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Can the Louisville Cardinals Dominate in ACC play?


Monday night, September 1st, was the debut of the University of Louisville Cardinals in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). The Cards came into the ACC already 1-0 if you count defeating the Miami Hurricanes in the last season’s Russell Athletic bowl. However, they’re now under a new head coach, along with a new coaching staff, as the offensive and defensive staff underwent major overhauls during the offseason. These changes leave a lot of questions to be answered

1. Does the new coaching staff have the ability to stand up to a tough ACC schedule?

Former U of L head coach Charlie Strong bolted for the University of Texas after four years and took several staffers with him. This year’s coaching staff will be under intense scrutiny by Louisville fans, as they look to keep up with their recent winning tradition. Let’s take a look at the 2013-2014 season coaching staff  and compare it to the new staff for the 2014-2015 season.

2013 Louisville Coaching Staff

Head Coach Charlie Strong Since 2010
Offensive Coordinator Shawn Watson Since 2012
Defensive Coordinator Vance Bedford Since 2010

2014 Louisville Cardinals Coaching Staff

Head Coach Bobby Petrino
Asst. Head Coach/Offensive Coord./ QB Coach Garrick McGee
Defensive Coord./Outside Linebackers Todd Grantham

As we can see, there is  no one from last year’s coaching staff that stuck around (or was asked to stay?). Which means an incredibly tough offseason learning process for the Cards. U of L’s Athletic  Director, Tom Jurich, is a savvy and intelligent man. He understands the need to win for the university and the fans and looks to hire coaches to put the program in a great place for years to come. His first hire was former head coach Bobby Petrino from Western Kentucky University. Petrino has had some recent off the field issues at the University of Arkansas, all we can hope is that he has grown from his mistakes and is focused on football. This offseason Petrino signed a $24.5 million deal, with a $10 million buyout clause which can help calm Cards fans’ fears and indicate he’s in it for the long haul.

In their season opener, the Cards hosted the Miami Hurricanes, the predicted winner of the Coastal division in the ACC. Louisville is predicted to take 3rd in the Atlantic division. The Cardinals’ coaching staff proved its ability, by guiding the team to a 31-13 victory over the Hurricanes.

2. Will their offense be as explosive as last year?

Let’s look at the QB position. Teddy Bridgewater, now playing for the Minnesota Vikings, was the kind of quarterback fans always saw as having a chance to win games. When he was under center Louisville always had a solid opportunity to win. Enter Will Gardner. During Louisville’s 2013 season Gardner saw limited snaps as the signal caller, now he’s the starting QB. The first thing I want to say to the Louisville fans out there is that Gardner is no Bridgewater. The kid is good, don’t get me wrong, but Coaches Petrino and McGee need to develop him into the weapon he can be. Last year Gardner, over the course of 6 games, went 8 of 12 completions for 112 yards and 2 touchdowns. He has already surpassed those numbers in his season debut with 20 of 28 completions for 206 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’s got the talent, and will be the long term solution for the Cardinals going forward.

Louisville’s wide receivers Gerald Christian and Eli Rodgers had big nights against the Hurricanes, but I worry that they won’t be able to match up against some of the bigger bodied receivers  at schools such as defending National Champions Florida State University.  Miami was able to shut down one of Louisville’s other top wide outs, Kai De La Cruz, as most of the night he was in very tight coverage. When he turns it on, though, teams better game plan for him. The biggest blow to came to the receiving corps when Louisville’s top wide out DeVante Parker went down with a foot injury, leaving the Cards without him for 6-8 weeks.

Talk about being stacked at the running back position. Current U of L running backs include Dominique Brown, Michael Dyer and Corvin Lamb. These guys are a tremendous force to be reckoned with as long as the young offensive line is able to protect, and open holes for them.  Against the Hurricanes, Brown boasted the best stats of his entire career with 33 rushing attempts for 143 yards and a touchdown. Fellow running back Lamb had a 97 yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the night.  The return was 5th longest in school history.

That said, Louisville has an incredible amount of talent around the ball. The ground game is phenomenal, and the return of DeVante Parker in tandem with De La Cruz will enable the Cards to put up major points!

3. Can this defense hold off tougher opponents than those the American Athletic Conference had to offer?

The defense also went through some overhaul this offseason, with the hiring of new coaches and coordinators. The NFL draft claimed two of the Cards most feared defensive forces. Both Calvin Pryor and Marcus Smith were drafted in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft. Pryor, a tough hard hitting safety that notched 54 solo tackles, three interceptions and two forced fumbles will leave a big hole in the secondary. As will Smith who had 33 solo tackles, 14.5 sacks, three passes defensed, and four forced fumbles.

The Cardinals’ defense started off with a quick three and out in their opener, and only allowed Miami freshman QB Brad Kaaya and the offense 13 points on the entire night. In 2013, the U of L defense was #1 in the nation for points allowed and watching the team on Monday, it seems they are off on the right track. However, the ACC is a tougher division with tougher opponents and I see the defense struggling in future games. I hold this belief because Miami RB Duke Johnson  was able to complete several large runs throughout the game. If the 2014 Cards are going to be successful, the defense will need to step up to stop the run game and not give up large yardage plays.

All in all, I like where the Louisville Cardinals are headed this year. The ACC hosts the #1 team in America, tougher conferences can help your football team reach the next level. If Coach Petrino is able to help continue bringing in solid recruits, and building the program there’s no reason the Cards can’t compete for a National Championship in the near future.

 

Cover Photo: Alucas1505 www.coveredinred.com

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