As we countdown to kickoff in September, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team preview each week over the summer. SU will continue its 2017 ACC conference slate when it plays Louisville on Nov. 18.
IMPROVING ON A HEISMAN SEASON: It seems like nitpicking at a student who just received a 99 on a test, but there are areas of Lamar Jackson’s game that head coach Bobby Petrino would like to see. Jackson accounted for more than 5,000 yards of total offense last season, capped by a Heisman Trophy, but he still completed just 56.2 percent of his passes, and was well under 50 percent in the last three games of the season, all losses. That included a three-interception day in a 41-38 loss to Kentucky. “He worked hard on his progression reads,” Petrino said at ACC Kickoff in July. “He took a lot of pride out on the practice field, understanding the coverages, what the safeties are doing, and going through his progression.” Another area the coaches have wanted improvement is in Jackson’s footwork. When “he sets in the pocket and he gets his back leg under his hip,” Petrino said, “he can zip it and be accurate and throw the ball as good as anybody I’ve been around.”
WHO TO WATCH FOR: Louisville’s offensive line surrendered 47 sacks last season, and will need to replace departed senior guards Kiola Mahoni and Khalil Hunter. That task will largely fall on new assistant line coach Mike Summers, who was hired over from Florida. Summers has some pieces to work with, led by Geron Christian, a two-time All-ACC performer at tackle. The new line coach still hasn’t decided what he will do with his other returning tackle, Lukayus McNeil. Though McNeil played at tackle last year, he’s also been lining up at guard in summer practices. “We have more depth on the offensive line,” Petrino said. “That will help us. There will be competition.”
PREDICTION: Yes, Lamar Jackson is returning after his dream Heisman season. But he’s just one of four starters on that side of the ball back. Jackson will be operating without his top three receivers from last season and an offensive line that is still in flux. With Clemson and Florida State still in its division, Louisville still has a difficult path to college football’s elite. LOUISVILLE 51, SYRACUSE 24.