Louisville’s defense saw improvements from the prior season, primarily in passing situations. The Cardinals doubled their sack total from 11 in 2018, to 27 last season.
Louisville’s defensive line played a huge role in two of their biggest wins in 2019 (in my opinion, at least). They tallied four sacks each in wins against Virginia and Mississippi State, both season-highs for the Cardinals against FBS competition. Louisville also recorded six tackles for loss against the Cavaliers in their mid-October clash, and a season-high ten against the Bulldogs in the Music City Bowl.
Two other areas that Louisville’s defensive line excelled in — and by extension, Louisville’s linebacker group — was in FootballOutsiders’s power success rate and passing downs sack rate. The Cardinals ended 2019 ranked 14th in the FBS in power success rate* (59.1%), and 15th in passing downs sack rate** (11.5%).
Heading into 2020, Louisville will have to replace starters Amonte Caban and G.G. Robinson, as well as contributors Ty Tyler and Gary McCrae.
* – Power success rate is the percentage of runs on third and fourth down with two yards to go that result in either a first down or a touchdown
** – Passing down sack rate is the unadjusted sack rate for passing down situations (second-and-eight or greater, third-and-four or greater, and fourth-and-four or fewer).
Listed Starters: Dayna Kinnaird, Jared Goldwire, Tabarius Peterson
The overall performance was much better for the Louisville defense in 2019, but there is still work to be done. While they more than doubled their sack totals from the previous season, it still ranked 12th in the conference. They also finished 11th in the conference in tackles for loss (though the margin between #6 and #11 is only eight TFL), and in their five losses, Louisville tallied seven total sacks and averaged 4.8 tackles for loss per game. If Louisville’s able to improve both these numbers (even in losses), it will help the rest of the defense get to where they want to be in a crucial year two for Scott Satterfield.
There are a lot of parallels in terms of growth and development between Louisville’s offensive and defensive lines. Much like the offensive line, Louisville’s defensive line has veterans that have already logged significant game reps. Though they lose two predominant starters in Caban and Robinson, Dayna Kinnaird and Jared Goldwire are both upperclassmen that can bring experience to the starting lineup right away (sidenote: all of Louisville’s listed starters in their online depth chart are either juniors or seniors).
Kinnaird surprised a lot of Louisville fans when he emerged as a starter for the season opener against Notre Dame. He finished with nine tackles and 1.5 sacks in 2019, after earning a scholarship for the team in the spring prior. The Jeffersonville High alumni should be a key contributor early and through the season, as Louisville’s younger pieces begin to learn the defense.
G.G. Robinson’s departure leaves Louisville without its second-leading sacker (4.0), fifth in tackles for loss (6.0), and a veteran that played in 46 games for the Cards. But Jared Goldwire should be a shoe-in at nose tackle, after splitting reps at defensive tackle for the last two seasons. Goldwire has two career sacks and five tackles for loss in his two-year career, but could be due for a bigger year in his senior season.
Anchoring the other side of the defensive line is Tabarius Peterson, who returns as Louisville’s most experienced lineman with 37 career games (22 starts). Peterson started all 13 games at defensive end last season, and could be in line to do the same if he can rebound to have a season similar to that of 2018 (49 tackles, 6.5 for loss, 2.0 sacks).
Key Reserves: Yaya Diaby, Ja’Darien Boykin, Derek Dorsey, Malik Clark, Henry Bryant
There was one more parallel between the offensive and defensive lines that I didn’t bring up with the starters: depth. Scott Satterfield and his staff have invested a lot of time in recruiting talent in the trenches, as they want to fill out a complete two-deep on both sides of the ball.
Two of Louisville’s biggest acquisitions on the defensive line should see significant time in 2020, if not make a start at some point. Yaya Diaby was one of the top JUCO talents in the country and one of the biggest acquisitions for Louisville in the 2020 class, and should contend immediately for a starting role. Diaby has great straight line speed that should give Louisville more athleticism on the edges, and with a full spring to get stronger, should be a contender for breakout player in 2020.
The other is freshman Ja’Darien Boykin, who was one of the top commitments in Louisville’s 2019 class. Boykin is kind of similar to Diaby in terms of overall athleticism and ability to launch off the snap. If Louisville gets more speed off the edges, it would certainly make life easier for blitzers and the nose tackle position.
Louisville also has Derek Dorsey returning, which gives the Cardinals a fifth player for the defensive end spots that they’ve needed badly. Dorsey made eight starts in 2018, but has primarily shined as a reserve lineman and a special teams player for the Cardinals.
With Louisville replacing a ton of seniors possibly, 2021 could see a ton of new faces in the front seven. I would assume that Diaby and Boykin will be ready to start at defensive end by then, but what about defensive tackle once Goldwire leaves? I think that responsibility will come down to Malik Clark or Henry Bryant. Clark has played sparingly in his Louisville career, appearing in 19 games with 14 career tackles (five for loss). With G.G. Robinson graduated, that clears an opportunity for Clark to be more of a factor in games.
Henry Bryant is a freshman that will likely compete for the backup nose tackle spot alongside Clark. What I like about Bryant is that in his Hudl tape, he often times beat defenders with better leverage and simply weaved through blockers with ease. He might need some time to bulk up a little in order to realize his full potential as a nose tackle (comes to Louisville listed at 5’11”, 275 lbs.), but he has the potential to be a long-term starter. If Bryant can beat Clark for the backup spot, that could put Louisville in position to have two promising sophomores starting in 2021, along with Yaya Diaby.