ACC Nation Football Preview
Editor’s note – It’s kickoff week and no better time to take another look at all the teams in the ACC Nation Football Preview. Jim Quist takes a look at a team that left some scratching their heads last season, the Louisville Cardinals.
Bobby Petrino has his work cut out for him this season. Eliminating turnovers and maintaining offensive momentum is high on the list of must-do’s this year. The swap of defensive coordinators with Mississippi State, Grantham for Sirmon, will bring change to the defense. One (Grantham), developed an aggressive, high-pressure team and the other (Sirmon) says, he doesn’t feel the need to be linear. Last season, Louisville delivered a solid 7-1 ACC record and went 9-4 overall and went to a bowl. Download Louisville Cardinals Media Guide
ACC Nation Football Preview – Boom or Bust?
The offensive line needs to step up and deliver this season. Without a significant increase in production from a crew who gave up 47 sacks and 83 tackles for loss in 2016, the fuse to the Cardinals offensive dynamite will never be lit. Let’s toss in 32 turnovers and 22 fumbles. Nothing like throwing ice water on a someone laying out next to the pool.
Let’s look closer at Louisville’s offense and what makes it tick.
Offensive tackle’s Geron Christian and Lukayus McNeil, Jr. are big keys to providing the crucial seconds for Lamar Jackson’s success.
Christian, a 6’5″, 315lb Junior will be instrumental in protecting the blind side (LT) of the backfield while McNeil, a 6’6″, 319lb Junior will help open a path beyond the line (RT) for a scampering Jackson. While McNeil has some seasoned depth behind him on the roster, Christian does not and that could prove problematic if injured.
Seasoned depth along the offensive line is hit or miss as you look at the roster. If Petrino hopes to reduce the ugly numbers from 2016, he’ll have to demand more from the bench.
ACC Nation Football Preview – The Point(s)
When it comes to firepower, a glance in the direction of Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson (QB) should be enough. However, it may not be this year. Teams began figuring out how to stop the one man show at the latter part of 2016. The answer this season is a fine tuned passing game. Jackson looked good in spring camp and was given plenty of time in the pocket. If successful, that’s all Louisville will need to keep defenses on their toes.
The down side to having Jackson constantly pound the ball is the likelihood of injury. With two freshman at backup QB, that’s the last thing you want to happen. Look for Petrino to give playing time this season to Puma Pass, 6’4″, 227lb and Malik Cunningham, 6’1″, 171lb to begin priming the pump for next year. It’s likely Jackson will decide the NFL is too tempting by year’s end.
The conversion of wide receiver Reggie Bonnafon to running back is a lock. Bonnafon is a dual threat coming out of the backfield and he’s a former QB. If Jeremy Smith recovers from his spring camp broken foot, the two will likely share duties behind Jackson later this season.
Speaking of opening up the offense, you can’t look past Junior wide receiver Jaylen Smith, 6’4″, 220lb who provides a deep threat when called upon. Seth Dawkins and Traveon Samuel will provide additional targets as well.
The key to offensive success this year is to keep opponents guessing.
ACC Nation Football Preview – Saturday ‘Sirmon’
The defensive front has struggled with containing running quarterbacks in the past. Don’t expect that to be the case this season as the line is stacked and seasoned.
Defensive lineman Drew Bailey, 6’3″, 294lb leads the effort moving between defensive end and tackle along with De’Asian Richardson on the left side. Trevon Young apparently has amply recovered from a hip injury in 2015 and will fill a vacancy left by Devonte Fields.
You’ll see multiple looks out of the defense this year and there appears to be enough talent to pull that off. The Louisville media guide says it’s a 4-3 but Sirmon had players lined up at 3-4 during spring practice. Count on seeing both.
Dropping back into the linebackers, James Hearns, who is listed as a defensive end, will likely be included in scheme rotations used by Sirmon. Hearns, a 6’3″, 248lb Senior will be a daunting force used to shut down the run.
Listed as an outside linebacker, London Iakopo, returns from a 2016 season ending knee injury. He moves in from safety joining Stacy Thomas, a 6’1″, 242lb Senior.
Adding more speed to the corner is Cornelius Sturghill who returns after missing last year with a foot injury. Sturghill will team up with Jaire Alexander, Jr. Alexander came away with five picks, nine broken up passes and 39 tackles to cement his reputation as the side for opposing quarterbacks to avoid.
Chucky Williams and Zykiesis Cannon hold down the safety spots going into fall camp.
Special teams duties include Blanton Creque kicking while Mason King will handle punting. Malik Williams and Alexander will handle kick and punt returns, respectively.
ACC Nation Football Preview – What To Expect
- Strong offensive tackles but questions remain about entire line. Depth issues.
- Petrino won’t run a good thing into the ground. Look for a more diverse offensive assault.
- Sirmon brings creativity and knows how to keep opponents on their toes.
- Defense is stronger and has more depth this season
Louisville opens their season on September 2 against Purdue. Look for a slow start as this team begins to gel and it’s important they do so in this first game. Week two won’t present the type of challenge that it has been in the past with North Carolina but the Tar Heels won’t be pushovers either. By week three, the real challenge comes to town in the form of Clemson.
The three teams to worry about are Clemson, NC State and Florida State. Knock off the first two and Florida State has some worrying to do.
I’m projecting a 6-2 ACC record and 10-2 overall for the Cardinals this season. It looks like the pieces are finally falling into place on both sides of the ball. Will it be enough to once again knock off Florida State and capture an ACC Championship?