University of Louisville 2016 Preview
By Eric the Red
2015 Record: 5-3 Conf (#3 Atlantic), 8-5
2015 Bowl: Music City Bowl 27 – 21 WIN over Texas A&M
Coach: Bobby Petrino (58-18 at Louisville, 100-39 overall)
Rushing: Brandon Radcliff, RB, 634 yards
*Lamar Jackson, QB, 960 rushing yards
Passing: Lamar Jackson, QB, 1840 yards
Receiving: Jamari Staples, WR, 624 yards
Tackles: Keith Kelsey, LB, 107
Sacks: Devonte Fields, LB, 10.5; Trevon Young, LB, 8.5
Interceptions: Chucky Williams, S, 3, 79 yards
Trumaine Washington, CB, 4, 57 yards, 1 TD
Kicking: With the departure of John Wallace, the biggest unknown leading into the 2016 season is who will step up (pun intended) to take over the primary kicking duties?
OC: Experience. This is the one word to sum up this seasons line and team during spring practice. Last season was a mix of new with the new, trying to fill in the gaps, of which there were many. QB Lamar Jackson lead the team in rushing last season and this was due to inexperience in the line and at position. You would have needed two hands to count all 11 different starters in various positions last season, which still performed closely with the tough competition last season. What do you get with experience? A spring practice focused on position skills, technique, and individual and core improvement, rather than work to identify what each player can do or where they should play. Experience will end last season’s average of holding opponent defense to an average of 2 yards to contact, building time needed to execute plays.
OL: The offensive line this season is working with experience rather than testing players to see how they fit into schemes, something Louisville has not been able to do for several seasons. Returning 6 of the 11 top performers from last season, this year’s lineup is familiar with adjusting for a mobile QB. More stability has lead to spring practice focusing on technique and scheme rather than trying to identify what each player is capable of, where last year there were 11 different starters switching roles to find balance.
QB: Lamar Jackson, 6’3’’, 205 Sophomore, Boynton Beach, Fla is your starter this season. This statement would normally be a ‘so what’ type of statement however last season delivered three different starters for games, from Will Gardner, to Reggie Bonnafon, and at the end of the season Lamar Jackson… It was the comeback win over UK and the eye opening performance against Texas A&M that won the starting job for Lamar. Over spring practice Lamar admitted he had not studied the play book last season as he should have, and after UK, took his position more seriously, learning the playbook before the Texas A&M game. With adjustments to his throwing technique and full knowledge of the plays, he, the team and coaches are anticipating what Lamar can do with the offense with improved passing to balance his already stellar rushing game. Jackson is on the preseason Maxwell Award watch list, and should the season play out as anticipated, could he earn a trip to NYC?
WR: This season the Cardinals are looking forward to starting the season with a healthy receiver core. Last season the first 4 games were plagued with injuries from Jamari Staples 638 yards, 3 TD, Ave/G 63.80; to TE Cole Hikutini left James Quick 624 yards, 5 TD, Ave/G 56.73 yards to pull the majority of WR duty. This season with a healthy WR core, looks to start where the season left off. Add to the improved skills of Jackson there poses the opportunity of a triple offensive threat from passing, rushing, and play action and this is opinion is shared nationally with Hikutini showing on the pre season John Mackey Award watch list.
RB: Last seasons OL woes created a challenge for the RB core. With an offensive line allowing contact within 2 yards, a mix of rush/pass was the game plan for Brandon Radcliff, who was able to pull in a respectable net 634 yards, 7 TD, Ave/G 52.83 yards. Again the word for this season is experience, and both the OL and the RB core has it. Returning to join Radcliff is LJ Scott who averaged 6.9 yards per carry.
DC: Last seasons defensive line was ranked top in the nation, and with added experience this should continue from last season. With the departure of Sheldon Rankins to the NFL there is plenty of room for the next star to shine, and with the talent in place this season the defense may exceed what last season produced if the preseason talk about Devonte Fields, and Josh Harvey-Clemons appearing on the Bronko Nagurski Award list says something.
DL: Returning 4 of the top 6 DL from last season provides the experience needed to continue where last season left off. With DeAngelo Brown, Chris Williams, and 4 of the top 6 DL returning this is anticipated to be another stand out season.
LB: Add to the mix Trevon Young 6’4’’, 237 who brings his last season 10 tackles for loss, and the Cards will present a challenge at line backer for each team they face this season. The experience at this position allows the change of Devonte Fields from LB to DB.
DB: Returning the FBS leader for tackles for loss 1.73; Devonte Fields will be on the watch list for end of season awards alongside Josh Harvey-Clemons. Shaq Williams and company lead the way on returning starters to defensive back position. Devonte Fields will start this season at DB, leaving last seasons LB position. If needs arise, could we see Fields playing at both DB and LB? Regardless, the DB core brings experience and opportunity for another season of success.
K: TBA Losing Louisville’s top FG kicker John Wallace provides opportunity for Josh Appleby who has had punt duties, or for Austin Johnson or Jon Brown. With Louisville’s history of accomplished kickers, this years team has it’s work cut out for them.
P: Josh Appleby, Ave 40.45 yards
KR: It is anticipated to see Traveon Samuel, in the return position after last seasons stats of 321 yards, Ave 26.75 with 1 TD.
PR: For punt returning we could see both Samuel and Jaire Alexander, who’s stats last season on punt returns were 223 yrds, Ave 9.70 yards.
Key Game: Louisville fans have been looking forward to the time when every game matters, and every game is a big game. This season may be the most challenging along with the possibility of the greatest rewards. Challenging games include Florida State, Clemson, and Houston. Playing in the dome at Syracuse, Virginia, Duke… Even the match up against Charlotte should not be considered an assumed win. The key game may very well be the rematch with Marshal in WV. With Marshal returning much of their team, going 10-3 in 2015, undefeated at home and beating UConn 16-10 in the St. Petersburg Bowl; they are looking at this season to be giant killers. Add to the postponement of the Louisville rematch due to joining the ACC, the build up of this game will be THE game of the season in Huntington. While the Cards will play against highly ranked teams this season, this game will be the key game for Marshal, making it the key game for Louisville.
Wrap Up and Season Prediction: This is the season Louisville fans have been waiting for. One with ranked teams throughout the season. Playing teams from the last two national championships in Florida State and Clemson, and a late rematch against Houston who brings the majority of their team back who clobbered Florida State in the post season. The Cards have been polled to place 3rd in the American Division. We hope to see more Costal match ups in future schedules. With the number of players on pre-season best player awards watch lists, this season provides the most challenges, but potentially the most reward. This season provides all of the opportunities and challenges that should Louisville provide the solutions needed, it may be the collision with destiny (the national championship) Howard Schnellenberger predicted would happen. Stay tuned!