We’re very fortunate to have the SB Nation network of team sites to work with during game weeks. This week we’re chatting with John aka CardinaIStrong, a staff editor over at Card Chronicle, SBN’s blog for the Louisville Cardinals. You can also find him on Twitter here. We chatted about the past, the present, and the future of Cardinal football.
TN: Take us into Louisville’s quarterback room and bring us up to speed. Who are the key guys, what are their strengths and weaknesses, and who is going to be the starting signal caller against Florida State?
CC: If you’ll allow me to let my ‘Louisville’ show a bit, let me throw a horse analogy at you. Satterfield has a stable full of thoroughbreds, but each have their own pros/cons. The horse he was riding out of the gate to start the season (Jawon Pass) has become a temporary “trotting horse” as he has a bum hoof (foot) and may not be ready to go for Saturday. If he is ready, there are still concerns with his accuracy and decision making. Malik Cunningham is the speed setter for sure as the young man can turn it up and distance himself from defenders with ease. Similar to Pass, Malik has struggled with getting the ball where it needs to be in the passing game and often becomes too dependent on his legs to get him out of jams. The only other realistic option is Evan Conley, who just broke his maiden last Saturday and I can likely count his non garbage time snaps on two hands. He can sling it (from what we’ve seen) but is a wildcard at this point with little experience. If you’re asking me to throw down a $2 wager on the winner, I’m saying Cunningham gets the start, with Pass available if needed.
TN: Gone is motorcycle aficionado Bobby Petrino. How does that make you feel? Despite the superstardom of Lamar Jackson, why do you think Petrino was unable to recapture the lofty success he had at Louisville from 2003-2006?
CC: Man, I wish you all could have listened to sports talk radio in Louisville over the summer or read the local new outlets because that horse has been beat to death (my apologies to the horses in question 1 above). While it’s all hypothetical at this point I like to keep it simple in my brain. Bobby Petrino was a job chaser who was always looking for the next best thing. Wherever he landed, he could implement his offensive approach, pray he landed a solid defensive coordinator, and go win some ballgames. He did that everywhere. The problem is I think he realistically wanted to end his career in Louisville, but staying around somewhere 5 or even 6 years….he’d never done that. I imagine him in his office and the recruiting coordinator is talking about guys in the 2020 class and his internal robot voice is ringing “does not compute, does not compute...” over and over. If you subscribe to the “just win, baby” mentality go hire Petrino, but go ahead and look for your next coach 5 years down the road. He left a program where the roster was completely imbalanced, the culture sucked, and exposed a tons of other minor things you overlook when winning games. The state of the program when he left was arguably at one of the worst points I’ve seen it the last 20 years. I’m not going to miss him. Thanks for the Heisman, though.
TN: Were you happy with the hire of new head coach Scott Satterfield? What changes has Satterfield made to the program, and are you satisfied with the direction he’s taking them?
CC: Satterfield, 8 months into the job, has won pretty much every press conference, won every public interaction, won in the hiring of a new staff, and has already won the same amount of games this year (2) as Louisville won all last season. Lots of folks, and I mean LOTS wanted the hometown hero Jeff Brohm to return but I was okay with missing out on him. I felt like we needed to branch out from the Cardinal family and get a new fresh face in town. Satterfield was on my short list because I’d liked what he’d done down at Appalachian State, but I’m not sure even I could have expected how well he’s doing overall less than a year into his new role. I fully expect a 3-5 year transition, but it looks like he has things moving at a slightly faster pace.
TN: With all the change Louisville feels like something of an unknown quantity to FSU fans. What are the Cards’ offensive and defensive identities this season?
CC: On a high level Satterfield relies heavily on the ground game; if I remember correctly I believe during his time at App State he was close to 60% run. Since arriving here that approach hasn’t changed much. The Cards are leaning on RS Freshman Javian Hawkins at running back and he is responding with 112yd/g, while splitting carries with Hassan Hall and whoever is playing QB. While you could describe the offense as RPO it’s more RRO (run-run option), allowing the QB to handoff, take it himself, or sometimes even hit a pitch man on the outside. This approach has worked well against ND (1st half), a FCS school (EKU), and Western Kentucky but this week is the true test, against an ACC opponent on the road. Me, you, Satterfield, and the guy in FSU face paint on the first row all know Louisville needs to throw the ball to try and win this game, they just have to find the guy to do it.
Defensively Bryan Brown and Cort Dennison implement a 3-4 front, a change from last season but I thought it was a good fit for the players they had on the roster. A few notable position changes (Rodjay Burns to ‘Card’ or OLB and Russ Yeast to CB) have allowed Louisville to get their best eleven on the field, and honestly their first team talent is comparable to anyone in the ACC outside of Clemson. The problem is depth, and the fast pace at which FSU wants to run concerns me late in the game.
TN: We’re three weeks into the 2019 season and already the Cardinals have as many wins as they did all of last season. Uh, what happened last year?
