31.2 points per game & 418.8 yards per game for a Charlie Strong coached team is going to be tough to beat. Coach Strong is a defensive-minded coach and likes to run the football, but he has an offensive coordinator in Shawn Watson who likes to be aggressive. With Teddy Bridgewater under center and perhaps the most lethal receiving corps in college football, the offense should continue to be effective. I look for Scoring Offense & Total Offense to both improve into the Top 35 range, even with Charlie Strong typically going conservative up 2+ scores as both Strong and Watson can trust the Heisman Trophy candidate to not make major mistakes with big leads.
Louisville was OUTSTANDING in the RedZone converting on 53 of 57 trips inside the 20 in 2012. Two of the FOUR failed trips were actually in the Sugar Bowl win over Florida which cost them the #1 Red Zone Offense in the Country final ranking. Also, Louisville had an excellent Turnover Margin and dominated Time of Possession, while being absolutely lethal on 3rd Down. THESE categories are the reasons why Louisville Football was successful in 2012, but there is plenty of room for improvement in other areas.
Area for Improvement #1: TIGHT END PRODUCTION
The Cards struggled so much at tight end in 2012 that they moved two defenders to the position late in the season due to injury and production. The Cards haven’t gotten a lot out of their tight ends since 2010 when Cameron Graham hauled in 67 catches for 840 yards and 10 TDs, by himself. In 2011 the entire unit could almost amass 37 catches for 490 yards and 3 TDs, and then the returns slipped to an all-time low in 2012 of just 28 catches for 377 yards and 3 TDs. Obviously those numbers need to improve if the Cards are going to be serious about their tight end position.
Area for Improvement #2: CONSISTENTLY RUN THE FOOTBALL
Coach Strong likes to run the ball, but the truth of the matter is that the Cards haven’t had a great running game since Strong’s first season. There are factors that have contributed to that, especially losing Senorise Perry in 2012 & an inexperienced Offensive Line in 2011, but the numbers are the numbers. The Cards were 105th in Rushing Offense in 2012 with 122.69 yards per game, down from 33rd and 175 ypg in 2010 with Bilal Powell.
I really believe that this 2013 running game will step up in a big way in terms of effectiveness especially with a loaded stable of backs. But a great deal of the production on the ground will be because of the offensive line. I am curious to see how often the Cards run the ball with Bridgewater at QB, but I suspect that once the game is won the Cards will be heavily running the ball to protect the lead, but also their Heisman-contending signal caller.
Area for Improvement #3: FEWER TACKLES FOR LOSS/SACKS
Sacks and negative plays happen. But in 2012 at the University of Louisville sacks and TFLs happened at an extremely high rate. The Cards allowed 30 SACKS(!) in 2012 ranking 85th in sacks allowed per game. Compared to Tennessee who’s QB Tyler Bray who had similar numbers to Bridgewater (Bray: 268 of 451 for 3612 yards, Bridgewater: 287 of 419 for 3718 yards) the Vols allowed just 8 sacks on the season or 0.42 per game. CLEARLY the Cards need to protect their Heisman Candidate and future Top 5 NFL Draft Selection QB Teddy Bridgewater much better in 2013. Allowing just 8 sacks in a season is phenomenal, but cutting the number down by 10-12 would be HUGE for the offense & for Teddy’s chances of playing & finishing each game.
