Now that we’ve completed our look at the 2022 Louisville defense, we turn our attention to the special teams unit for the Cardinals this season. You can catch previous looks at the offensive and defensive lines, as well as the linebacker and secondary groups in case you need a refresher.
In the kicking game, Louisville faced some struggles. The Cardinals finished dead last in the ACC in field goal percentage (63.6%), and tenth in PAT percentage (96.2%). In addition, among Power Five schools, Louisville’s field goal percentage was seventh-worst (T-111th in FBS).
Punting wasn’t a strength for Louisville either, as their 40.9 yards per punt average ranked them tenth in the ACC (97th in FBS), though it is worth mentioning that Louisville only averaged 3.8 punts per game (T-92nd in FBS).
As far as special teams coverage, Louisville had a mixed bag as far as their production. They had 39.2% of their kickoffs go for touchbacks (89th in FBS), and they were middle-of-the-pack in kickoff coverage with 20.8 yards per kick return (68th in FBS). Louisville did allow just 5.6 yards per punt return (36th in FBS), and did not give up a special teams touchdown all season.
However, Louisville did score on both a punt return and kickoff return last season. Braden Smith scored on a 49-yard punt return against EKU in early September, and Jawhar Jordan had a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown in the Armed Forces Bowl against Air Force. The Cardinals averaged 11.2 yards per punt return and 23.6 yards per kick return, good for 23rd and 27th in FBS, respectively.
Louisville’s most prominent contributors on special teams the last couple seasons, Jordan Watkins and Hassan Hall, both transferred in the offseason to Ole Miss and Georgia Tech, respectively. Long-time starting long snapper Mitch Hall also departs after manning the position for five seasons at Louisville.
Projected Starters: James Turner (kicker), Mark Vassett (punter), Drew Brenowitz (long snapper), Jawhar Jordan (kick returner), Braden Smith (punt returner)
After a stellar 2020 season that saw him complete 13-of-15 field goals and all 40 extra point tries, James Turner regressed in 2021. The kicker hit just 14-of-22 field goals, and hit 46-of-48 extra point tries last season. He’s proven to be a capable kicker inside 40 yards, but better accuracy in the 41+ yard range needs to be shown. Last season, Turner was 6-for-13 on field goals of 40+ yards.
Mark Vassett also returns as the starting punter for Louisville, he averaged 41.7 yards per punt in his first season. Another year in college should yield better results there, Louisville could stand to get better as far as winning the field position battle.
Louisville does have to replace long-time starter Mitch Hall at long snapper, and the frontrunner right now has to be Drew Brenowitz.
The departure of Hassan Hall leaves Louisville without a home-run hitter in the kick return unit, as he had two kickoff return touchdowns in his Louisville career. Losing Jordan Watkins to the transfer portal also left Louisville without a reliable returner in both kickoff and punting units. Right now, Jawhar Jordan looks to have the inside track as the primary option on kick returns. He had some big returns in the bowl game last season, and that momentum surely will parlay him into a role on special teams. It’d also allow him to carve out a niche role in a running back group that’s expected to be very deep and competitive all season long.
As for punt returns, there’s not a clear cut leader there either. I could see as many as five guys legitimately competing for the job, but I’d give it to Braden Smith as of now. Smith is returning from a season-ending knee injury in 2021, but now healthy, he should be Louisville’s most reliable hands guy.
Key Reserves: Brock Travelstead (KO), Josh Johnson and Tyler Hudson (returner)
If Turner’s struggles continue in 2022, the first guy that will probably be called up is Brock Travelstead. Travelstead has primarily handled kickoff duties for Louisville, and hit all five of his extra point attempts last season.
Josh Johnson and Tyler Hudson will likely compete for the returner jobs, as well. Josh Johnson has handled returns before and enters his sixth season with the Cardinals, he’s a shifty receiver and would provide a veteran presence on special teams. Hudson was an All-American receiver at Central Arkansas, and also has punt return experience at UCA (earning All-Southland Conference Honors as well).