Know Your Enemy: Louisville Season Preview

Our season preview series continues with the Louisville Cardinals.

We continue our season preview series with the Louisville Cardinals. Last Season Louisville fell three points short of a perfect season behind QB Teddy Bridgewater, finishing 12-1 and concluding the season with a 36–9 thrashing of Miami in the bowl game. Much has changed since then as head coach Charlie Strong left for Texas, Bridgewater and a good bit of defensive talent moved on to the NFL, and Louisville rehired offensive mastermind Bobby Petrino to replace Strong.

Florida State and Louisville last played during a tropical storm in 2002, when Louisville took down the then-No. 4 Seminoles 26–20 in overtime. It was one of the quickest college overtimes you’ll ever see, as Florida State quarterback Chris Rix threw an interception on the first play of overtime followed by a 25-yard touchdown run by Louisville’s Henry Miller the next play.

Schedule

Win Probability

Sept. 1 MIAMI (FLA.)

.52

Sept. 6 MURRAY STATE

1

Sept. 13 At Virginia

.63

Sept. 20 At Fla. International

.95

Sept. 27 Wake Forest

.73

Oct. 3 At Syracuse

.52

Oct. 11 At Clemson

.16

Oct. 18 North Carolina ST.

.78

Oct. 30 FLORIDA STATE

.25

Nov. 8 At Boston College

.65

Nov. 22 At Notre Dame

.25

Nov. 29 Kentucky

.78

Overall

7.22

Louisville starts their first season in the ACC off with a bang against Miami. Last season the Cardinals destroyed Miami in their bowl game, but these are entirely different programs since then. Teddy Bridgewater, Calvin Pryor, and Charlie Strong are all gone on the Louisville side. Petrino is one of the best offensive minds in college football, but replacing Bridgewater will be a tough task. Miam, on the other hand, will have star RB Duke Johnson back and will be starting true freshman Brad Kaaya at quarterback on the road.

The rest of September should be relatively easy for the Cardinals, but October will serve as the true welcome to the ACC, as the Cardinals must to travel to Syracuse and Clemson back-to-back before hosting NC State at home and then Florida State on a Thursday night. Syracuse and NC State are winnable games for Louisville, but Clemson and Florida State will each be favored by double digits. November starts with away games at Boston College and Notre Dame before a home tilt against instate rival Kentucky.

The Simplified Football formula projects the Cardinals at just over seven games. Wayne: I have a higher opinion of the Cardinals and think they finish the regular season 9-3 with losses to Notre Dame, Florida State, and Clemson. Jason: I think Louisville is in for a bit of a rude awakening this season, as I just don’t see the talent level on that roster to meet expectations in their first ACC season. I expect around 7–5 for the Cardinals, as they will simply need more talent to compete against the higher level of play they’ll face this year.

Offense

Projected Starters

Quarterback

Will Gardner

Running Back

Dominique Brown

Full Back

Lamar Atkins

Wide Receiver

Eli Rodgers

Wide Receiver

DeVante Parker*

Tight End

Gerald Christian

Left Tackle

Jamon Brown

Left Guard

John Miller

Center

Tobijah Hughley

Right Guard

Jake Smith

Right Tackle

Kelby Johnson

Key Players

WR DeVante Parker: Last year’s leading receiver in both touchdowns and yards came back for his senior season, but a left foot injury has ruled him out for at least 8 weeks. Unfortunately for FSU, that puts his return just in time for the home game against the Seminoles.

QB Will Gardner: Gardner will have big shoes to fill replacing Teddy Bridgewater this season. Last season he appeared mostly in mop up duty and threw just 12 passes. Gardner was a 3-star recruit in the 2011 class.

RB Dominique Brown: Brown led the Cardinals in rushing last season averaging over 5 YPC with 8 TDs. Former Auburn RB Michael Dyer is another name to watch at a position that looks to get more carries with Bridgewater gone.

