We continue our weekly Louisville football guide with a breakdown of the defensive line. In case you missed it, give our offensive line preview a look as well.
Louisville’s defensive line had 21 sacks in 11 games last season, averaging 1.91 per game (13th in the ACC). Both numbers were down from the 2019 season, where the Cardinals had 27 sacks in 13 games played and averaged 2.08 per game.
According to FootballOutsiders.com’s advanced defensive line metrics, Louisville had a 6.7% sack rate on all dropbacks (tied for 57th in the FBS). They were 12th in the FBS in standard downs sack rate (8%; standard downs are listed as first downs, second-and-7 for fewer, third-and-4 or fewer, and fourth-and-4 or fewer), but 103rd in passing downs sack rate (5.4%).
As far as run stopping, Louisville had a decent season from their defensive line. They averaged 2.76 line yards per carry (79th in the FBS), and were 41st in the FBS in power success rate. Most of Louisville’s numbers from 2020 were an improvement from 2019, except for passing downs sack rate and power success rate.
Jared Goldwire had 35 tackles (five for loss), two sacks, and a pass break-up as the starting nose tackle. He will be the only player that Louisville has to replace among its starting lineup.
Projected Starters: YaYa Diaby, Jacques Turner, Tabarius Peterson
As far as experience goes, this is a very interesting combination of guys in the starting lineup. You have a top JUCO prospect (Diaby) and a longtime veteran in the Louisville program (Peterson) starting at both end spots, both whom return from last season and had a moderate impact on the defense. The third guy (Turner) is a transfer from Southern Miss, who has big-time talent and the potential to really make some moves as a draft prospect.
Talent wise, this position group should be able to take another step in 2021. Peterson and Diaby were solid on the edge in terms of containing. Peterson has 22 career starts across the last two seasons, and in that stretch, has developed a niche role as a guy that can get some big runs on Louisville’s fake punt attempts. He had 15 tackles and a sack last season (down from 24 tackles in 2019), so the Cardinals should expect more from him as a weakside end.
Diaby has all the athletic tools you need from a 3-4 defensive end to be successful as a 5-technique, and had a solid first year as a Power Five starter (18 tackles, 2.5 for loss, two QB hurries). Now in his second year, he’s hoping to capitalize on an offseason where coaches have been impressed with his improvement. If he can fulfill that with the guys that Louisville has coming back at outside linebacker, the Cardinals should once again improve on its pass rush totals from last season.
As for Jacques Turner, he will fill a much needed void at nose tackle with Goldwire departing. Louisville did have options that they could have used this season like Malik Clark or Dezmond Tell, but lacked experience at the position. Turner does provide that for Louisville, having played in 35 career games at Southern Miss. However, he opted out of last season due to coronavirus concerns, and ultimately transferred.
Turner brings a solid resume with him to campus as well, having been named to the All-Conference USA Freshman Team in 2017, and was a First Team selection in 2018. His 2019 campaign was also very solid, tallying 13 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, and three QB hurries with one pass break-up. Louisville has been improving the last two seasons with being able to get stops behind the line of scrimmage, and adding Turner to the fold improves both their pass rush and run stopping ability.
Key Reserves: Malik Clark, Dezmond Tell, Zach Edwards, Ja’Darien Boykin, Ashton Gillotte, Victoine Brown, Jared Dawson
One of the top priorities of Scott Satterfield’s staff from day one has been to improve depth on both sides of the line. I’d say after two seasons of heavy recruiting for both the offensive and defensive lines, Louisville has achieved its goal of getting several bodies at those spots.
Now for the next step; developing the talent. Louisville has some key reserves from last season returning as well, but they have a ton of freshmen on the defensive line that are looking to get playing time right away.
Until Turner committed to Louisville, Malik Clark was assumed to be the favorite to win the starting job at nose tackle. He should still be a key contributor off the bench, as he has been the last three seasons at Louisville. Clark had 14 tackles last season and has primarily been at his best in run stopping, which might make him an ideal candidate to start in 2022.
However, the competition should be tight this season (and next) with Clark and Dezmond Tell going for the nose tackle spot next season. Tell did play some last season in spurts, and should honestly compete for more reps. He has a lot of impressive moves, including a swim move that most defensive lineman would love to have. Honestly, I think Tell has the potential to be a really good 3-4 defensive end (or even a 4-3 defensive end) based off of his athleticism and pass rush repertoire. Tell has a great first step that can put pressure on most offensive linemen. But with Louisville already having plenty of options such as Ashton Gillotte, Jared Dawson, etc., Tell’s best chance for reps is probably at nose tackle right now.
They have some experienced options at defensive end available like Dayna Kinnaird and Derek Dorsey, but they’ll be competing against younger talent such as Zach Edwards and Ja’Darien Boykin. Edwards has played sparingly over the last two seasons, but could be in line for a bigger role as a backup defensive end.
For my money, Boykin figures to be the leading candidate to replace Peterson after this season. He’s wicked fast off the snap and can excel in any spot asked of him, he just needs to get as many reps as possible. If he has a good enough spring and August camp, it wouldn’t surprise me if the staff eventually makes him a starter this season to try and capitalize on his upside.
Ashton Gillotte, along with Victoine Brown and Jared Dawson, should compete for playing time as well from Louisville’s recent recruiting classes. Gillotte has especially impressed coaches in the spring with his effort, but all three guys have similar traits that the staff is looking for; high motors, great first step / jump off the snap, and great closing speed on ball carriers. Gillotte could end up being a key contributor early on at the 3-4 defensive end or even as an EDGE, whereas Dawson can play either 5-technique or line up at nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme. Brown has comparable length to Diaby (6’4″, 230 lbs.) to go with his moveset, which should make him an ideal 5-technique down the line or a 4-3 defensive end (especially when he adds on muscle over the course of his career).