CuseNation.com reached out to CardinalAuthority.com publisher Jody Demling who wrote the following scouting report of the Louisville Cardinals:
Another ACC battle this weekend for Louisville as the Cardinals travel to play Syracuse on Friday night in the Carrier Dome. Here’s a closer look at the Cardinals – under first-year head coach Bobby Petrino – heading into the game.
In the past, Bobby Petrino has been known as an offensive genius but this season the Cardinals have sputtered on offense. But the scheme has remained the same, a lot of quick passes and a lot of short stuff to set up the runs.
Petrino loves play action but with a line that hasn’t been up-to-par and injuries it hasn’t been used a lot so far. But the Cardinals will use a lot of multiple sets – from five-wide to three tight ends – to try and mix it up.
In the end, even with the notion that Petrino loves to throw the ball – which he does – the play calling is typically going to be 50-50 and if anything the Cardinals this season will rush the ball more than pass it.
It’s been the biggest question mark this season and an injury to starter Will Gardner has the position even cloudier. Petrino knew it wasn’t going to be easy to replace Teddy Bridgewater, who won with the Vikings in his NFL debut last week.
But redshirt sophomore Will Gardner was the backup last season and the Alabama native – who had an Alabama offer before committing to U of L – won the starting position back during spring ball.
Gardner has struggled some and now has a left knee injury. He’s not expected to play again this week leaving true freshman Reggie Bonnafon as the starter. The Louisville native only played one season at quarterback in high school.
So, as you can see it’s a big question mark.
Gardner has completed 56.2 percent of his passes for 798 yards but has thrown eight touchdowns, three interceptions and has four fumbles. Bonnafon is more of a threat with his legs and his arm and was a highly touted QB in high school.
Expect Bonnafon to get the call and he should be more prepared than he was last week after missing some time for the death of his father. He was 16 of 32 for 206 yards and ran 10 times for 71 yards - before losing yards for four sacks - in the win over Wake Forest last weekend as the starter.
The Cardinals will again be without their top skill player – wide receiver DeVante Parker – who hasn’t played this season because of an injury.
Parker, an expected first or second-round draft pick, broke a bone in his foot and is likely going to miss another couple of weeks.
Brown leads the way with 286 yards and three TDs but only had a few carries last week after two fumbles. He carried for 100-plus against Miami in the opener.
Radcliff, a sophomore who had been listed as No. 4 on the depth chart, got the call last week against Wake Forest. He ran for 129 yards and two TDs as the workhorse in the 20-10 win over the Demon Deacons.
Dyer has been hampered by injuries since he arrived at U of L last season but is capable of 100-yard game, while L.J. Scott is the much-talked about freshman who already has 147 yards and three TDs on the season.
Lamb hasn’t been used a lot this season in the backfield but is the fastest guy on the team and scored against the Orange two years ago on that long screen play.
Petrino likes to “go with the hot hand,” so when a back gets a few good touches you can expect to see his number called again.
Rogers has a team-high 22 catches for 238 yards, while Quick – the highest-rated recruit in the programs history – has 19 catches for 304 yards and two TDs.
Senior Michalee Harris is a Miami native and has battled through injuries, while Kai De La Cruz and Matt Milton are also top targets.
The Cardinals have three tight ends that play, including starter and top NFL prospect Gerald Christian, a former Florida transfer. Freshman Charles Standberry has two TDs and Keith Towbridge is a big body with good hands.
In the Trenches
There’s no question this is the hole on the offense.
But Smith was moved from center to guard to fill a void, while former walk-on Tobiah Hughley starts at center and Ryan Mack at the left tackle.
Miller is the right guard and Brown the right tackle. But the Cardinals don’t have a lot of depth with just two other linemen seeing a lot of time.
Plus, the starting group has not jelled together. In the Wake Forest win, all five starters had at least one penalty and Mack has a streak of five games in a row with one going on this season.
It’s been a struggle and there’s not a lot of answers. Smith was moved back to center for one game but that didn’t work so Hughley was moved back in.
The Cardinals ended the Wake Forest game with getting help from the tight ends – Christian and Towbridge – on a few plays to try and establish the run.
The inconsistent and sometimes poor line play has hurt.
The Cardinals switched from a base 4-3 to a 3-4 under former NFL and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who is known for a very aggressive and attacking style of defense. They like to fly around to the ball, bring pressure and even in nickel situations will blitz off the edges a lot.
In the Trenches
The Louisville defensive line was supposed to take a step backwards this season, losing three starters from last season.
Among those starters lost was first-round Eagles’ draft pick Marcus Smith and the fourth starter – Lorenzo Mauldin moved to outside linebacker. So, the line appeared to have to be rebuilt to start the season.
But so far, the line has been a strength. Sheldon Rankins has been the man in the middle for the Cardinals. He’s making tackles and not getting pushed around, which is what Grantham said he needed from the nose tackle.
Rankins has 17 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks, one pass break up and one interception from the middle of the line.
The Back Eight
The linebackers are a major strength with sophomore Keith Kelsey, who wasn’t projected as a starter, leading the way. He has 28 tackles, including three sacks, and is seemingly always the first one to the ball.
James Burgess is also a big-play linebacker, while Lorenzo Mauldin has 23 tackles, nine tackles for a loss and is 15th nationally with four sacks. Deiontrez Mount and Keith Brown are also chipping in.
Mauldin is one of the top sack leaders for two years and after his move to linebacker has become a major force for the Cardinals.
The linebackers have played so well and are a huge part of the 13 forced turnovers and the 19 sacks for 153 yards. Nine different players have a sack on the season with five in the linebacker group.
Holliman leads the country with six interceptions and is always around the ball. He also has 15 tackles, three pass breakups and is the hitter on the defense.
Charles Gaines is a projected high round draft pick at cornerback and is one of the fastest guys on the team. He hasn’t been thrown at more than a handful of times this season after he led the team with five picks a year ago.
On the opposite side, Andrew Johnson and true freshman Trumaine Washington are splitting time and both are on the smaller side but getting the job done. Both have 13 tackles, while Washington has one sack on the season.
The Cardinals have physical safety players, while the corners are smaller and more finesse. It’s been a good mix so far.
Special teams has been somewhat of an issue for the Cardinals for a few years, teams getting long returns and penalties on seemingly every return.
And it’s been much of the same.
The punt return team is better this season with James Quick back there. He’s only averaging 8.6 yards a return but is electric and has had three long gains – including one near touchdown – called back because of penalties.
Corvin Lamb returned a kickoff against Miami, while John Wallace has handled the kickoffs. The Cardinals are better on kickoffs.
Wallace did miss two field goals against Wake Forest last week.
Louisville came into the season with hopes of another two or three loss season and it could still happen, but they have a lot of work to do. The offense is nowhere close to being what it needs to be in order to keep winning games, while the defense has carried the team. The Cardinals are looking at Friday night as a must win.