As the dawn of a new football season approaches, so too does the dawn of a new era of UofL Football. Gone is the irascible Bobby Petrino and in his place is the humble, down to earth Scott Satterfield. What Satterfield inherits is a team that went 2-10 and looked like it had given up a third of the way through last season. It’s a team that, from all accounts, wasn’t just beaten down by opponents, but by their coaching staff. What can we expect from this team this season? Is there any chance for a bowl with a team that was psychologically beaten down and has a very tough schedule ahead of it?
I decided to break down both the reasons why the Cards could make a bowl this season and the reasons why a bowl may not be in the cards. Specifically, I will highlight 5 reasons why the Cards could make a bowl and 5 reasons why they may not. Let me state here that I believe this team will be very fun to watch. I think this new coaching staff will absolutely have them ready to play and I think they will play with a ton of heart. Also, I believe that there is talent on this team. It is not completely bereft of it.
That’s why, despite some prognostications, I could see the possibility of a bowl. However, the possibility of a bowl, does not mean there is a probability of one. With that being said, let’s delve into the 5 reasons why UofL Football could make a bowl and 5 reasons they may not.
5 Reasons Why UofL Football Could Make A Bowl:
1. Better Coaching
I think the number one reason last season was an unmitigated disaster is because of the coaching staff. It looked as if the players didn’t believe in the coaches or themselves. This was likely an environment fostered by the coaches themselves taking a cue from the head man of the program. It was also obvious that the players were not getting the proper coaching to be able to be effective on the field. Bad tackling, bad technique, bad blocking, a QB that looked like he was a freshman even though he’s a redshirt sophomore, a nonexistent running game, porous kick coverage, fumbles, and dropped passes were all symptoms of the cancerous coaching.
I’m optimistic that this coaching staff is just what the doctor ordered. It is my personal belief that they can get the absolute best out of all the players on the roster. Every coach on this staff has a track record in getting the best out of the players under their direction. It’s a hallmark of Scott Satterfield to win with talent that he develops.
I have confidence that the balance of this team has been humbled by last year’s debacle and they are eager to learn and eager to win. Pair that eagerness with a coaching staff that focuses on the minute details of the game and of technique; that has a true game plan and scheme that they believe will win games and that they stick to; and that is vibrant, relatable, and teaches with vigor and you have yourself a team that will likely be better and could find a way to achieve the 6 win mark.
2. Improved Effort
This goes nearly hand in hand with better coaching. The effort was atrocious last year. As mentioned above, the team seemed to quit about a third of the way through the season and that was likely due to a disconnect between them and the coaching staff. Because they did not believe in the staff, their effort suffered. It is hard to muster effort when you believe that effort is all for naught. When you believe you are constantly putting in the effort, getting nothing out of it, you will eventually lose hope and give up. It seemed the players felt they were putting in the effort in practice and they were getting nothing in return.
It appears that Scott Satterfield has gone about creating an environment where players who put in the effort to get better and fulfill what the coaches are asking of them are rewarded. He holds the players that don’t give the effort they are supposed to accountable. The one thing I have noticed when we all hear reports of any type from anyone about training camp is that we don’t hear that the coaches are harping on effort.
I truly believe that this team will play with all out effort come kick off on September 2nd. I believe that they will be a hard hitting, high energy team. On defense, they will flock to the ball consistently and prevent teams from just running all over them. On offense, the offensive line will be blocking like we didn’t see all of last year and the skill position players will fight like hell for extra yards after contact or after the catch. I think that an improved effort coupled with the talent on the team could equate to at least 6 wins.
3. Team Talent
One thing I really believe is that there is talent on this team. There are guys littered throughout the roster that were highly rated 3 star or 4 star recruits. GG Robinson was a 4 star defensive lineman UofL beat a bunch of power five teams for, including Auburn. Dorian Etheridge was named an ESPN Freshman All-American in 2017. Rodjay Burns was a 4 star local talent from Trinity that chose to play for blueblood Ohio State before transferring back to his hometown Cards. There are guys like CJ Avery, Tabarius Peterson, Robert Hicks, Chandler Jones, Khane Pass, and more. That’s just the defensive side of the ball.
On offense, there is a likely NFL draft pick in Left Tackle Mekhi Becton. Jawon Pass was a 4 star QB that chose UofL over Nick Saban and Alabama. Hassan Hall was a high 3 star player that quite a few power 5 schools were after. Tutu Atwell is a speedy, game breaking wide receiver. Dez Fitzpatrick was a 4 star wide receiver and is a great route runner and playmaker. There’s Seth Dawkins who is a big, athletic wide receiver that can go up and get the ball. Cole Bentley is a tough as nails bull dozer. Robbie Bell was starting center in 2018 and did a hell of job. Sadly, he didn’t play much at all last year. Let’s not forget Jordan Davis, who was a 4 star player out of high school that had a who’s who of suitors before choosing Texas A&M. He then transferred to UofL and has been moved around some from tight end, to fullback, and back to tight end. Physically speaking, he has the stats of what should be a dangerous tight end that can be a huge offensive weapon. All of these players and more have talent, but it wasn’t cultivated and improved by the previous staff.