But sacks were the only issue for the Cards. The Cards allowed 84 Tackles For Loss (!) in 2012 ranking 96th in TFLs per game. 30 of these were (of course) sacks, so that means that 54 additional plays were stopped behind the line of scrimmage! That is way too many. Texas was #3 in this category allowing just 52. Louisville’s offensive line did improve on their numbers from 2011, and if they can make the same type of improvement in 2013 the Louisville offense will be even more effective
Analyzing Offensive Numbers
I can easily tell readers that Louisville had the 50th Scoring Offense in the country and the 51st Total Offense in the Nation with 31.2 points per game and an average of 418.8 yards. But that really doesn’t tell you the true story. The Cards actually outperformed opponents average points & yards allowed in 9 of 12 games and played against FIVE Top 25 Defenses. Taking more points and yardage that your opponents typically allow is a great indication of an effective offense and doing so against ALL FIVE Top 25 defenses is also a good indicator. Before you take a look at the chart, if the Cards can make statistical improvements in the three areas above the Cards will have an even better offense in 2013. Here is the chart for you:
|Scoring||Result (points)||% of Opponent Average||Total||Result (yards)||% of Opponent Average|
|Kentucky||31.0 (86th)||32||103.23%||391.4 (60th)||466||119.06%|
|North Carolina||25.7 (53rd)||39||151.75%||389.6 (57th)||462||118.58%|
|Florida International||31.7 (90th)||28||88.33%||402.9 (67th)||323||80.17%|
|Southern Miss (rain)||37.8 (116th)||21||55.56%||426.5 (85th)||269||63.07%|
|Pittsburgh||21.1 (23rd)||45||213.27%||330.5 (17th)||460||139.18%|
|South Florida||27.4 (57th)||27||98.54%||401.8 (66th)||384||95.57%|
|Cincinnati||18.5 (14th)||34||183.78%||388.1 (55th)||524||135.02%|
|Temple||31.2 (87th)||45||144.23%||436.7 (92nd)||508||116.33%|
|Syracuse||24.8 (46th)||26||104.84%||377.4 (47th)||472||125.07%|
|Connecticut||19.8 (19th)||20||101.01%||309.9 (9th)||401||129.40%|
|Rutgers||14.2 (4th)||20||140.85%||311.6 (10th)||364||116.82%|
|Florida||14.5 (5th)||33||227.59%||286.7 (5th)||336||117.20%|
*Note: Louisville played the Southern Miss game is ponding water. The other games, had acceptable statistical conditions (some rain, some not).
Of the 3 Vance Bedford & Charlie Strong defenses since the tandem joined Louisville the 2012 version was the least productive, but the Cards still finished 23rd in Total Defense (340.3 ypg) and 36th in Scoring Defense (23.8 ppg). Not bad. But not what Card fans have come to expect from one of the best defensive coaching staffs in the country. At the 2013 Media Day, Vance Bedford discussed the staff’s choice to be more conservative in their scheme last season and how the Cards were not going to do that in 2013. Bedford talked about holding his defense back like a ‘race horse’ because of his confidence in the offense, but that he was going to change it in 2013 because defense is supposed to be “fun”.
Area of Improvement #1: TACKLING
The coaches weren’t happy with tackling in 2012. The Rutgers game is a great example where missed tackles led to unnecessary scores and big gains. Rushing Defense went from 10th in the nation in 2011 to 49th in the country in 2012, much of which was due to tackling and allowing more yardage than necessary. If the Cards can do a better job of bringing ball carriers to the ground in 2013 the defense will be much better.
Area of Improvement #2: Get in the BACKFIELD
Last year the most shocking thing to me about Louisville’s defense was the lack of plays for a loss in the offensive backfield. The Cards ranked 77th in sacks per game and totaled just 22 QB takedowns in 2012. Compare that to 2010 when the Cards when the Cards were 7th and tallied 38 total and the difference is clear. But going further than that, getting into the backfield on non-sack plays has also seen a decline to 101st in the nation in 2012 from a Charlie Strong era best of 23rd in 2011. That is a BIG one-year difference. That Cards had 92 TFLs in 2011 and just 59 in 2012, and Stanford led the country with 124. Louisville doesn’t need to sell-out into the backfield but they do need to get more pressure on the QB and more push from their front 4 to cause more disruption and opportunity for plays to lose yardage.
Area of Improvement #3: Can I Get an INT?
The most iconic defensive moment (maybe team moment of the 2012 season) was Terrell Floyd’s Pick 6 in the Sugar Bowl’s opening play from scrimmage. Floyd had 3 INTs, all huge, in 2012. Still the Cards only had 11 picks last season, good for 65th…..and that is the best interception season during the Charlie Strong era. That really MUST change. UofL needs to do a better job of jumping routes and creating opportunities for takeaways (and returns) in the air. Adding about 4-5 more INTs would really push the Cards further into dominant defense territory.
Area of Improvement #4: Get off Field on 3rd Down
Louisville’s 3rd Down Defense was 13th in the nation in 2010 at 34.09%, 49th in the country in 38.14% in 2011, and 76th at 41.67% in 2012. That’s not a good trend as middle of the road defenses sit in 40% range on 3rd down defense. Louisville does not strive to be middle of the road. It strives to be elite, and that means 3rd down defense performing at less than 35%. Ending those additional 6% of possessions adds up to a huge result.
