We continue our breakdown of the 2023 Louisville football roster by examining the running back group. In case you missed it, take a look at last week’s breakdown of the quarterback position.
Louisville averaged 201 rushing yards per game, second in the ACC and their fourth consecutive season averaging 200+ rushing yards. The Cardinals averaged 200+ rushing yards in every season under Scott Satterfield, and six of their last seven seasons dating back to 2016.
Once again, Louisville had a deep cast contributing to a very strong rushing attack. Quarterback Malik Cunningham finished with 565 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, including three straight 100+ yard games against UCF, Florida State, and USF. Tiyon Evans had 525 yards and six touchdowns in eight games played, including back-to-back 100+ yard games against Wake Forest and James Madison. Maurice Turner also had a 100+ yard game of his own, racking up 160 yards on 31 carries in the Fenway Bowl against Cincinnati.
But it was Jawhar Jordan who eventually emerged as the leading back for the Cardinals. Jordan had four 100+ yard games in the final five games of the season, and a team-high 815 rushing yards with four touchdowns. Jordan earned offensive MVP honors in the Fenway Bowl for his efforts (nine carries, 115 yards, two touchdowns).
Tiyon Evans signed an undrafted deal with the Los Angeles Rams, but has since been claimed off waivers by the Carolina Panthers. Trevion Cooley and Jalen Mitchell both transferred from the program, moving to Georgia Tech and UConn, respectively. Former Male High School standout Chris Barclay joins Jeff Brohm on staff at Louisville as the running backs coach.
Projected Starter: Jawhar Jordan
First making a name for himself in the First Responder Bowl back in 2021, Jordan eventually made his way to the starting job and became a major contributor for Louisville to close out 2022.
Now, in 2023, Jordan enters the season as Louisville’s likely RB1. Louisville is in capable hands with Jordan as their starter; he is a north-south runner who does not shy away from contact. He’s also shown good vision as a ball carrier, which has especially been evident from his time as Louisville’s primary kick returner. Last season, Jordan averaged 25.2 yards per return, and he also has two kickoff return touchdowns in the last two seasons.
With the Louisville offense moving to a more pass-favored scheme, there will be opportunities for running backs to be more integral to the passing game. Jordan hasn’t had a chance to showcase his ability as a receiver often (18 career receptions in four seasons), but lead backs have been featured in Brohm’s offenses. At WKU, Leon Allen reeled in 50 catches in 2014 under Brohm, and other guys like WKU’s Anthony Wales, and Purdue’s Zander Horvath (2020) and Devin Mockobee (2022) have had 30+ receptions in a season. Mockobee also had 968 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in his freshman season, so a similar campaign for Jordan is possible in 2023.
Key Reserves: Maurice Turner, Isaac Guerendo, Keyjuan Brown
Louisville’s RB2 spot will likely come down to either Maurice Turner or Isaac Guerendo.
Let’s start with the returning Turner. Like Jordan, Turner emerged late as a key contributor for Louisville last season, culminating in a 160-yard outing in the Fenway Bowl against Cincinnati. He’s another guy that I think will benefit greatly under Brohm and Barclay. His receiver skills could be handy for Louisville in certain sets, especially on RB screens which will be more common in Brohm’s scheme. He’s a fast back with some agility and potential to line up at wide receiver in empty sets with his past experience at the position.
Isaac Guerendo comes to Louisville after four seasons at Wisconsin. He also handled kick return duties for the Badgers, tallying 443 yards on 23.3 yards per return. Guerendo led all Badger running backs in receptions last season (17) and averaged six yards per carry with five rushing touchdowns. He had a lot of big plays in 2022, mostly due to his ability to hit that second gear and pull away from defenders in the open field. Guerendo could fill a role similar to Tiyon Evans last season at Louisville, in that he serves occasional reps with the threat to break a big run open at any given moment.
Louisville added Keyjuan Brown in the 2023 recruiting class. Brown showed good acceleration when going through the gaps, and he can shed through tacklers with a solid frame at 5’9″ and 205 lbs. Paired with great ball carrier vision, there’s a chance he could work his way into the rotation similar to how Jawhar Jordan has in the last couple seasons.