UofL football has now won 2 in a row after defeating a deflated Florida State team 31-23. The Cards are now 3-1 and playing much better football, but key injuries are starting to accumulate. After watching most of the game, I came away with 10 takeaways about the team, which you can read below:
1) The offense is heavily reliant (and maybe too much so) on Malik Cunningham.
- The offense goes through Malik Cunningham. That’s honestly a statement Captain Obvious would say, “well, all offenses go through their QBs.” However, this game showed that the entire offense is on Malik’s shoulders. Malik, of course, led the team in passing with 264 yards and 2 TDs. That’s exactly what you want to see if you’re a fan or Coach Scott Satterfield. What you don’t want to see is that Malik was the team’s leading rusher as well with 56 yards and the only two rushing TDs of the game. Coach Satterfield’s offense is predicated on running backs gashing a defense and then the QB taking the top off once that defense commits multiple defenders to the box to stop the run. The running backs must start carrying their weight in this offense for the team to reach their true potential. The talent is there, they just have to find their groove.
2) The defense has been as advertised.
- The defense was the talk of the off season. Many people believed that they would carry the team to victories this season and it has played out that way so far. Against FSU, the offense floundered in the second half, but the defense thrived, for the most part. The run defense needs some improvement as FSU was able to break some long runs, but the defensive line did a good job of getting some tackles for loss and of sacking FSU QB McKenzie Milton. Yet another interception sealed this week’s victory, this time by the secondary. Kei’Trel Clark continued his All-ACC caliber play by intercepting Milton’s pass on the goal line. It was not an easy interception either. He made a great play on the ball.
3) Yasir Abdullah, Ashton Gillotte, and Yaya Diaby form a formidable pass rushing trio.
- There is a three-headed monster developing in the front seven that should frighten ACC quarterbacks as we move through this 2021 season. Yasir Abdullah, Ashton Gillotte, and Yaya Diaby are emerging as a force on the defensive front. All three are able to get to the QB for a sack or a pressure. Deep in the second half of the FSU game, it was the three-headed monster of Abdullah, Gillotte, and Diaby who were harassing McKenzie Milton. Let’s hope their dominance continues to grow.
4) Jordan Watkins has become one of Malik Cunningham’s favorite targets.
- Louisville native Jordan Watkins is quickly becoming one of Malik Cunningham’s favorite targets. This FSU game highlighted this. He was second on the team in receptions with 5 and in yards with 61. He also had the only other receiving TD. Watkins has become Mr. Third Down, as he catches a lot of passes to move the change on the ever important down. His excellent hands have helped him become a go-to receiver for Malik. His speed should allow him to develop into a big “yards after catch” guy. He’s still growing into his role and will likely have to take on a larger one with the loss of Braden Smith to injury. Watkins has all the tools to be a big playmaker for Cunningham and become his other security blanket in addition to Marshon Ford.
5) The loss of Braden Smith hurts.
- While Braden Smith’s numbers haven’t been eye-popping in any particular game this season, he has been an obvious and reliable target for Malik Cunningham. Not to mention that he has been utilized as the primary trick play guy due to having played QB in high school. Smith was a security blanket for Cunningham Saturday before going out with a season-ending knee injury. After his departure, Louisville struggled moving the football offensively. The loss of a weapon the caliber of Smith is tough. I am hopeful the Cards will find ways to make the offense hum as it did when he was a part of it. Hopefully, he recovers quickly and heals up well so he can be a force next season.
6) Running Backs must display better vision.
- The running backs have been missing the holes the offensive line has been opening. There were quite a few times there were cutback lanes and holes that running backs missed and they ended up with a 2-yard gain that could’ve been a 6-yard gain. They must develop better vision to see the openings provided by their offensive line and take advantage. I will be curious to see how the stable looks against Wake Forest. I especially want to see what Jalen Mitchell looks like because I truly believe he has the speed and strength to be a guy that gets 5 to 6 yards per carry. If he can be that guy, the offense will be even more fun to watch and be more consistent. I also look for Trevion Cooley to hopefully get more snaps and carries. He is definitely the heir apparent in my opinion.
7) Mark Vassett is truly a weapon that can change the game.
- Punters are unsung heroes for a football team. They get very little pub. Honestly, most people want to see them rarely because if you’re seeing them a lot, it means your team’s offense is struggling. However, good punters can be big time weapons, flipping field position to give advantage to their defense. Mark Vassett has been a true weapon for the Cards this season, especially on Saturday. Vassett flipped the field numerous times, forcing an inconsistent FSU offense to try to drive nearly the length of the field to score. It allowed the UofL defense to cause some havoc and keep FSU out of rhythm. Without the leg of Vassett, Saturday’s game may have gone much differently.
8) Kei’Trel Clark continues to show he is one of the top corners in the nation.
- Kei’Trel Clark has been a godsend. The transfer from Liberty has been consistent and is a true shutdown corner. Most teams this season have shied away from testing him, opting to direct passes to the other side or middle of the field. FSU actually attacked him. While they had some modest success, Clark ultimately proved why he’s among the best DBs in the nation by recording his 3rd pick on the season. This one sealed an 8-point road win against a desperate 0-3 (now 0-4) team. He had a pass interference call that was one of the worst I have ever seen just before his game-winning pick. What’s amazing about him is how easily he moved on and made the next play. Clark will likely be a finalist for many postseason DB awards, an All-ACC first teamer, and a first day NFL draft pick if he keeps up his production.
9) Coach Satterfield got conservative a little early with play calls, but it wasn’t as bad as it seemed.
- While some were dismayed by the play calling in the second half on Saturday, it wasn’t as horrendous as it seemed. Yes, he went to the run a little too early. In some ways, I understand why he tried running early in the third quarter. Notice that Maurice Burkley was actually gashing FSU’s defense late in the second quarter. Then notice that Burkley played the majority of the second half. It’s obvious coach saw Burkley was having the best game of the available backs and stuck with him. I think he believed the running game’s success would carry over to the second half, but it didn’t. Some of it was truly execution as the backs missed some holes opened by the offensive line and there were some missed blocks on the perimeter. Coach Satterfield was mixing in the pass, though. He took a deep shot to Jordan Watkins, but it was well defended. In fact, I think it was the same play they scored the long TD on with Tyler Harrell earlier. He also attempted to use the short and intermediate passing game. Unfortunately, it was not working as well in second half due to some inaccurate throws by Cunningham and some receivers being inexplicably off balance when catching a pass. They were falling out of bounds rather than keeping their balance and turning upfield for yards after the catch. Had some of Malik’s passes been better placed and some receivers kept their balance, the offense may have actually moved the ball much better. Coach Satterfield harped on execution as a major factor in the second half offensive struggles. I actually think he is correct, but he should acknowledge he did get a little too conservative a little too early. I suspect the offense will have a much more balanced game against Wake Forest.
10) The linebackers who replaced Monty Montgomery struggled some.
- The loss of Monty Montgomery was felt in this game. Jaylin Alderman, Dorian Jones, and Nick Okeke all were used with Jones seemingly being utilized the most. There were some struggles; missed tackles, issues with pass coverage, and issues with positioning. I suspect most of this is due to limited experience. As I noted in some previous articles recently, there is talent there, but experience is definitely lacking. Hopefully, there will be a gradual improvement from last game to this one. Jones and Alderman are super talented. The game just needs to slow down a bit for them. Once it does, I think the issues we saw Saturday will be much less of a problem. It also didn’t help there a very questionable pass interference call on Jones. I suspect they will be much better and, based on the FSU game, Alderman and Jones will likely share the bulk of the work load to replace Montgomery’s production.