CC: Blaming an entire season long collapse on one moment is a bit of an overstatement but if I’m a betting man I assume most of your readers saw the point in time in which Louisville threw a stick into their own spoke, so to speak. The Cards were about to beat FSU for the third straight year when Petrino just could not get rid of his MPF itch (must pass football) and we watched Jawon stare down his receiver for approximately 37 seconds before tossing an interception that lead to a big passing play for Francois and a FSU win. During the summer stories came out about how the team reacted after that loss and how Petrino behind closed doors threw just about everyone under the bus but himself. The attitude changed in the locker room and the guys never looked the same down the stretch. Of course, having an inept defensive coordinator and never changing our game plan week to week probably didn’t help either. If you all want to view that as payback for 2016, I’ll accept it.
TN: Last week also appears to be Louisville’s first win outside the state of Kentucky since October 21st 2017 when the Cardinals beat FSU 31-28 in Tallahassee. What’s up with that streak, and just how good are the 2019 Cards?
CC: Look at Jon, pulling out stats from the woodwork! Well done, my friend. I found that so interesting I went back to not only confirm that but I’ll add on to it and say with the exception of that win (10/21) the Cards have now gone over two full years (back to September 9th, 2017) without a win outside the state of Kentucky. Not often does a stat surprise me, but that one did. The easy explanation of course is that 2018 was just a glorified scrimmage of a season. With only two wins you start to pile up some interesting streaks that don’t look at all that great. For the loyal TN readers I’ll go way out on a limb and say the Cards get at least one win away from Kentucky this year…[whispers] it might be on Saturday.
As far as this year’s team, I predicted 5-7 before the season and feel pretty good about it right now. They have talent but the age old “Coach X needs to get his guys in here” still applies today. If they go bowling year one Satterfield basically smashed 90% of the fan bases expectations heading into the season…which of course translates into people thinking that in 2020 we should win the damn ACC.
TN: It appears that FSU might be a basketball school for the foreseeable future; as a Louisville fan, do you have any advice or words of wisdom?
CC: I really like Leonard Hamilton so that’s something, and I’m a big fan of Mann and Koumadje both being gone. Honestly, it’s really hard for me to compare other cities or Universities to Louisville because, and I say this with love, we are certifiably insane when it comes to college basketball. I think it’s something in the tap water or maybe the bourbon that requires you to be equally as interested in non-conference Louisville game as you are about a Pac-12 after dark contest on a Tuesday night. The TV ratings are a running joke here locally because any big college basketball game, between any two random teams in the country, always pulls a Top 2-3 number in Louisville. We can’t get enough of the stuff. Looks like FSU is directly behind the Big 4 (Duke/UNC/UVA/LOU) in odds to win the ACC this season which would have been crazy to say 10 years ago. I mean, the conference was built for basketball anyway, right? Welcome to the party.
TN: Tell us about the rest of the Cardinal squad - besides quarterback, give us two impact players each on offense and defense that FSU fans should watch for on Saturday.
CC: This time last week I was asked a similar question and I said Tutu Atwell (WR) was primed to go off because he was a nightmare to try and single cover with his speed and athleticism. My man pushed me into full blown Nostradamus status dropping 141 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns on WKU. This week, I’m riding the Tutu wave for another week against an unproven secondary and I like Javian Hawkins (RB) to go for over 100 yards on the ground. On defense, look for Rodjay Burns to create some havoc out of the ‘Card’ position, allowing him to play on the line, off the line, in coverage, rush the passer, and I’m pretty sure he gets to ride Renegade into the stadium. My second guy on that side of the ball is Chandler Jones (CB). He played some lockdown coverage last week and single-handedly shut down a few outside runs and bubbles shedding his blocker and making the tackle. If you don’t hear his name at all on Saturday, mission accomplished.
TN: How do y’all see this one playing out? Give us a score prediction, and how many games do you see Louisville realistically winning this season?
CC: Maybe it’s winning back to back games or maybe it’s the slightly sketchy fish I had for lunch, but I feel strangely confident that Louisville can go down there and win this one. I pointed to this game over the summer as the way this season changes and pushes Louisville towards a few more ‘W’s’ down the road. The struggles from FSU thus far have helped build my confidence but them coming out as 8 point favorites surprised me and made me think…”what does Vegas know?” As any sane person would do, I’m ignoring the multi-million dollar business and the gold plated casinos and going out on my own. A solid ground attack and a couple deep ball touchdowns are enough to push Louisville to a 35-31 win. The Cards finish the year just shy of a bowl appearance (5 wins) but have plenty to build on heading into 2020. FSU wonders if Chief Osceola has any eligibility left and casually looks up Taggart’s buyout while prepping for their real passion — ACC basketball.
A big thank you to John for taking the time to chat with us! Click here to read our answers to CardinaIStrong’s questions. Don’t forget to check out Card Chronicle for your Cardinal coverage needs.