KEYS
- Start Fast On Offense – Going in to the season, there were questions about the defense and the offensive line, but nobody questioned the offensive skill positions. Louisville brought back game-breakers Tutu Atwell & Javian Hawkins, along with a rising star at QB and a multitude of other weapons. But against their first two opponents, Louisville has struggled to find their rhythm early. Against WKU, they regained their footing rather quickly and were able to break the game open in the 2nd quarter, but against Miami it cost them, and they were lucky to only be down two touchdowns at halftime. I think this boils down to a combination of factors. The line has had bright spots both games, but they’ve struggled to find each other and adjust to their opponent early in each contest. In addition, against Miami the early offensive game plan was confusing and jarring. It didn’t seem cohesive. And while Miami was certainly getting pressure on Malik Cunningham early, it still felt like they didn’t try to stretch the field at all. And any play that was slow to develop at all (I am talking as little as a counter step, or play action) just seemed to get swallowed up. Thankfully the team found a rhythm in the 2nd half with a more north-south approach to the running game & a few downfield hits. Against Pitt, they need to establish their intent early and score in the first quarter.
- Fix Alignment Issues On Defense – After the game and even through the podcast on Tuesday night, I have been going back and forth about whether the busted plays from Miami Saturday were more alignment/mental mistakes, or coaching/scheme issues. I think you can argue it was a little of both, but I am leaning more towards them being a result of alignment and assignment issues (mental mistakes) than a result of a bad scheme. I was pushed over the edge by a logical argument made by my friend Keith Wynne over at Card Chronicle (here at TCZ we have a lot of respect for our friends at other blogs in the city.) Keith believes these issues are fixable, and I tend to agree with him. I was fixed on some of the comments made by Miami players and staff post-game, that they saw weaknesses and tendencies in our defensive alignment that they knew they could exploit. I have to assume he was talking about our struggles against trips. The DBs were constantly confused and out of position against trips sets, resulting in big play after big play. If it was there against WKU, I didn’t see it because Western didn’t have a QB who could take advantage of it. Bottom line, Bryan Brown is one of the most respected young defensive minds in the game, and I have to believe that once his system takes and the talent grows here at Louisville, he will enjoy the same type of success he did at App State. Short term, we need Isaiah Hayes to look more like Week One Hayes than Week Two Hayes. (Side Note: If you are a Louisville football fan, follow Keith Wynne on Twitter @Keith_Wynne. After I rewatch games, I always like to hit Keith’s feed and see if we saw the same things or bounce a few observations off of him. He’s a must follow.)
- Louisville’s Offensive Line – You should know by now that at least one of the keys every week will probably reference the offensive line. I’m sorry. It’s what I love, and it’s what I know best. Like I mentioned in the first key, I think a lot of our early offensive struggles can be traced to the line play. Overall, they have played well enough, and I can absolutely see the makings of a very good unit. But in both games, they have struggled to find their rhythm early, and it showed. The Pitt defense features one of the best defensive fronts in the league, even without Jaylen Twyman. They produced seven sacks last week against an admittedly bad Syracuse line. The interior three can’t get beat across their face on zone plays, and all five have to be solid in pass protection. This Pitt defensive front offers another real challenge and an opportunity for the line to take another step forward.
- Get Pressure on Kenny Pickett – Pickett has garnered some praise for his play this year, but after watching some of his film from this year, I’m not overly impressed. He is solid, but not all that mobile. But, if you give him time he can pick you apart. D’Eriq King presented a true dual threat at the QB spot, and his running ability had to be respected. That said, I thought Brown was overly conservative on obvious passing downs, often only bringing three. Against Pitt, I expect the Cards to be far more aggressive in passing situations, bringing more blitzes and making Pickett feel the pressure. Pitt has not run the ball all that well, meaning Pickett will have to make plays for Pitt to score points. Louisville has to manage more than the one sack they netted against Miami.
- Win the Turnover Battle – Last week, Louisville turned the ball over three times (one fumble coming late in the 4th quarter,) and did not manage to turn the Canes over once. UofL and Pitt seem to match each other’s strengths, meaning this week’s matchup could turn on a few big plays, specifically turnovers. Louisville has not intercepted a pass through the first two weeks. While Malik Cunningham has done a very good job overall, he did throw a pick against the Canes, and had a few passes week one that could have easily been picked off. Ball security will be paramount. Louisville may need a big turnover or two from their playmaking linebackers, or an interception from their DBs.
WHAT BISCUIT’S WATCHING
- Javian Hawkins – When all else failed against Miami, Javian Hawkins strapped the team to his back and willed them down the field. He plays so much larger than his 5’9″ 200 pound frame. Can’t wait to see what he has in store for this week.
- Aidan Robbins – Speaking of the running back corps, when Hassan Hall was banged up late, Maurice Burkley and Aidan Robbins both saw limited action. I have been waiting to see Aidan in play, as he is just a massive specimen at the RB position at 6’3″ 230 pounds. I will be interested to see how the rest of that rotation plays out the rest of the season.
- Rashad Weaver had a monster 2020 debut, after missing all of 2019 and then the season opener due to a possible positive Covid test (it was a little unclear.) Against Syracuse, he had seven tackles, three tackles for a loss, and two sacks. Keep an eye on #17 for the Panthers.
- ACC Network Commercials. Seriously. I am going to end up pulling the trigger on one of these things sooner than later.
- I’m still on Trevor Reid watch. After so much offseason hype, we have yet to see Reid on the field. Cam DeGeorge as filled the role as the 6th offensive linemen, playing both guard spots and right tackle in relief. I haven’t heard whether there is an injury issue, but I still expect Reid to see the field sooner than later.
- Lamar vs. Mahomes – Safe to say, Monday night will feature the best matchup of the year. Lamar/Mahomes will be the premiere QB matchup of the next ten years. This one should be epic.
WHAT BISCUIT’S COOKING
We are going for a classic this week. RIBS. Usually when I cook ribs, I like to invest the time and effort and cook spare ribs. They are more of a true low and slow cook, but I think the effort is worth it. But this weekend, I will be cooking baby backs, which have their own benefits. They are closer to a grill process than a true smoke. I normally cook them closer to 275, with a healthy dose of my special pork rub. Normally I’d have a dose of Thunda Sowce on the side (optional) but I don’t have stores right now, unfortunately.
Keep an eye on the timeline for pictures of this pork goodness.
As has been documented all week long, Scott Satterfield has only lost consecutive games twice in his career, and not since 2017. He has a fantastic ability to get his teams to bounce back after losses. I expect the Cards to learn from last week and move on. Their attitudes after the Miami game were positive, and I think that bodes well for this week.
I feel like this comes down to strength vs. strength, Louisville’s offense vs. Pitt’s defense. And at the end of the day, I have more faith in UofL’s ability to score vs. Pitt’s defense than in Pitt’s ability to score enough against Louisville’s defense.
Cards – 31 Panthers – 24
Go Cards. Beat Pitt.
Finally, if you’re in my hometown, please be careful and be safe, look out for and love one another. These are not easy times for anybody. I love you, Louisville.
Rest in peace, Breonna Taylor.