We are down to our final preview of the 2019 Louisville Cardinals football team, which will focus on the quarterback position. For a recap of all our position breakdowns this preseason, here are our previous looks at other positions:
- Running backs
- Wide Receivers / Tight Ends
- Offensive Line
- Defensive Line
- Defensive Backs (Cornerbacks & Safeties)
- Special Teams
After having their offense powered by a moderate to outstanding passing attack the last six seasons, 2018 saw one of the biggest drop-offs in the modern era of Louisville football.
The Cardinals finished 89th in the FBS with 211.1 passing yards per game, with their 53.3% completion percentage ranked 112th. The 53.3% completion percentage was the lowest for any Louisville team since 1992, and their 211.1 passing yards per game was the lowest since 2010. The 2018 season marked the first time since 2009 that the Cardinals threw for more interceptions than touchdowns, also the third season this has happened for U of L football since 2000.
Due to a constant carousel of quarterbacks and overwhelming pressure on the offense to produce points, the position never found any semblance of stability in 2018. Jawon Pass led the team in almost every major category, throwing for nearly 2,000 yards (1,960) with eight touchdowns to 12 interceptions.
But in Louisville’s two games that they won, Pass was benched in both games for redshirt freshman Malik Cunningham. Cunningham finished both games for Louisville with victories in a proverbial bullpen effort, leading Louisville out of a tied game with FCS Indiana State deep into the third quarter, and coming back from a 14-0 deficit to beat Western Kentucky. Cunningham would go on to play ten games for Louisville last season, leading the team in completion percentage (59.7) and passer rating (120.94).
Jordan Travis also saw occasional game time in three games last season, but transferred from Louisville halfway through the 2018 season amidst frustration with the coaching staff (eventually finding a landing spot at Florida State). Sean McCormack also played in two games in November against Syracuse and Kentucky, and transferred in the offseason to Western Kentucky.
Departures: Jordan Travis (transferred), Sean McCormack (transferred)
Starter: Jawon Pass (R-Jr.)
Even though I made mention of it earlier, it is worth noting again how much the constant carousel at quarterback (keep in mind, this is probably the most important position in all of sports) hurt Louisville. Jawon Pass and Malik Cunningham are two remarkably different players when they take the field. It’s always important to find your guy early and stick with him because if you don’t, then the offense gets farther behind on establishing a true identity. In short, if your team doesn’t have a starting quarterback figured out (nine times out of ten), you do not have an identity. Compound that with the inability of the defense to make stops, and those would be the two main culprits as to why Louisville’s 2018 season went so far south.
This season, the bare minimum is that head coach Scott Satterfield will stick with his guy, at least right away. That guy appears to be redshirt junior Jawon Pass, who is given a second chance to right the wrongs from last year. Jawon Pass has a prototypical NFL quarterback build at 6’4″, 239 lbs., with early comparisons in the 2018 season to Ben Roethlisberger and even Cam Newton.
Those comparisons looked nice on paper when he arrived at Louisville in 2016, but his play in 2018 should rein that back a little. Pass does have a lot of sexy physical attributes scouts love in an NFL quarterback (massive size, deceptive speed when he scrambles, able to bounce off pass rushers, etc.), but his accuracy and decision making are the biggest areas he will need to improve on over the next two seasons.
Reserves: Malik Cunningham (R-So.), Evan Conley (Fr.)
The good news for Louisville is that they have a backup with substantial experience from last year, with redshirt sophomore Malik Cunningham right behind Pass in the depth chart. Cunningham is a stark contrast to Pass, a run-first QB that was able to make some throws, but not all the throws. He will still see the field in 2019, maybe on third-and-short running opportunities or gadget plays Louisville wants to run.
The bad news is that with Jordan Travis and Sean McCormack transferring, the quarterback position basically has three scholarship players on the depth chart. And considering the issues both Pass and Cunningham had last year, if history is to repeat itself in 2019, true freshman Evan Conley could see earlier-than-expected playing time. Conley was a three-star commit to Appalachian State while Satterfield was there, but flipped to Louisville upon his coach’s move. However, Conley enrolled early in January, which allowed him to get early reps to get familiar with Satterfield’s system.
The quarterback position has the most to prove on offense in 2019. Nobody is expecting this group to become the next Chris Redman or Teddy Bridgewater, but it does need to be serviceable and efficient. If the quarterback position can average 60% completions and around 200 YPG with half the turnovers, it’ll prevent teams from loading the box and stopping the run at every turn. Even with the run-heavy style, Louisville still has some quarterbacks that can make use of Satterfield’s option plays, something that they could definitely use to add a wrinkle to the offense.
Remember the adage “addition by subtraction?” That is what Louisville is aiming for from its quarterback position. By reducing the volume of passes, it could potentially make their numbers more efficient.
I think of a few teams when it comes to this: the 2016 Miami Dolphins, and the 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars. Both teams had quarterbacks with limited ceilings (Ryan Tannehill in Miami, Blake Bortles in Jacksonville), and had thrown the ball almost 60% of the time before their new coaches arrived. But for Miami in 2016 — and Jacksonville in 2017 — both teams moved to a more balanced playcall (with Jacksonville running exactly 50/50 on their run/pass balance in 2017), and the end result was a playoff berth for both the Dolphins and Jaguars.
That’s not to say that Louisville can do that, or needs to do that, or will be even as successful as those teams were. But by shifting their offense towards this style, it could give them the best chance to win.