Preview 2017: Louisville Cardinals

Preview 2017: Louisville Cardinals

Teams & Conferences

Preview 2017: Louisville Cardinals

Preview 2017: Louisville Cardinals


Previewing and looking ahead at the Louisville Cardinals season – and what you need to know.


Contact @PeteFiutak

2017 Louisville Preview: The College Football Sugar Rush
2017 Louisville Schedule Breakdown & Analysis
– Louisville Previews: 2016 | 2015

What You Need To Know About The Louisville Offense

That worked out just fine. All Louisville did was finish third in the nation in total offense, sixth in scoring, and cranked out a Heisman winner.

Lamar Jackson is back, and while he’ll be a marked man, he’s growing into an even sharper passer to go along with his amazing, electrifying skills in the open field. However, backup Kyle Bolin transferred to Rutgers – the cupboard is thin if No. 8 goes down.

Jeremy Smith is the leading returning running back, but Jackson is obviously the most dangerous rushing threat. WR Reggie Bonnafon – who saw plenty of work over his first two seasons – will see his share of carries, even though he’s needed in the receiving corps.

The top three receivers from last year are gone, including star TE Cole Hikutini. Jackson makes everyone around him better, but there’s plenty of flash ready to step in. Other than Jaylen Smith and Bonnafon, though, there’s not a ton of experience.

The receiving corps should be fine early on, but the line needs work. Both starting tackles are back, and that’s it. There’s experience back to play around with inside, but it might take a little bit to find the right combination.

Biggest Key To The Louisville Offense

The rebuilding line has to keep Jackson in one piece. This is a high-octane, quick-hitting attack that doesn’t need to do much more than give the Heisman-winner a little bit of time and space for him to do what he does.

However, the Cardinals gave up a whopping 47 sacks and 83 tackles for loss on the year, almost getting Jackson killed in the Houston loss, and not giving him any room to breathe in the bowl loss to LSU.

There will be moments when the front five does its part and everything is humming along just fine. But for a team with ACC title hopes, keeping the Florida State and Clemson defensive lines from crashing into the backfield will be a concern.

What You Need To Know About The Louisville Defense

Nine starters return to a defense that struggled late in the season, and – in the no-shame-there category – couldn’t hold up in the loss to Deshuan Watson and Clemson. However, even with a few problems, the Cardinals still finished 14th in the nation and allowed just 115 rushing yards per game.

With Todd Grantham moving to take the defensive coordinator gig at Mississippi State, it’ll be up to Peter Sirmon to keep the production going.

Top tackler Keith Kelsey is gone, along with star safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, but just about everyone else of note returns led by a potentially crushing defensive front. DE Drew Bailey leads a deep line full of very big, very productive stars.

Kelsey will be missed, but the pass rushers will come form the linebacking corps, starting with leading sacker James Hearns. The group will be terrific, while the secondary – even without Harvey-Clemons – will be a rock with both starting corners returning along with third-leading tackler Chucky Williams.

Biggest Key To The Louisville Defense

The defensive front has to be able to hold up against dangerous running quarterbacks. Deshaun Watson threw for 306 yards and five scores in Clemson’s win – and he also took off for a season-high 91 yards. Kentucky’s Stephen Johnson ran for 83 yards and threw for 338 in the win. Houston beat the Cardinals because of the defense, but Greg Ward Jr. threw for an effective 223 yards.

Throw in the 138-yard day from RB Derrius Guice in LSU’s bowl win, and it was simple – when the Cardinal D broke down against the run, or couldn’t handle the more mobile passers, it struggled. Over the last three seasons, UofL is 0-6 when giving up 200 rushing yards or more.

Louisville Will Be Far Better If …

There aren’t so many mistakes. It’s not hard to blow past errors when you’re cranking up points and yards by the truckload, but it’s not helping the cause when you’re the ninth-most penalized team in the country you can’t stop turning the ball over.

Fumbles were a massive problem, giving away a ridiculous 22 on the year and with 32 turnovers in all. The O turned it over three times or more in eight of the 13 games – including three of the losses – and gave it away 27 times the year before.

Best Louisville Offensive Player

QB Lamar Jackson, Jr. – The exact opposite of a sophomore slump, the 6-3, 199-pounder took home the Heisman with a scintillating season, throwing for 3,543 yards with 30 touchdown passes and 1,571 rushing yards with 21 scores.

Lightning-quick and with a great deep arm, he’s got all the tools, but he could stand to be a bit more accurate – only hitting 56% of his throws – and he struggled late in the year with everyone jacked up to stop him. He threw three picks in the loss to Kentucky, and hit just 10-of-27 throws in the loss to LSU, but he’ll have to get used to being a marked man.

With so many lost offensive starters, and a line that’s rebuilding, he’s going to have to be even more explosive, more dangerous, and more effective to carry the offense and the team. Now the NFL spotlight and scrutiny will be intense, and everything will be broken down and overanalyzed. But he’s got the right makeup and attitude to handle it all just fine.

2. OT Geron Christian, Jr.
3. WR Jaylen Smith, Jr.
4. WR/RB Reggie Bonnafon, Sr.
5. RB Jeremy Smith, Sr.

Best Louisville Defensive Player

CB Jaire Alexander, Jr. – Lamar Jackson is the star of the show, but Alexander would be the main man on most teams. The 5-11, 192-pound ball-hawker is destined to be off early to the NFL, with elite speed and great ball skills to go along with his size. However, after coming up with five picks and nine broken up passes – to go along with 39 tackles – no one will throw his way.

2. S Chucky Williams, Sr.
3. DE James Hearns, Sr.
4. LB Stacy Thomas, Sr.
5. DE Drew Bailey, Sr.

Key Player To A Successful Season

OTs Geron Christian & Lukayus McNeil, Jr. Of course its Jackson – especially without a proven backup – but someone has to protect him and give him space to roll.

Christian earned all-star honors last season, and McNeil is a solid all-around blocker with 6-6, 324-pound size. These two are the veterans who have to be rock-solid with all the changes in the interior – and they have to keep Mr. Heisman clean.

The Louisville Season Will Be A Success If …

It comes up with a ten-win season. Sort of lost in all the fun and excitement is that it didn’t do that last year. It was on the path to something big, but it stalled after a 9-1 start. This season, Florida State is better – and that’s on the road – and Clemson is obviously great, but the rest of the slate isn’t a killer. It might take a bowl game to do it, but hitting the ten-win mark would be terrific.

Key Game To The Louisville Season

Sept. 16 vs. Clemson – The key game really might be the ACC opener at North Carolina in a tone-setter sort of way, but that’s interdivisional. Last year, the Cardinals became the hot team by blowing up Florida State early in the season in Papa John’s. This time around, it’s the defending national champ making the trip in mid-September. With that FSU game on the road, forget about battling for the Atlantic with a loss to the Tigers.

2016 Louisville Fun Stats

– Fumbles: Louisville 30 (lost 22) – Opponents 17 (lost 10)
– 1st Quarter Scoring: Louisville 139 – Opponents 57
– Rushing TDs: Louisville 37 – Opponents 7

2017 Louisville Preview: The College Football Sugar Rush
2017 Louisville Schedule Breakdown & Analysis
– Louisville Previews: 2016 | 2015

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