Louisville QB Lamar Jackson and WR Jaylen Smith jog down field against Boston College on October 14th, 2017. Jackson is the core of Louisville's high-octane offense, accounting for 28 touchdowns. Photo by Seth Spalding, River City Cards
a look at the cards with four games to go
It's safe to say we have a good feel for this team. 2017 has been a roller-coaster of a year for football, and hasn't shown signs of slowing down. It looks like a traditional Bobby Petrino team, with the offense scoring at an unreal level, and the defense well....struggling at times. But, Louisville still has a 5-3 record, and should easily make a bowl game.
While not at the same level as last season, this offense is pretty good. It averages 37.3 points per game, and scored 39 touchdowns so far. The Cards have the fourth-ranked offense in the nation. The big playmaker, to no one's surprise, has been QB Lamar Jackson. The junior is responsible for 28 touchdowns so far, and leads the team in rushing scores, with 11. He has over 100 yards per game on the ground; and over 300 in the air. The Heisman trophy winner is still at an unreal level.
Also making his mark is freshman sensation Dez Fitzpatrick. He's Louisville's top receiver in his first year, with seven touchdowns, and 34 receptions. He tied UofL's freshman receiving touchdown record; and he'll probably break it before the season closes. Jackson to Fitzpatrick is becoming a common trend in the red zone. Jaylen Smith and Seth Dawkins have also played at a high level. Both are averaging over 16 yards per reception, with Smith accounting for 546 yards, and Dawkins with 397. Dawkins also has three touchdowns, while Smith has two.
The defense is definitely not at the same level as 2016. They're 61st overall. They've allowed 29.4 points per game, including 45 to a less-than-stellar Boston College. They've allowed at least 21 points to every power-five team. They've allowed 5.62 yards per attempt.
The reason: the play-calling. Much of the defensive struggles can be blamed on coordinator Peter Sirmon. It's just his second season leading a defense, and it shows.
His old team, Mississippi State, for example, had a good defense in 2015; the year before he arrived in Starkville. They only allowed 23 points per game, including just 21 against then-No. 16 LSU. Fast-forward to 2016; Sirmon's first year. The 23 points per game jumped to almost 32. They allowed more than 35 points six times, including 35 to Massachusetts, 40 to Kentucky, 41 to Samford, and 58 to Arkansas at home. It wasn't good. This year, with former Louisville coordinator Todd Grantham at the helm, the Bulldogs allow around 18 points per game.
It's beginning to look like the same trend at Louisville. The Cards jumped from 23.8 points per game to 29.4. The schemes are questionable at times. But there are some positive things on defense.
For starters, there are a few playmakers. Sophomore Jon Greenard leads the team in sacks and tackles for loss, with five and 11.5, respectively. Senior James Hearns and Trevon Young also have seven TFL. The team has also intercepted the ball five times, and recovered six fumbles; including one against Florida State that saved the game last week.
The defense has also kept the offense on the field for most of the game. They've also only surrendered ten penalties resulting in a first down.
Currently, I have this unit at a D. I expect them to improve in the coming weeks.
Special Teams: A
This is an area most Louisville fans have cringed at. But kicker Blanton Creque has solidified the placekicking position. He's only missed one field goal this season, while ten have been good. His longest is 48-yards. He's also only missed one extra point. Compared to former kicker John Wallace, it's a lot better. Wallace averaged 71.4%, missing six during the 2015 campaign.
Mason King also is a better punter than 2015's Joshua Appleby. King averages 44.5 yards, while his longest was a booming 58-yards. King also has seven over 50 yards.
and the field goal blocking team has held opponents to just six field goals, out of 11 attempts.
A unit cringed at in the past is becoming one of the most solid on the team.
Overall Grade: C
This team is doing what many people expected heading into the season. The offense is great, and the defense needs work. While it may not make a high-profile bowl game, it still is fun to watch at times. It'll make a bowl game easily. It only needs one more victory. It can easily win out and finish the season 9-3. It may not be an improvement over last season, but it could be a lot worse.