There is talent on this team; especially in the starting units. With the proper coaching and improved effort, it is easy to see it flourishing. Some players did not play up to their potential last year either due to injuries or due to the fact the culture was so toxic and the coaching so bad. The likely improvement in those areas leads me to believe they can realize their full potential and could win 6 games and get this team to a bowl.
4. Focus on the Running Game
One thing UofL did not do last year, and, to be honest, has not done in quite a few years, is focus on running the football. Yes, Lamar Jackson was able to run all over defenses in his time here, but UofL has not been able to line up, hand the ball off to a running back, and gain yards running the ball traditionally. That truly hindered the team. Once Lamar was gone, the team could not run the ball to set up the play action pass Petrino loved to use. Without any semblance of a running attack, the offense became predictable and easy to scheme against.
With Scott Satterfield, there will be a return to focusing on running the ball. To me, this could truly open up the offense as a whole. It will get the ball into the hands of arguably the best offensive skill player on the team in Hassan Hall and allow him to dice up defenses. The offensive line will love being able to just be road pavers and open holes by destroying defenders with blocks. It will open up the play action pass and will help get game breaking players like Dez Fitzpatrick, Tutu Atwell, and Seth Dawkins open for big catches and help get them space to get yards after the catch.
This could really help make the offense much more effective and allow them to control the clock as well. With a team that may have depth issues, which I will address later, having an efficient, effective running attack that chews clock will allow UofL to control games. This could easily allow UofL to get those 6 wins and go bowling.
5. Improvement of Jawon Pass
Obviously, this is something that can’t truly be known until we actually get a few games into the season. However, I believe that Jawon Pass will be much improved this coming season. He almost has to be because last year was an utter disaster. Pass is too athletically gifted and too good of a young man to have not improved.
I think his improvement will go hand in hand with the focus on running the football offensively. This will take so much pressure off of him and allow him to get comfortable in games. The new offense should open up passing lanes and make bigger windows for Pass to deliver the football through. His decision making, I believe, will be much crisper and quicker. Though he will still have to read defenses, I think it will become easier because they will be keying more on the run.
Say what you will about last season, but Pass wasn’t really given a fair shake. Petrino waffled like crazy and asked him to do things he likely shouldn’t have been asking him to do. Not to mention, he was making mistakes a freshman would make and I feel it falls squarely on the shoulders of one Nick Petrino. Pass actually played well in a couple of games. For instance, he was a bright spot offensively against the juggernaut Alabama team. He also threw for 358 yards and a TD against Wake Forest. Petrino’s waffling and halfhearted endorsement of Pass likely contributed to a lack of self confidence in the young QB. Without confidence, a player will likely play much like Pass did last year.
It seems pretty clear that Scott Satterfield has given Pass the reigns to his offense. I think Pass will reward Satterfield’s confidence in him with a very solid season. I don’t think he will necessarily light the world on fire, but I believe he will be productive and have a couple (maybe more) games where he does absolutely light it up on the field. Jawon Pass has he talent. He lacked development and confidence due to bad coaching. I think he will show some development this season. I think he can lead this team to score points and to victories. 6 is in the realm of possibility.
5 Reasons Why UofL May Not Make a Bowl:
1. Depth In the Trenches
One thing that will likely hamper UofL throughout the upcoming season is depth. While some positions do have quality depth, like at wide receiver, two of the most important positions on the field, offensive line and defensive line, do not. Injuries, especially at those two key positions, are inevitable in the violent game of football. Without the offensive line, the offense will look like a stumbling, bumbling mess. If the defensive line doesn’t plug and hold gaps, get into the backfield some, and get some sacks, it will allow the opposing offense to flourish.
Unfortunately, there is a roster imbalance so that these key positions in the trenches are shorthanded. For whatever reason, Petrino recruited a ton of wide receivers and defensive backs, but neglected the trenches where, as stated above, football games are ultimately won and lost. Offensive line and defensive line are where many injuries occur in the game of football. These guys are violently engaging each other in what amounts to combat consistently for 4 quarters. Injuries can be considered highly probable for these gladiators of the gridiron.
With that in mind, having a thin backup corps behind the starters on both sides of the line is a detriment. One key injury, say to a guy like Mekhi Becton or GG Robinson, and your season could go upside down quickly. The staff is going to have to develop some depth as the season goes along to hopefully mitigate any injuries that may come about. This, however, is a major reason why UofL may not make a bowl.
2. Players at New Positions Having Growing Pains
As we have seen with the depth chart’s release and have heard from the coaches, some players, especially on the defensive side of the ball, have switched positions. The coaches truly want speed on the field and that necessitated some of the moves. Then, of course, the depth issue came into play in the coaches moving some players to different positions as well.
