For our last two parts of this year’s Louisville football guide, we will be looking into the backfield of Louisville’s offense. We start with our preview of this year’s running back group.
Louisville once again had a good offense in 2021, thanks in part to a stellar run game. The Cardinals average 212.9 rushing yards per game, good for 18th in the FBS (T-2nd in ACC), and led the ACC in yards per carry (5.45).
Quarterback Malik Cunningham led the team in rushing with 1,034 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground, in addition to his 19 passing touchdowns. Jalen Mitchell had a solid year as RB1 for Louisville, with 722 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 4.6 yards per carry. Trevion Cooley was a playmaker for Louisville as a spell back, logging 604 all-purpose yards (431 rush / 173 receiving) and three touchdowns.
From last year’s running back group, Louisville lost Maurice Burkley to graduation and Hassan Hall and Aidan Robbins to the transfer portal (Georgia Tech and UNLV, respectively).
Projected Rotation: Tiyon Evans, Jalen Mitchell, Trevion Cooley
I decided not to list a starter at RB in my projections this year. Any one of these three individuals could start for Louisville, and the Cardinals would honestly be fine on offense. It’s both an endorsement of how good these backs are, and how good Louisville’s offensive line should be this season (sidenote, you can learn more about Louisville’s offensive line in our breakdown from July).
Let’s start with the players returning from last year’s squad. Jalen Mitchell is a north-south runner that plays nasty. He’s a versatile player that can contribute as a receiver and as a pass blocker, so he’s capable of playing any down and distance. While he doesn’t have the breakaway speed that some of Satterfield’s best backs have had (Javian Hawkins, Darrynton Evans come to mind), he’s a tough runner that can pick up chunk yardage, and complements Malik Cunningham fairly well on read options.
Trevion Cooley has been a trendy pick to be a breakout player in year two, and it’s hard not to see that when you watch him play. Cooley is the total package at running back; he has solid speed, gets to the second level quickly, and is also a threat as a receiver out of the backfield. If he can improve on his pass blocking in the coming years, Louisville could have yet another big time running back in the program.
However, the addition of Tiyon Evans gives Louisville real consideration for the deepest running back group in the whole ACC. Evans is an explosive back with breakaway speed, and he can add to Louisville’s passing game as a receiver also. Of any player on Louisville’s roster, I’d say Evans is one of the favorites to give the offense a consistent big play threat. He’s been a popular pick to be the RB1 when Louisville starts their season on September 3rd, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes the top option eventually.
Between those three guys, it should ease the burden on Malik Cunningham to carry the load for Louisville’s running game. Scott Satterfield has usually had 1,000 yard rushers every season he’s been a head coach, but it’s very tough to project that given Louisville will likely split between 3-4 backs and their quarterback, as well. If Louisville can get more from their running backs, that’d open up Cunningham to be a more efficient runner on less carries, while also making the play-action and short-to-intermediate passing game more effective. How Satterfield and his staff will manage this running back room is, in my opinion, the most pivotal part of Louisville’s offense in 2022.
Names to Watch: Jawhar Jordan and Maurice Turner
After those three backs, Jawhar Jordan figures to be next in line on the depth chart. Jordan showed some promise in relief during Louisville’s bowl game last December, and it looks like he’s managed to carve a role for himself as a kick returner this season. Jordan has good speed and vision as a ball carrier, both solid traits to have when you’re a returner. He’s also a very assertive runner, for lack of a better term. When he runs, he knows where he wants to go and hits the gap with force. I can definitely see Jordan earning reps at RB this season.
Maurice Turner is the only other back that could get reps this season, but his versatility as a slot receiver may open up opportunities for him on the first-team. He’s a dynamic athlete that plays fast and has crisp route-running ability. He’s also shown some chops as a punt returner on his tape, so he could flesh out a role on special teams this season. I could also see Turner carving a niche role as a slot receiver in empty sets for Louisville, giving the Cardinals more explosive options in passing situations.