Question Marks

The Offensive Line: The Cardinals return three of the five members of last year’s line but must replace both players on the right side. Johnson was JUCO player last season before committing to Louisville and arriving on campus in July. Center John Smith has moved out to take over the right guard position while Hughley, a walk on last season, has taken over at Center. This is not an especially talented unit and is likely to struggle against some of the better fronts on the Cardinals’ schedule

Overall: Offense

Last season Louisville was one of the top offensive teams in the country, finishing 16th in offensive F/+, but that was with Bridgewater and under Strong. The main question on offense is whether or not Gardner can come in and replace Bridgewater effectively. There is offensive talent on this roster, and Petrino is a wizard, so we do expect a good overall output on the year, if maybe a bit short of last year’s pyrotechnics.

Defense

Projected Starters

Defensive End

Sheldon Rankins

Nose Tackle

DeAngelo Brown

Defensive End

B.J. Dubose

Outside Linebacker

Deiontrez Mount

Inside Linebacker

Keith Brown

Inside Linebacker

James Burgess

Outside Linebacker

Lorenzo Mauldin

Corner

Andrew Johnson

Strong Safety

Gerod Holliman

Free Safety

Terell Floyd

Corner

Charles Gaines

Key Players

LB Lorenzo Mauldin: Mauldin was second on the team last season with 9.5 sacks, and third in tackles for loss with 12. Last season he played defensive end, but made the switch to OLB when the Cardinals switched to the 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. It will be interesting to see if he can keep up that production in his new position.

CB Charles Gaines: Gaines started last season slowly due to a move from the offensive side of the ball, but finished it in a flurry with four of his team leading five interceptions coming in the last six games. He isn’t especially big at 5-foot-11, 180-pounds, but he has excellent ball skills and is a solid tackler.

Question Marks

The Defensive Line: The projected defensive line for Louisville is full of questions. DeAngelo Brown missed all of last season with an Achilles injury and both Rankins and Dubose were back ups. This unit will need to learn quickly as the defense makes the switch to the 3-4.

Todd Grantham: Grantham is a castoff from UGA, where he could never quite get the defense to perform to expectations. Will his tenure at Louisville be marked by similar disappointment? Strong is one of the best defensive minds in the country, so a moderate dropoff on defense may be expected.

Overall: Defense

Surprisingly, according to the F/+ rankings last year’s defense was better than the offense for Louisville. The Cardinals ranked 10th—ahead of highly-touted defenses like South Carolina, LSU, and Missouri. But with Grantham instead of Strong, we expect some growing pains, and the step up in competition will make things more difficult as well.

Special Teams

Projected Starters

Kicker

John Wallace

Punter

Ryan Johnson

Punt Returner

Eli Rodgers

Kickoff Returner

Eli Rodgers

Charles Gaines

Key Player

KR Charles Gaines: Last season Gaines returned both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns. This season he is staying in the kickoff return role. Last season he averaged an outstanding 30.1 yards per return.

How They Match Up With FSU

Louisville should be a good football team Wayne: and will be a lot better than most people expect Jason: but comes into the 2014 season a bit overrated. Wayne: They have a ton of speed and athleticism on both sides of the ball Jason: They have a number of good athletes but aren’t above the middle of the pack in the ACC in that regard, but FSU has a significant speed and athleticism edge either way. They’ll likely be adjusted to the new systems by the time that they play the Seminoles, but there is just too much talent on the Florida State side. The Florida State offensive line has been playing together for three years now with the exception of center Austin Barron, who has still played with this unit quite a bit as a backup. That is not a unit you want to face with a defensive line unit full of question marks.

On defense the Seminoles are as fast and talented as any team in the country, something that Louisville did not experience in the AAC last season. Even with DeVante Parker, the Florida State secondary should be a tough matchup for the Cardinals.

Many have pointed to this as a potentially dangerous game due to its Thursday night timing, but the Seminoles have a bye week before this game to prepare, and road favorites with a bye actually have slightly better records on Thursday nights rather than Saturdays. In other words, it should be just another road game, though Papa John’s Stadium is a hostile environment.

Wayne’s Prediction: 45-21 (Win Probability: 80%)

Jason’s Prediction: 45–13 (Win Probability: 90%)


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