Scott Satterfield changed the arc and image of Louisville football. The Cardinals won eight games in a season when few projected them to win half that many. He flushed the sour paranoia from the Louisville DNA, drawing praise from fans, media and opposing coaches who voted him ACC Coach of the Year.
Satterfield isn’t finished — and neither is his challenge. The Cardinals are several recruiting classes away from challenging Clemson atop the ACC Atlantic, but with 15 returning starters, they’re positioned to repeat a second-place finish in the lopsided division. “With the vets who played last year, you can see how it’s clicking,” Satterfield says. “We’re putting in a lot of things. I’m still concerned about depth.”
Previewing Louisville's Offense for 2020
There was little that was tricky about the offense Satterfield and coordinator Dwayne Ledford turned into the fourth-most productive in the ACC. They love to run the ball. Snap it. Hand it off. Push forward.
A year after rushing for eight yards as a freshman, Javian Hawkins finished second in the ACC with 1,525 yards, ringing up eight 100-yard games. Hawkins apparently does not realize he is 5'9" and 182 pounds.
Micale Cunningham recovered from a training camp injury to win the quarterback job from Jawon Pass and Evan Conley. Satterfield wants him to improve his 62.4 percent completion percentage, but Cunningham is a productive dual threat who had 22 TD passes with only five picks while running for 482 yards and six scores.
Like Hawkins and Cunningham, Tutu Atwell was overlooked by more prestigious programs because of his size, but those concerns seemed silly after he led the ACC with 98.2 receiving yards per game. As Cunningham improved and Atwell became more comfortable with the offense, he actually averaged 121.7 yards with five touchdowns in the final six games.
Dez Fitzpatrick considered a move to the NFL after converting a half-dozen of his 35 receptions into touchdowns but returned for his final year with the likelihood that he’ll get more balls.
Marshon Ford also finished strong, with five TD catches from the hybrid H-back/tight end position in the final four games.
The offensive line must fill the mammoth hole at left tackle after Mekhi Becton departed for the NFL. But Robbie Bell delivered at guard, and junior Adonis Boone filled Becton’s left tackle spot effectively in the Music City Bowl. Depth is a concern here.
Previewing Louisville's Defense for 2020
This is where the serious work remains for Satterfield and coordinator Bryan Brown. The Cardinals finished 12th in the ACC in total defense and were torched for 500 or more yards in six games.
End Tabarius Peterson is the only returning starter on the three-man front, which was ineffective in the pass rush last season, generating 27 sacks, 12th in the ACC.
All four linebackers return, although they’ll be asked to upgrade their performances. Rodjay Burns, a transfer from Ohio State who played high school ball in Louisville, emerged as a forceful leader, capable of handling multiple assignments.
C.J. Avery, listed at 5'11", compensates for his size with speed and fearless competitive play. Avery led the team with 93 tackles.
Linebacker Dorian Etheridge was recruited during the Bobby Petrino Era — and he was slower to adjust to the new scheme. The Cards need Etheridge to return to his freshman-level play, when he led the team with 83 tackles.
Two starters return in the secondary, but there is considerable work to do. Louisville ranked last in the ACC in allowing 31 touchdown passes and posted only seven interceptions.
Russ Yeast improved his tackling and ball-hawking skills and is capable of playing cornerback or safety. Cornerbacks Anthony Johnson and Chandler Jones must up their contributions.
Previewing Louisville's Specialists for 2020
The Cardinals ranked third in the ACC in punt returns and second in kickoff returns. With Burns and Atwell back to return punts and the elusive Hassan Hall (30.5 yards per attempt) to handle kickoffs, the Cardinals should still be ahead in both categories.
But there will be turnover in the kicking game. Ryan Chalifoux took over for the injured Blanton Creque at placekicker late last season. He missed 2-of-3 field-goal attempts as well as 3-of-25 extra points. Satterfield planned to use spring practice to settle on a punter, but no decision was made before spring drills were canceled.
The Cardinals’ six-win improvement ranked as the best turnaround of any Power 5 program and proved that the decline of the final two seasons of the Petrino Era was over.
The return of Cunningham, Hawkins and Atwell should enable the Cardinals to build upon their offensive efficiency. They’ll have to prove they can replace Becton and build depth on the offensive line.
Defensively, there is work to do, despite the return of seven starters. Satterfield will consider using any of the 11 defensive recruits who are ready to contribute. With a finishing stretch against Virginia Tech, Virginia, Wake Forest, Notre Dame and Kentucky, the Cardinals must start strong to match last season.