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Schedule Preview: Louisville Cardinals

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It all comes down to Malik Cunningham

Florida State v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

As we get closer and closer to the start of the 2021 Florida State Seminoles football season, Tomahawk Nation is breaking down each opponent the Noles will face over the course of the year.

Opponent: Louisville Cardinals

Date: Saturday, September 25

Time: TBD

Last matchup: 48-16, Louisville

The 2020 season was a rough one for the Louisville Cardinals. Coming off an 8-5 campaign in 2019, they fell short of expectations in coach Scott Satterfield’s second year at the helm.

After winning the opener, the Cardinals dropped four straight and six of the next seven with the Florida State Seminoles being the only win in that stretch. But they were far from uncompetitive. Three of those losses were against ranked teams including a nail-biter at Notre Dame.

Offense

The success of their 2021 year will likely come down which version of Malik Cunningham shows up on Saturdays.

In 2019, Cunningham set a school-record for passing efficiency with a 194.45 mark thanks to a 22-touchdown, 5-interception season. But last year, he took a step back especially with the turnovers, throwing 12 picks last season.

The Cardinals hope he’ll be back to that 2019 form, but they’ll be doing it without an offensive coordinator.

Last year’s OC Dwayne Ledford bounced to join the Falcons coaching staff in January and no one has been hired for it over the last six months. So it’ll likely be Satterfield taking on a larger role in making sure this offense gets clicking again. And his leash likely won’t be long after his flirtations with the South Carolina job led him to pen an apology letter in December.

Though it won’t be an easy task.

The team’s leading two receivers — Tutu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick — and their top rusher — Javian Hawkins — are all gone. Those absences will likely push tight end Marshon Ford to Cunningham’s top target and rightfully so as one of the best in the ACC. But he can’t do it alone so the team will need some receivers to step up.

The offensive line is an experienced group that will likely be the strength of this group. If there’s any potential shortfalls, it’s that Ledford led this group so the coaching change could possibly slow down production.

Defense

On the flip side of the ball, the defense was a strong suit in 2020.

The Cardinals put the clamps on opposing passing attacks holding their opponents to an ACC-low 2081 yards through the year all season. That type of shutdown season through the air typically comes along with a strong pass rush, but Louisville was actually near the bottom in the conference with only 21 sacks on the year. And the team also had a league-low 5 interceptions.

That gives them two areas to grow in that could make this passing unit even stronger or potentially push them back toward the middle of the pack. They were also pretty average in slowing down the run as well, though that certainly could improve from the near 190 yards allowed per game.

The strength of the unit comes at the linebacker level, especially C.J. Avery. The four-year starter has led the team in tackles in each of the last two seasons. His running mates at that level — Monty Montgomery and Yasir Abdullah — both return as well and led the team in sacks.

Two potential difference makers for this unit come through the transfer market. Safety Kenderick Duncan of Georgia Southern and defensive tackle Jacques Turner of Southern Miss were both First Team All-Conference in their previous stop and could bring a boost to this unit on both the front and back ends.

Conclusion

With the pressure on Scott Satterfield to provide a winning year, he’s betting on himself to turn Malik Cunningham back to his 2019 form. That coupling will likely determine the fate of this team and it won’t take very long to see if that bet will pay off. Louisville opens with a Labor Day matchup against Ole Miss in Atlanta followed by two home games against Eastern Kentucky and UCF before travelling to Tallahassee for their first road game of the year. To me, that game could be an inflection point for both teams and one they each should enter expecting to win.