One of the most drastic position changes involves Rodjay Burns, who goes from playing cornerback to playing an outside linebacker/safety hybrid. Another big position change is Russ Yeast moving from cornerback to safety. Some players on the offensive line have shifted positions as well. For instance, Robbie Bell, who started at center in 2017, is now playing guard.
Throughout camp, the coaches have seemed pleased with the progress of some of these players that have moved to new positions. However, what happens in practice doesn’t always carry over to games where the other team is trying to kill you and you are having to think and react quickly. There could be growing pains with these players at new positions and it may lead to a loss that could prevent the team from going to a bowl.
3. If Jawon Pass Hasn’t Developed
So, what I am ultimately saying is Jawon Pass may be the ultimate key to this season. Yes, Scott Satterfield loves to run the ball and run it a lot. However, he does like to throw it too. He wants a QB that can read the defense and know where to go with the ball. He wants that QB to be able to deliver the ball on time and accurately. Since he doesn’t air the ball out a ton, the passes his QB makes have to count. Jawon Pass last year, was not the QB I just described above.
Pass was not quick at reading the defense and he had issues with accuracy. He often threw the ball behind his receivers. Sometimes, he would see an open receiver late and, therefore, his throw would be late and it could be defended or intercepted. Pass would sometimes force a throw that wasn’t really there instead of getting rid of the ball and living for another down. He sometimes would lock in on a receiver and not go through his progressions, allowing the defense to key on his eyes and read them.
While Pass had a few bright spots, such as the Alabama and Wake Forest games, he struggled in almost every other game on the schedule. It was odd to see him struggle like that when he had been in the program for 3 years at that point. When he played in relief of Lamar in a few games in 2017, he showed a lot of promise. He looked comfortable in the offense. Yet, last season was just a complete misfire for Pass.
Hopefully, as it seems from reports out of training camp, Pass has improved under the tutelage of Scott Satterfield and Frank Ponce. If he hasn’t though, a bowl is not a likely destination for the 2019 iteration of Cardinal Football.
4. Effort Not Improving
Remember one of the reasons I gave for making a bowl was improved effort? Well, what happens if the effort is only minimally improved from last year? Let me state that I do not believe this will be the case, but it is something that could happen; especially when the inevitable losses come.
After last year, it is fair to wonder that when the losses come, will the players maintain their effort and fight for the coaches, each other, and themselves or turtle up, so to speak. Of course, during the offseason and training camp, all the reports indicate that the team is hungry and ready to play every play with everything they have. You have to believe these players want to get that horrible taste of 2-10 out of their mouths.
Yet, when adversity hit last year, this team folded. I’m not saying anything that the players and fans wouldn’t readily admit. I believe that happened mainly because the players did not believe in what the coaching staff was teaching them. It was a huge disconnect that led to a team that, while physically on the field, was mentally somewhere else. However, even with a new and exciting coaching staff that seems to care and is bringing the best out of the players, will they keep fighting when they lose a few in a row? If they repeat the sins of last year, a bowl will not be in the offing.
5. Bad Habits Remain From the Lack of Coaching Received From the Former Staff
One fear every UofL fan should have is the fear that bad habits acquired from the bad coaching the team received from the former staff, especially from last year, will carry over to this year. Dropped passes from not looking the ball in, inexplicable fumbles by both running backs and QBs, missed blocking assignments and bad blocks by the offensive line, and horrible penalties all plagued the offense. On defense, the egregious mistakes and bad habits may have somehow been worse. Bad angles, bad communication, bad pursuit, and horrendous tackling were the plagues of the defense.
Most of these habits were systematic throughout most of Petrino’s second stint at the helm. It was inexplicable because most of us remember his first stint where these kinds of things did not happen. This new staff has been hard at work correcting these issues and trying to make a fundamentally sound team. This what Scott Satterfield does best: teaching fundamentals and making teams that are fundamentally sound.
So, it would stand to reason that, for the most part, he will have this team sound fundamentally by the start of the season. Unfortunately, coaching 1-3 years of bad habits out of players may not be able to be accomplished in one offseason; no matter how well the team is taking to the coaching. Habits are traditionally hard to break. So, in the heat of a game, some players, if not all, may fall back into some of the bad habits they have been trying to break. They may not even realize they did so. If the bad habits aren’t broken, it likely means UofL will not go bowling.
So, there you have it. 5 reasons why UofL could go to a bowl and 5 reasons they may not go to a bowl. My personal belief is that they likely won’t quite reach that 6 win threshold. However, I think they will get close and win 5 games. I believe in the coaches and the team. I think improvements in things such as effort and coaching coupled with the talent on the roster will get those 5 wins and likely make us competitive in basically every game outside of 2 on the schedule. However, as I stated at the beginning, though a bowl is not a probability, I think it is a possibility simply because I believe this team will be competitive in just about every game. If a game is competitive, an upset can always happen. Regardless, let’s get this season started and see what happens. Raise those Ls for dear old UofL.