--By Mike Gilpatrick
--File photo by Jared Anderson
In less than a month, the Louisville Cardinals will kick off in Orlando against Alabama. When they take the field, Louisville will field a new-look defense under long-time coordinator Brian VanGorder.
Many people have questioned the hire, but VanGorder had a good track record in the early 2000s. He won the Broyles Award; given to the top assistant of college football; in 2003. He coached at Georgia from 2001 to 2004, where his Bulldogs were in the top-10 in scoring defense during the span.
After a stint for three different teams in the NFL, VanGorder returned to the NCAA. His next long-stint was as the coordinator for Notre Dame from 2014-2016.
“It’s a steep learning curve to get to where you need to be to have success” said Joe Schmidt IV, who was a linebacker under VanGorder. “It’s one of the more elaborate and complete NFL schemes that you’ll come across.”
Louisville may best fit the 4-3 formation. Pass rushers spent a lot of time as down linemen under Peter Sirmon last season.
“I think good coaching is really doing a great evaluation of your players and finding out what your players are best at doing.” VanGorder said.
His players are inexperienced on the defensive line. Only Henry Famurewa, GG Robinson, and Jon Greenard have starting experience.
Famurewa and Robinson will play up the middle, leaving Greenard and Tabarius Peterson as the defensive ends. Peterson played in 12 games, and finished with 18 tackles and one forced fumble.
The linebacker corps features London Lakopo, Dorian Etheridge, and CJ Avery. Etheridge was the No. 6 player from West Virginia when recruited, and finished 2017 with 83 tackles, three for losses. CJ Avery was one of ESPN’s Top 300 when he committed. He was ranked as a four star recruit and had 25 total tackles in 2017.
Lamarques Thomas takes over at cornerback for the first-round pick Jaire Alexander. He played in all 13 games on special teams and secondary last year, and was a three-star prospect when he committed in 2015.
Russ Yeast will be the other cornerback. He was the No. 3 player from the state of Indiana, and was a four-star recruit when he committed.
Dee Smith and Khane Pass are most likely the two starting safetys. Both had action under Sirmon.
Time will tell if the new-look defense can keep up with the learning curve. If they can, 2018 could feature a defense that surprises fans.
“Once it clicks for you, it’s all simple” said Danny Verdun Wheeler, a linebacker for VanGorder at Georgia.
Louisville will find out if it clicks on Saturday, September 1st, in Orlando.