Analyzing Defensive Numbers
One dirty secret about Louisville’s Defensive numbers in 2012 was that the Cards played some REALLY…..and I mean REALLY bad offenses. Louisville played 7 teams that were 90th or worse in Total Offense last season, and just 3 teams with a Total Offense ranking inside the Top 50. That’s alarming, especially when the actual results are considered. But even though the Cards didn’t see a lot of good offense in 2012, they only allowed 4 teams more than average in scoring and in yardage.
|Scoring Offense||Result (points)||% of Opponent Average||Total Offense||Result (yards)||% of Opponent Average|
|Kentucky||17.9 (119th)||14||78.21%||315.0 (115th)||373||118.41%|
|North Carolina||40.6 (8th)||34||83.74%||485.6 (14th)||410||84.43%|
|Florida International||25.0 (84th)||21||84.00%||383.8 (77th)||326||84.94%|
|Southern Miss (rain)||19.7 (112th)||17||86.29%||323 (109th)||249||77.09%|
|Pittsburgh||26.6 (76th)||35||131.58%||390.1 (71st)||380||97.41%|
|South Florida||20.6 (106th)||25||121.36%||367.5 (90th)||386||105.03%|
|Cincinnati||32.3 (39th)||31||95.98%||440.2 (36th)||353||80.19%|
|Temple||24.7 (86th)||17||68.83%||322.0 (110th)||309||95.96%|
|Syracuse||30.0 (55th)||45||150.00%||476.3 (17th)||524||110.01%|
|Connecticut||17.8 (120th)||23||129.21%||318.3 (113th)||241||75.71%|
|Rutgers||21.5 (98th)||17||79.07%||329.9 (107th)||338||102.46%|
|Florida||26.5 (78th)||23||86.79%||334.0 (104th)||286||85.63%|
I think we can all agree that special teams left a lot to be desired in 2012. Without really beating the topic up too much let’s just get to the areas of opportunity:
Area of Improvement #1: Can the Cards Return a Ball?
In 2012 the Cards were 111th in Punt Return at 4.25 yards per return, and 122nd in Kick Return at 17.31 (ypr). That’s just not going to cut it. Special Teams, and the return game especially are plays of opportunity that the Cards were not able to take advantage of last season. For punt return the ‘middle of the pack’ in college football returned punts at least 8.5 yards per return…….the Cards were half of that. Kickoff returns weren’t much better with the Cards nearly 5 yards off the median kick return in 2012. Does it seem like I am splitting hairs? Sure. But add these up over the course of a ton of possessions and the difference these small amounts make are huge!
Area of Improvement #2: Can the Cards Stop a Return?
Kick/Punt Return Defense for the Cards in 2012 left A LOT to be desired. The Cards finished 114th in kickoff return defense allowing 24.65 yards per return including two touchdowns. That is not acceptable. But Louisville’s Kick Return defense hasn’t been very good since Steve Kragthorpe’s 1st year in 2007 when the Cards finished 18th, since then Louisville hasn’t been higher than 48th in Kick Return D, and hasn’t been better than 99th during the Charlie Strong era.
Punt Return Defense wasn’t much better. The Cards allowed 1 TD and finished 66th (8.14 ypr) after finishing #1 in the nation in 2011. Stopping returns could be a tremendous boost to obtaining premium field position throughout the season.
Area of Improvement #3: Punt & Kick the Ball Down the Field
Louisville wasn’t covering punts or kicks….and they weren’t kicking it very far in either case during 2012 either. The Cards finished 2012 near the bottom in Punting at 38.06 yards per punt…..good enough for 112th. Top 40 Punting Teams are in the 42 yards per punt range. The same goes for Kickoffs, an area where UofL finished 86th at 59.97 yards per kickoff, Top 40 Kickoff teams are +62 (max of 65).
Ultimately, Louisville doesn’t need Top 25 rankings in every single statistical category to be a good team. With the amount of starters returning it is reasonable to assume that the Cards could use last season’s results as a baseline (worst case scenario if you will) for improvement. UofL just needs to make improvements in these areas to become a more consistent winner…….a more convincing winner with less close games in 2013. It may seem like we are splitting hairs with these sometimes slight improvements in stats, but they really do add up to a huge amount over time. Field Goals become Punts on Defense and vice-versa on offense. Every thing leads to a better outcome. We will be watching to see what the Cards do in 2013.