The University of Louisville football team lost 10 of 12 games, gave up at least 52 points in each of its last five games and got Bobby Petrino fired with two weeks left in the season. That’s all there is to say about 2018.
Scott Satterfield was recruited from his alma mater, Appalachian State, to fix a colossal mess. He didn't have much time to recruit, so Satterfield focused his introductory months on attitude, effort and values. He moved the start of spring practice to early February so that he and his staff could determine precisely how much work there was to do.
Plenty. After being outscored by nearly 25 points per game last season, the Cardinals need dramatic improvement at every position. Quarterback is a mess. Running back is a question mark. The offensive line has been an issue for two seasons. The defense ranked last in the ACC in points and yards allowed.
"It's definitely been a whirlwind," Satterfield says. "We played a lot of guys in places we normally wouldn't [during the spring] because we're just trying to look at certain guys in scenarios to see how they are going to react and then we'l coach through that."
Coach. And coach. And coach, something Satterfield proved he could do in six seasons at Appalachian State.
Previewing Louisville's Offense for 2019
The Cardinals' offense collapsed without Lamar Jackson at quarterback. A look at Satterfield's record at App State suggests that he prefers a strong running game over Petrino's penchant for passing. Considering that Satterfield's App State quarterback ran 92 times and scored 10 touchdowns, Malik Cunningham, a runner, might have an edge over Jawon Pass. Each has work to do to win the position. Pass is considered the better thrower but completed only 54 percent of his attempts with 12 interceptions. At 6'1" and 190 pounds, Cunningham lacks arm strength, but he averaged 6.3 yards per carry. The two will battle through fall camp with freshman Evan Conley, an early enrollee.
Cunningham was the team's leading rusher, though Hassan Hall emerged as the top halfback. Speed is his primary strength, so Satterfield must create a way to get him outside the tackles.
If Satterfield can fix Pass's deliberate throwing mechanics, receiver will become the Cardinals' offensive strength. Dez Fitzpatrick is a tough, determined receiver who runs crisp routes, but his receiving total dropped from 45 to 31 without Jackson. Seth Dawkins had a similar issue — catching only 25 balls for one touchdown, down from 42 and four in 2017.
The offensive line has lots of work to do. The Cards ranked 13th in the ACC in rushing and allowed 43 sacks, the most in the ACC. Massive offensive tackle Mekhi Becton and center Cole Bentley should emerge as leaders.
Previewing Louisville's Defense for 2019
If you're a fourth- or fifth-year player on the U of L defense, new coordinator Bryan Brown will be your fourth coordinator in four seasons. After ranking third in the ACC in total defense under Todd Grantham in 2016, the Cards slipped to 10th in 2017 under Peter Sirmon and 14th last season under Brian VanGorder. It was a unit that played without pride, energy or unity, appearing to jog in downfield pursuit on multiple plays during embarrassing losses to Clemson and NC State.
Although as many as 10 starters could return, nobody is guaranteed a spot or playing time. Brown and co-defensive coordinator
Cort Dennison embrace the task of coaching toughness and competitiveness into the group. Brown's defense led the Sun Belt last season in fewest yards allowed, but Dennison is also an important addition to the staff because he built a relationship with the players from 2014-17 before working at Oregon one season.
"It was hard to see them at times look like they didn't have the passion that I knew they were capable of having," Dennison says.
Look for linebackers Dorian Etheridge and C.J. Avery to emerge as leaders. Tabarius Peterson showed that he could get to the passer from the edge.
The secondary has potential. Rodjay Burns had games in which he was a reliable coverage guy after transferring from Ohio State. Russ Yeast should deliver a bounce-back season. A four-star recruit, Yeast announced he was leaving before the end of the 2018 season but changed his mind after the coaching change. Safety Khane Pass, Jawon’s brother, is a solid, experienced player.
Previewing Louisville's Specialists for 2019
Jason King returns for his fourth season as the Cards' punter — and even he had a poor 2018 season as his yards per punt slipped from 43.9 to 40.6. Placekicker Blanton Creque had only 12 field goal opportunities but made 10, although he did miss three extra points.
Burns ranked second in the ACC in average yards per punt return, taking one for a score. Louisville's best special teams play last season was a 93-yard kickoff return for a score by Hall.
Satterfield faces a multi-year rebuild of talent and attitude. Lots of work. A program that ranked fifth in the national playoff poll in November 2016 looks primed to miss the bowl scene in back-to-back seasons. There are too many questions at quarterback, running back, offensive line and across the defense. Time to recruit.