Louisville Football’s 2020 season hasn’t gone quite as many fans had hoped. The Cards are now 2-5 after a loss to Virginia Tech. However, the season continues on and Louisville can still salvage it and win out. The rest of the schedule is very conducive to a run of victories for UofL. For this to come to fruition, however, the Cards must develop consistency in five key areas. We will examine those areas and why consistency is key.
Winning The Turnover Battle
In UofL’s two victories this season, they were able to break even (or relatively even) in the turnover battle. Against WKU, they did have two turnovers, but they forced and recovered a fumble which allowed them to nearly break even. Against FSU, they did break even as they lost a fumble, but intercepted Jordan Travis once. Meanwhile, in the losses, the turnovers were lopsided in favor of the opponent. They had three turnovers against Miami without forcing a single one. Against Pitt, they had three turnovers to Pitt’s two. It was three Cardinal turnovers to zero from Georgia Tech. In the close loss to Notre Dame, they did break even as neither team turned the ball over. With the Virginia Tech game, the Cards had three turnovers to none for Virginia Tech.
They must win the turnover battle in every game down the stretch to have an opportunity to win out. UofL must start generating more turnovers, or, at the very least, protect the ball and not turn it over.
Offensive Line Play
Many UofL fans expected the defense to continue to be a work in progress, but believed the offense would carry the team to some victories. Surprisingly, this has not been the case. The offense has struggled quite a bit this season. The struggles can be linked to inconsistent offensive line play.
With the type of offense Coach Satterfield runs, consistently good blocking from the guys in the trenches is a must. Last season, the unit played much more consistently and it’s a big reason why UofL finished 8-5. Now, the team did lose all-world offensive tackle Mekhi Becton. However, the talent still here and recruited in 2019 should be sufficient. It hasn’t been though. The line has been good at certain points in certain games and has arguably only had one game where they were consistently good against FSU.
For Louisville to finish out with a string of victories, the offensive line must consistently block better. They have one of the best running backs in the league and need to give him running lanes to gash defenses. They must protect Malik Cunningham so he can utilize the weapons in the passing game like Tutu, Dez, and Marshon. Without much more consistent offensive line play, the Cards will not win out.
Defensive Effort And Execution
The Louisville defense has gotten progressively better as the season has moved along. They are tackling better, covering better, and giving a ton of effort. However, the effort and execution are inconsistent.
The first quarter, and more specifically, the first defensive series, have proven to be an issue for the defense. Often times, the opponent has been able to score on the Cards with their first offensive possession and have done relatively well in the first quarter. Louisville often misses tackles and just seems to sleepwalk during that first drive by their opponent. The Louisville defense eventually gets settled as the game moves along and is able to get stops and slow down the opposition. However, the execution is still inconsistent, dropping surefire interceptions and still missing key tackles here and there.
Louisville must play from kickoff to train horn with high effort and with consistent execution to win these last 4 games. The execution is especially important. Sometimes, Louisville defenders are in position to make tackles and just miss. Louisville defensive backs have been in position to intercept passes, but just flat out drop them. As I mentioned above, winning the turnover battle is key. If the defense can execute and come up with interceptions, that would go a long way in helping that cause. If they can make the tackles that they are in position to make, it will help set up situations favorable for the defense to bring pressure on 3rd down and force some throws that can be intercepted.
Malik Cunningham Decision Making
For a team to be truly successful, it all starts at the QB position. Louisville has a very good QB in Malik Cunningham. He was one of the most efficient QBs in college football in 2019. However, he’s been very inefficient in 2020. Malik is sometimes slow in his decision making which has led to a lot of sacks and a lot of interceptions. Malik has been sacked 18 times and intercepted 8 times.
Much of the issue is Malik’s decision making. Yes, the offensive line has been so-so and played a part, but Malik has made some bad decisions. Whether it’s throwing a pass into double coverage, attempting to force a bunch of passes to Tutu, holding onto the ball too long, or not running when there is a lane to do so, Malik has failed to make good decisions quite a few times.
For Louisville to win out, Malik Cunningham must become more like the QB that played the second half of the 2019 season. He must be that QB that would’ve been ranked the second-most efficient QB in college football had he qualified. Consistently good decision-making is a hallmark of great QBs and Cunningham has to become a consistently good decision maker for Louisville to win out.
This is something that has to become consistently varied. I believe that Coach Satterfield wants to be able to just man up and run the ball regardless of what the defense does. In essence, he wants his offense to impose its will on the defense. Last year, he had a good enough offensive line to do that, for the most part. This season, it’s obvious the offensive line is not at the same level and he must adjust accordingly. I think Coach Satterfield is trying to adjust, but stay true to who he is as a play caller and offensive mind.
Everything the UofL offense does is predicated on the run. However, I think more play-action passes and simple short passes are needed early in the game to keep defenses honest. It’s hard for any coach to go against their nature, but I think it has to be done for Louisville to get the offense really rolling. Seeds of change have been planted in both the win against FSU and the loss to Virginia Tech. So, the Cards have to become less predictable in order to do what they really want to do as an offense and win out.