Tis the season of football. Louisville is about to open camp and the season is just a month away. UofL Football had a mediocre season last year. They enter this season as underdogs with many people believing they will be toward the bottom of the ACC. However, 2019 was viewed the same way, but Louisville was able to have a highly successful season and a bowl win.
I’m going to analyze 10 things I think will determine how good Louisville Football’s season will be. This is my opinion on what 10 things will be the biggest indicators of whether the Cards will be flying or faltering. Let’s begin.
10) Malik Cunningham’s Turnovers
- Malik Cunningham had a turnover issue last season. When Malik is on, he’s a very good collegiate QB. His completion percentage speaks to that. In 2019, Malik had a breakout campaign, throwing for 2065 yards, 22 TDs, and only 5 interceptions. In 2020, it was more of a mixed bag. While he threw for 2617 yards and 20 TDs with a 64-percent completion percentage, he also threw 12 interceptions. He also lost 3 fumbles. For UofL Football to look more like the 2019 version rather than last year’s version, the Cardinal QB must clean up the turnovers. I believe he will. The only turnovers Cards fans want to see out on the menus at Arby’s.
9) Malik Cunningham’s Health
- Malik is arguably the bell weather for UofL Football’s season. Outside the turnovers, Malik must stay healthy. In 2019, he had some injury issues and last season he seemed hobbled in certain games. A healthy Malik is a must for the Cardinals to win. He’s got the experience and talent to lead them to another bowl game. If Malik stays healthy, the Cards season is promising. If he gets injured, it will likely be tough to get enough victories for a bowl game.
8) New Look Wide Receiver Corps Must Be Impactful
- Gone are all-time Louisville greats Dez Fitzpatrick and Tutu Atwell. It’s a new-look receiving corps. Jordan Watkins showed a ton of promise in his playing time last year and is expected to be a big weapon for the Cards. Justin Marshall is expected to take a huge step forward and become a big play guy down the field. Braden Smith showed flashes of his potential in a couple games. Newcomers like Demetrius Cannon and Ahmari Huggins-Bruce figure to see the field some just based on the raw talent. For UofL to become a bowl team again, the receiving corps must fill the holes left by Dez and Tutu’s departures. If Jordan Watkins continues with the stellar play he exhibited last year, if Braden Smith becomes a more consistent performer, and if Justin Marshall truly becomes the big play guy, it’s possible. The problem is, of course, it’s an unknown commodity. The talent is there, but will the results be there? If they are, UofL’s offense will be potent. If not, it’s going to be a struggle.
7) Jalen Mitchell Must Be Productive
- While UofL has a nice stable of running backs including Hassan Hall, Maurice Burkley, and freshman Trevion Cooley, Jalen Mitchell is the presumptive starter. He’s got big shoes to fill in Javian Hawkins. Mitchell has the build and ability to be a feature, impact back. He will need to be a 5-6 yard a carry guy for UofL to really be the offense they want to be. If he’s able to do this, UofL’s offense should be very potent.
6) Offensive Line Needs To Live Up To Preseason Hype
- While there isn’t necessarily a Mekhi Becton on this version of UofL’s offensive line, there is a lot of talent and depth. Cole Bentley, Adonis Boone, Caleb Chandler, and Renato Brown are big, strong, and experienced. Trevor Reid has excellent size and athleticism. Then the depth behind them, especially Bryan Hudson, is spectacular. All the pieces are there. The offensive line simply has to live up to the hype. If they do, Jalen Mitchell is that 5-6 yard a carry back and Malik should stay healthy and be able to have the time to make throws and not turn the ball over. If they don’t, it could be a long season again.
5) Defensive Line Must Get To The QB
- The defensive line is getting a lot of preseason pub. YaYa Diaby has been singled out by the staff. There’s a lot more depth, but not as much experience with this year’s line. In addition to Diaby, Dezmond Tell played quite a bit last season as a freshman and was impactful. Tabarius Peterson has become a mainstay and transfer Jacques Turner comes in and should likely become a big contributor. Freshman Ashton Gillotte has turned heads as well. This group has to get after the QB. While linebackers like Monty Montgomery should be able to rush the passer, for the Cards to truly become an excellent defense, the front 3 must be able to get pressure and sacks. If they do, the defense could be one of the top 50 in the country. If not, they will still be good, but not as great as they could be.
4) Linebackers Must Be Able To Stop Running Game And Cause Havoc Backfield
- The linebacking corps is arguably the strongest it has been in a while. CJ Avery will anchor it with his experience and talent. Monty Montgomery could be an All-ACC performer. Marvin Dallas flashed his potential last season. Yasir Abdullah made a ton of big plays. The talent is there and there’s depth with KJ Cloyd, Jack Fagot, Nick Okeke, and Dorian Jones. The linebackers have to be able to make tackles on running backs and get them down on initial contact. They have to create havoc in the backfield with tackles for loss and sacks. Louisville’s run defense was ok last year, but they must become good or better this season for the defense as a whole to be a bowl-caliber defense. If linebackers can help the defense become a top 60 or better run defense, a bowl is probable. If they place 80, as they did last year, they should be a solid defense. Anything less and it could be a long season. The talent, experience, and depth lead me to believe they will take a step forward in stopping the run.
3) Safeties Must Be Better In Coverage
- Last season, UofL’s safeties struggled in coverage. This position appears to be the most questionable on the whole team. Newcomer Kendrick Duncan appears to be the real deal and should help immensely. However, next to him it’s an unknown. Depth is an unknown because while there’s a ton of talent, there’s not a ton of experience. The safeties have to be better in coverage. There can’t be busted coverages or bad routes taken as there were numerous times last season. If they are solid, UofL is going to be a bowl team. If they are mediocre to average, they appear to be strong enough everywhere else that they can still bowl. If they are flat out terrible, it could be a long season.
2) Punting Must Become A Weapon
- Field position is one of the most important aspects in football. The position that arguably has the biggest impact on field position is the punter. A good punter can change the complexion of a game. UofL struggled mightily in the punting game last season. They often lost the field position battle and it’s arguably why their record was poor. They have a new punter this year and he must become a weapon to help the defense by giving them better field position which should, in turn, give the offense better field position. Winning the field position battle will likely lead to a bowl.
1) Cards Defense Must Cause Turnovers
- Last season, the defense was good. One reason they weren’t great was the lack of turnovers. The corners were excellent in coverage and broke up a ton of passes, but this season the pass breakups must become interceptions instead. There were quite a few interceptions that were dropped. Those must be picked off this season. The linebackers and defensive line must get to QB more and get strip sacks and tipped passes. Turnovers must be created. If they cause turnovers and get better field position for the offense, the Cards will most assuredly bowl. If they play like last season, they could still make a bowl, but it will be nearly impossible.
These are 10 key things I think will determine the trajectory of the 2021 season. The Cards have ample opportunity to go bowling. It should hopefully be a fun season. Go Cards.