--By Mike Gilpatrick
--Photo by Seth Spalding
The Louisville Cardinals football team lost a lot of pieces over the past off-season. Most of the national and regional media are down on the Cardinals, after the way the season ended.
But Louisville could have one of their best seasons yet. They bring a lot of pieces back on offense, and have plenty of players with experience starting on both sides of the ball. Louisville also brings an experienced coordinator to the defense.
One clear advantage Louisville has is on the offensive line. Louisville returns four starters from last year. One of the replacement players, Linwood Foy, still appeared in five games in 2017. Both projected starters are Seniors. Lukayas McNeil and Kenny Thomas were first-stringers on the line for the first depth chart of 2017. Both centers, Robbie Bell and Nate Scheler; both saw playing time last year, and shouldn’t jump as much under Mike Summers year two.
The improved offensive line should give QB Jawon Pass time to throw. Pass was a four-star dual threat when recruited, and showed promise under center in limited action last season. In five appearances, Puma completed 23 of 33 for 238 yards and two touchdowns, with no picks. He also rushed for 62 yards and a touchdown.
“I think his demeanor is calm.” Louisville quarterbacks coach Nick Petrino said. “Never seen him get too frustrated.”
His demeanor will be tested in week one. Louisville faces the toughest opponent on Earth in Orlando.
“I’m ready for it. I’m excited for it.” Pass said, when asked about facing Alabama. “I just focus on being the best player I can be.”
He’ll have teammates helping him on the way. Louisville only lost Traveon Samuel after last season. They return Seth Dawkins, Jaylen Smith, and Dez Fitzpatrick. All three, along with tight end Micky Crum, should give Pass plenty of targets.
On the other side of the ball, Louisville brings one of the most experienced defensive coordinators out there. Brian VanGorder brings a professional attitude to Louisville, after spending years in the NFL.
“His big key is attention to detail” Louisville CB Rodjay Burns said about VanGorder, “He’s got a lot of big factors that he lives by and will help us as a defense. His [VanGorder] presence is felt.”
While Louisville lost nine players on defense, their replacements had at least some game action in 2017. The linebackers are strong. Dorian Etheridge proved to be an asset last year, and should have another good defensive season. London Iakopo enters his redshirt Senior year. CJ Avery had 25 total tackles last season, and a half of a tackle for a loss. He also recovered a fumble.
Dee Smith and Khane Pass will provide some leadership in the secondary. Russ Yeast was a stud when recruited.
If the defense comes together as a unit, under VanGorder’s coordination, then they could be a strong unit. VanGorder is arguably a step up from Peter Sirmon. Louisville likely won’t give up 33 points a game.
If everything comes together, 9-3 could be the teams’ floor. Louisville could be one of the surprises this year in the ACC. Fans will find out this week.
Season starts Saturday