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 2020 conference schedule on October 3 against Louisville.
Scott Satterfield exceeded expectations in his first year at Louisville.
After the team went a dreadful 2-10 in 2018, leading to the dismissal of Bobby Petrino, Satterfield took over after going 51-24 at Appalachian State. In his first season, he led the Cardinals to a surprising 8-5 record and second place in the Atlantic Division behind perennial power Clemson.
The Cardinals also ended the season with plenty of momentum, winning three of their last four, culminating in a 38-28 win over Mississippi State in the Music City Bowl. The goals have now shifted for Satterfield in his second season, and getting Louisville back in the top 25 seems within reach.
Here are five storylines for Louisville heading into the 2020 season:
1. CAN THE OFFENSE TAKE ANOTHER STEP FORWARD?
Offensively, the Cardinals return several key positions players, with quarterback Micale Cunningham, running back Javian Hawkins and receiver Tutu Atwell. The trio is as good an offensive group as you’ll find in the ACC, and they’ll look to build on an offense that averaged 33.1 points per game in 2019.
The development of Cunningham will be critical to Louisville’s rise in the Atlantic. If he can build on a season where he threw for 2,065 yards and 22 touchdowns (against only five interceptions), Louisville could be in for a special year.
The question is what will happen to the QB he replaced, Jawon Pass. Pass is certainly a seasoned and reliable backup, and may be the best backup QB in the ACC.
2. LOUISVILLE JUST LOST TWO TACKLES TO THE NFL
One major question on offense is if the Cardinals can replace the production of tackle Mekhi Becton, who was drafted in the first round by the New York Jets. Louisville’s other tackle, Tyler Haycraft, is also gone, having signed an undrafted free agent contract with the New York Giants.
Adonis Boone made two starts last year and figures to fill one of those spots, and the coaching staff is also high on JUCO All-American transfer Trevor Reid.
3. CAN THE DEFENSE IMPROVE?
Louisville coughed up 38.1 points per game in ACC play, and didn’t have a single defensive player selected to a post-season All-ACC Team. That said, nine of the top 11 tacklers are returning, including a deep linebacker group.
Seniors CJ Avery, Dorian Etheridge and Rodjay Burns are all back for another season, and Avery (93 tackles with three sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss) is an All-Conference caliber player.
But for a true turnaround, they’ll need more from players like DT Jared Goldwire. Louisville’s run defense looked particularly vulnerable against bigger opponents, as they were gashed on the ground by Kentucky, Miami and Notre Dame. The 6-6, 305 pound former JUCO transfer is one of the keys to stopping that.
4. ABOUT THOSE SPECIAL TEAMS
Sure, no one really thinks about special teams most of the time, but 2020 in particular will be one of turnover for Louisville. Kicker Blanton Creque and punter Mason King are gone, and Brock Travelstead, the sixth ranked kicker in the class of 2020 according to 24/7 Sports, is expected to compete for the starting role.
5. THE SCHEDULE ISN’T EASY
Many of the major betting lines have the Cardinals at 7.5 wins, which is right in line with where they finished last season. It’s not so much an issue of talent as it is a product of schedule.
Louisville plays two tough non-conference games against Kentucky and Notre Dame, and is also on the road in coin flip games against Syracuse, Boston College and Virginia. The opener against NC State, who is one of the teams expected to compete for second in the Atlantic, will be an excellent opening test.