Louisville football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Cardinals, best players and season prediction.
What You Need to Know About the Louisville Offense
Output was down by the usual Bobby Petrino standard a year ago, with the Cards producing their lowest point totals in four years. And in March, Garrick McGee abruptly left for Lovie Smith’s Illinois staff, resulting in a scramble to fill the coordinator void.
But Louisville is optimistic that it’ll rally this season behind surging sophomore QB Lamar Jackson and a veteran collection of steady backs, wide receivers and tight ends. There are quality options up and down the two-deep, including power backs Brandon Radcliff, L.J Scott and Jeremy Smith, receivers James Quick and Jamari Staples and TE Cole Hikutini. Plus, converted QB Reggie Bonnafon is a pass-catching wild card, with out-of-the-norm measurables.
However, the direction of this attack hinges on two things—how much Jackson evolves as a passer and how well the offensive line overcomes last season’s implosion.
The front wall was painfully young, and it showed, yet there’s cautious optimism that sophomores Geron Christian, Lukayus McNeil and Kenny Thomas are ready to begin blocking like they’ve been here before.
Biggest Key To The Offense O-line trajectory. While most of the offseason chatter has understandably centered on exciting sophomore QB Lamar Jackson, no skill player reaches his potential this year if the blockers don’t cooperate.
The Cards were sloppy up front in 2015, with 10 players starting at least one game. But the group as extremely inexperienced, which shouldn’t be such an issue this fall.
LT Geron Christian, RG Kenny Thomas and RT Lukayus McNeil, all of whom started as rookies, embody the enormous potential—and enormous concerns—surrounding the Louisville offensive line entering 2016.
What You Need to Know About the Louisville Defense
The personnel changes. Coaches come and go. The Cards remain a rock on defense. In an uncommon display of consistency, Louisville has been ranked in the top 25 nationally in total D in each of the last six years. And there’s no reason to believe the trend won’t continue in 2016.
DE Sheldon Rankins and LB James Burgess are gone, and that certainly hurts. But coordinator Todd Grantham returns enough speed and veteran talent to avoid a decline. NT DeAngelo Brown anchors the middle. The linebackers will be in good shape with Devonte Fields outside and Keith Kelsey inside, particularly if Trevon Young can return from a serious hip injury to serve as a pass rushing bookend.
However, Grantham would like to plug fissures in the pass defense that were exposed in 2015. Talent and experience won’t be issues, as veteran corners Trumaine Washington and Shaq Wiggins and safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons and Chucky Williams prepare to fill the lineup. Still, Louisville is hoping a select group of juniors, namely DE Drew Bailey and ILB Stacy Thomas, can pitch in by building on promising offseasons so far.
Biggest Key To The Defense Hip hip hooray? There was a time early in the offseason that the Cardinals were about to write off OLB Trevon Young for 2016 as he rehabbed a serious broken and dislocated hip suffered in the bowl game.
But the explosive senior has been coming on so fast that the staff has begun to hint toward a possible fall return. In fact, Young is now listed atop the team’s depth chart. At full strength, the former JUCO transfer is easily one of Louisville’s top defenders.
However, no one really knows how long it’ll be before Young recaptures the form that led to eight sacks in a three-game ACC stretch last October.
Louisville Will Be Far Better If …
it dramatically cuts down on turnovers this fall. The Cardinals threw 15 interceptions and lost 12 of 27 fumbles, not surprising considering the amount of youth residing on the depth chart.
However, now that the quarterback and most of the offensive line isn’t comprised of rookies, it goes to figure that Louisville will display better ball security in 2016. The Cards must sharpen plenty of areas on offense, beginning with smarter play, fewer penalties and more third-down conversions that extend drives.
Best Offensive Player
Sophomore QB Lamar Jackson. Yup, he’s already at this point in the early stages of his college career. Jackson is not a finished product by any means, particularly when he remains in the pocket. But his measurables are off the charts, from a powerful arm to the jets to split the defense and go the distance.
Jackson conjures up images of a young RG3, with a similar build and physical toolbox. And Jackson should continue to evolve under the guidance of Bobby Petrino.
Best Defensive Player
Senior OLB Devonte Fields. The Cardinals gave Fields, troubled from his days at TCU, a second chance. And to his credit, he’s making the most of it. He’s also making life miserable for opposing quarterbacks, using the pass rushing techniques he learned as an end and using them out in space as a playmaker in Todd Grantham’s 3-4 alignment.
Fields now has the motivation of playing for NFL scouts who covet his ability to change the tempo of the game and create turnovers. He has some of the best anticipation and diagnostic skills in the country among edge rushers.
Key Player to a Successful Season
Sophomore offensive tackles Geron Christian and Lukayus McNeil. Technically, young QB Lamar Jackson is the true key player for Louisville. But the dual-threat’s ceiling won’t be approached if the Cards are once again near the ACC cellar in pass protection. Louisville yielded 44 sacks in 2015, a central reason why the passing game sputtered at times. Fingers are crossed that Christian and McNeil, who look the part as classic bookends, can take a quantum leap as the protectors of the program’s franchise behind center.
The Season Will Be a Success If …
The Cardinals win 10 games for the first time as an ACC member. Louisville won nine in 2014 and eight last season in what was billed as a borderline rebuilding campaign.
Now that Bobby Petrino enters Year 3 of his Louisville sequel, QB Lamar Jackson is a year older and the defense is again salty, this team is ready to be the next best thing to Clemson and Florida State in the entire conference. Plus, the schedule isn’t overwhelming, with a visit from the Noles and trips to play the Tigers and Houston as the only bouts with teams that’ll be ranked in the preseason.
Sept. 17 vs. Florida State. If the Cards are going to turn the Atlantic Division into a three-team title chase, they’ve got to beat a ranked opponent. Louisville has dropped seven straight to Top 25 teams, including 0-3 in each of the last two seasons.
This Week 3 visit from the Seminoles will give an early indication of the Cardinals’ ceiling in 2016. Knock off Florida State in front of an electric Papa John’s crowd, and it’ll provide a clear signal that Louisville could be in the ACC title hunt right through the end of November.
2015 Fun Stats
– Rushing Yards Per Game: Louisville 171.0 – Opponents 120.2
– Yards Per Catch: Louisville 14.0 – Opponents 11.7
– Sacks: Louisville 38 – Opponents 44
Louisville Football Prediction For 2016
What’s going to happen to Louisville football this season? Check out what the final record is going to be …