Next up in our Louisville football breakdown, we are closing out our offensive outlook by examining this year’s offensive line for the Cardinals. In case you missed it, our previews with the quarterback, running back, and wide receiver / tight end positions were released earlier this month.
After finishing 2021 as arguably the best offensive line in the ACC, Louisville experienced a slight regression in 2022. The Cardinals went from 1.54 sacks per game in 2021 to 2.08 last season, good for sixth in the ACC. Louisville also ranked T-65th in FBS in tackles for loss allowed (5.62), a slight uptick from 2021’s 5.00 per game.
Their advanced numbers from Football Outsiders were up and down, depending on which aspect of protection you want to focus on. Louisville had a 6.4% sack rate (68th in FBS) and a 49.2% opportunity rate (the percentage of carries that go 4+ yards), but ranked 116th in power rate at 59.3% (the percentage of carries on third and fourth down, two yards or less, that turns into a first down or touchdown per Football Outsiders).
Trevor Reid, Caleb Chandler, and Adonis Boone all depart from last year’s starting lineup.
Projected Starters (LT to RT): Eric Miller, John Paul Flores, Bryan Hudson, Michael Gonzalez, Renato Brown
There is a healthy mix of everything in this projected starting lineup. You have two players who arrive at Louisville via the portal, two more returning starters from last year’s group, and the final starter is elevated to a full-time spot after making five starts last season.
Jeff Brohm brought in two new names that will likely start side-by-side this season, in Eric Miller and John Paul Flores. Miller rejoins Brohm after spending his college career at Purdue, making 29 career starts for the Boilermakers (including all 27 games in 2021 and 2022 combined). He led a Boilermakers offensive line that was 35th in FBS in sack rate (4.6%), 12th in passing downs sack rate (3.5%), and 15th in tackles for loss allowed (4.21) so there’s hope that he can help Louisville improve their pass protection from year to year.
Flores arrives at Louisville after spending last season at Virginia, and two seasons prior at Dartmouth. He was tabbed as a second-team All-Ivy League player in 2021, and started all six games last season for the Cavaliers.
Bryan Hudson returns as the starting center for Louisville in 2023, and he will be one of the most important players for the Cardinals this season. He had an outstanding 2022 campaign, earning Second-Team All-ACC honors and being one of the anchors behind Louisville’s stout rushing attack. He’s also proven to be a solid pass blocker, which will help Louisville as they move towards a more pass-centric offense under Brohm.
Louisville also gets Renato Brown back, and he has been one of the anchors of Louisville’s offense the last three seasons. Brown has made 34 starts in the last three seasons dating back to 2020, and he’s well rounded in both pass protection and run blocking.
Filling out the last spot at right guard is Michael Gonzalez, who I’ve been very high on since he arrived (as have most covering this team) and he’s primed for a breakout year. Gonzalez is a nice run blocker with the versatility to play almost any position on the line, including left tackle. There is a chance that he could slide over to tackle in 2024, but I believe his best position is likely at guard where he can leverage his athleticism against interior linemen. With Brown and Gonzalez together, Louisville has a strong pairing that should open up runs on that side.
Key Reserves: Willie Tyler, Madden Sanker, Luke Burgess, Austin Collins, Joshua Black
Brohm also added Willie Tyler from Rutgers to bolster Louisville’s depth at the left tackle spot. Tyler has 18 career starts in his collegiate career, including nine at Rutgers last season, and nine at Louisiana-Monroe in 2021. Louisville also added Houston transfer Trevonte Sylvester to further add to their depth at tackle.
Once Tyler, Miller, and Flores all graduate this offseason, the starting spots at left tackle and guard will likely go to Madden Sanker and Luke Burgess, two of Louisville’s highest rated prospects in the 2023 recruiting class.
Sanker likely figures in as a long-term starter for Louisville at guard (or tackle, but likely at guard). He is a nasty run blocker with a 78-inch wingspan (per 247Sports) and a solid first step off the snap. His background as a state champion wrestler in Georgia also helps him with hand fighting in the trenches, coordination, balance, and leverage among other things. Wrestling is a sport that translates very well to football because of those traits and the discipline required to succeed in it, which is why I’m very optimistic about Sanker’s future as a football player given his success there.
Burgess is a guy to watch in the future at either tackle spot. He is a giant at 6’8″ and 300 lbs., with a chance to get bigger, more sturdier in the coming years. He plays with a nice bend and can move laterally very well.
Louisville also retains Austin Collins and Joshua Black, both will likely compete for starting jobs next season. Both have mostly played in reserve duty for the Cardinals, with Collins making one start in the 2020 season finale against Wake Forest.