--By Mike Gilpatrick
--Photo by Jared Anderson
The Louisville Cardinals didn't perform as they would have liked yesterday. They lost to the Alabama Crimson Tide 51-14. Despite the score, we did learn a few things about the Cardinals. Here are a few key takeaways from the season opener in Orlando yesterday:
We got our first look at Brian VanGorder’s defense yesterday, and it was not impressive. The Cardinals gave up 23 total first downs in the game. 10 were off third-down conversions. In fact, Alabama converted 10 of 15. The Cardinals struggled last year on third, giving up 41.34%. The Cards haven’t allowed 66.7% to convert since the 2014 Belk Bowl, against Georgia. The Bulldogs converted 12 of 18 that game.
Despite this, Louisville recovered a fumble in the first and forced two punts in the second. The defense looked decent in the first quarter. Louisville was aggressive, made Tua Tagovailoa uncomfortable at times in the pocket, and nearly had a fumble return for a touchdown. That particular play, was called back by the officials.
10 of 15 isn’t good. The aggressiveness may be able to improve that.
Penalties, penalties, penalties
Last year, Louisville struggled with penalties. In the first game against Purdue, the Cardinals allowed 16 for 110 yards. Against the Tide, Louisville allowed 11 for 93. There were four substitution infractions, all in the first half. Three were in the first quarter.
One positive note was that there were only two false starts in the game. Another is that Louisville seemed to settle down after halftime- the Cardinals only committed three penalties.
As the team continues to see action, especially on defense, the penalties should improve. This was still the first game. In Orlando, which is substantially closer to Alabama than Louisville.
Where’s the run game?
The Cardinals only managed 16 all-purpose rushing yards against the Tide. With Lamar Jackson gone, the play-calling has been mostly to the air. Trey Smith led the ground attack, gaining 11 yards on four attempts. Dae Williams attempted to rush nine times, but managed to gain six yards.
Alabama was a mismatch up front. The Tide tacked 11 for a loss, including three sacks.
With the return of Jeremy Smith, Louisville’s third and short ground-pound game should improve. Smith had shown prowess as both a pass blocker and middle rusher.
Puma Pass’s Pass is complete
Virtually all of Louisville’s offense was through the air. Jawon Pass showed he could perform the starting job.
He completed 20 of 39, gaining 252 yards and two passing touchdowns. He also threw two picks, which appeared to be rookie mistakes. Both of his touchdowns were to tight end Kemari Averett. Averett led the team in receptions, gaining four for 30 yards. He proved to be a good short-yardage target.
For long distance, Seth Dawkins and Dez Fitzpatrick performed decently. Dawkins caught three for 68 yards, while Dez had three for 40.
His night was a glimpse of what to expect from the offensive play-calling. Since Jackson is gone, the Cardinals will have a more traditional, pro-style offense.
Pass did have a rush for 11 yards. He proved that he can turn on the jets when needed.
Last night was game one. Against the toughest team in the country. Louisville had some good moments and many not-so-good. In the end, it was not a good game for judging. The Cardinals were heavily mismatched.
The nation won’t get a good feel for what the team can do until Week three, when they host Western Kentucky. Louisville hosts Indiana State next week, from the FCS. If the Cardinals don’t have at least a 24-point game against the Sycamores, then it may be time to worry.