First Look: Louisville Cardinals

So much for the ACC Takeover.

That is exactly what Louisville fans claimed was coming when the Cardinals joined the ACC. It hasn’t worked out quite that way, especially considering the fact that Clemson has lapped everyone in the league, and have probably lapped the Cards twice.

Since their very close matchup in 2016, when Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson put on a show in Death Valley, the Cardinals haven’t really challenged Clemson in the way they had hoped and head coach Scott Satterfield really needs to change that.

Satterfield took over in Louisville prior to the 2019 season. He then saw his team do what no coach wants to see. They went from 8–5 in 2019 to 4–7 in 2020. He also had four coaches leave the staff and two top offensive players opt out before the season ended.

Satterfield also found himself in a position that he felt he needed to apologize to the Cardinal’s season-ticket holders for after he botched an attempt to be a part of the South Carolina head coaching situation. Not something you would call a really good situation when you are trying to get your team back to winning.

In fact, the Gamecocks job wasn’t the only one he showed interest in. It’s not a good sign when your head coach wants to leave that badly after just one season on the job.

When his offensive coordinator, Dwayne Ledford, decided to leave for the Atlanta Falcons, Satterfield chose to take over the offense himself. Job number one for him has to be figuring out how to help quarterback Malik Cunningham get back to his form from 2019, a year in which he performed like the third-best quarterback in the ACC.

Last year was a season he’d surely love to forget, when not only did he throw 12 interceptions, but Cunningham also lost three fumbles. He and the Cardinals committed 24 total turnovers last season, leaving them ranked 119th nationally in turnover margin at -12. When at his best, Cunningham is a solid mid-range passer and a runner that can give defenses trouble. This is something they’ll need from him if they plan to compete.

Their receiving corp lost two good ones. Tutu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick made up a lot of Louisville’s offense last season. Now that both of them are gone many believe this means it will take a team effort to replace their output.

Two guys they will be counting on will be Braden Smith and Justin Marshall. Shai Werts, a graduate transfer from Georgia Southern, who agreed to change his position from quarterback to receiver, could help them also. Tight end Marshon Ford has become one of the best in the ACC and he will be expected to be a huge asset to Cunningham.

Running back Hassan Hall is another Cardinal that took a major step back last season. Louisville’s coaches were impressed with his energy during spring practice and he’s now put himself into position to start the season ahead of fellow rushers Jalen Mitchell and Maurice Burkley.

An unknown for the Cards is true freshman Trevion Cooley, who was ranked as the No. 134 overall player in the country and the No. 7 running back by 247 Sports. Cooley was a prized recruit for Satterfield’s 2021 recruiting class and they hope he can come in and push the veteran trio and make it a very tough four-way competition, which in turn should help their offense.

On the defensive side of the ball, coordinator Bryan Brown’s biggest tasks appear to be replacing three starters in the secondary and trying to make their run defense better. On the bright side, the Cardinals ranked in the top half of the ACC in total defense the for first time in four seasons last year.

The linebacker group looks like it will continue to be the strength of Brown’s defense. C.J. Avery returns for his fifth season on the weak side while middle linebacker Monty Montgomery showed glimpses of his ability and talent last season. Outside linebacker Yasir Abdullah finished strong for Louisville as well. Marvin Dallas looks to fill their final spot at the position after missing most of last season due to injuries.

On the line, defensive ends YaYa Diaby and Tabarius Peterson have given the Cardinals a pass rusher on the edge they’ve been needing. They proved that they could seal the edge and collapse the pocket on their way to the quarterback. Malik Clark looks like he will get the first shot at nose tackle replacing Jared Goldwire who has moved on.

As far as the secondary goes, Kei’Trel Clark transferred in from Liberty and has proved himself to be really good in man-to-man coverage, while Chandler Jones Is expected to fill the other cornerback spot. Transfer Kenderick Duncan from Georgia Southern brings size and experience to free safety. Freshman Benjamin Perry very well could play strong safety since Lovie Jenkins decided to transfer out.

Satterfield’s squad opens with SEC opponent Ile Miss in Atlanta and will end the season at home with their instate rival from Kentucky. Their other out of conference opponents are Eastern Kentucky and UCF.

ACC matchups will include some teams they should be able to get wins against, like Wake Forest, Duke, and Syracuse. If they can catch a few breaks and stay healthy, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Cardinals could finish on the right side of .500 this season.

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