August 1st, The Courier Journal, “Can offense be better without Lamar Jackson?”. September 23rd, The Courier Journal, “Second thoughts: Louisville football is historically bad right now”.
Things have gotten worse for the Cardinals since. They sit at 2-6 and likely won’t be favored in a single game to close out the season. The highest odds S&P+ gives them to win another game is 26%.
It’s hard, obviously, to replace the greatest player in program history. Lamar Jackson left shoes too big for any one player to fill, a drop off was expected and justified regardless of what the coach said. Lamar Jackson was a system unto himself, taking up almost half of Louisville’s rushing attempts in 2016 and 2017 while also throwing for 3500+ yards. Losing a usage rate that high is sort of like losing LeBron James. No one can replicate what Jackson did, a lot of the parts around him are looking like Delly in the light and odds are decent a coach is going to get fired over this.
Still I don’t think anyone saw the bottom falling out like this for Louisville. Petrino is famed as an offensive coach, it’s a big part of why Lamar Jackson wound up under center for the Cardinals in the first place. It’s a big part of why Louisville hired him the first time, and a big part of why they welcomed him back. But this is Petrino, and when things fall apart with him, they tend to shatter. Potential quarterback of the future Jordan Travis announced his decision his transfer recently.
This leaves Louisville with two quarterbacks, neither of whom have thrown for more touchdowns than interceptions. The running game is mediocre, they don’t excel at anything and get stuffed behind the line a fair amount (21%, 94th). Louisville hasn’t been able to lean on the running game, a relative strength, like they had planned on because the Cardinals are often trying to throw their way back into a game. The four leading receivers have catch rates below 60%. There’s nothing the 2018 unit excels at, and the offensive line is a weakness. Louisville gives up a lot of sacks and run stuffs, and can’t bail themselves out on passing downs. Having the 127th best turnover margin in the country isn’t helping at all.
The Cardinals shift between pistol, shotgun and under center formations and make heavy use of a tight end. The offensive linemen pull a fair amount, and the running game is more diverse than it gets credit for. Louisville uses inside zone, pin-pull plays, dart, power, counter and g-lead.
Either quarterback can run the ball, and Petrino has gotten good at using the threat of his QB’s legs to get his skill players the ball in space.
The passing game relies on a lot of intermediate concepts, with the running backs serving as outlet options underneath. It’s a pro style approach that often releases five receivers and asks the Cardinals young quarterbacks to make reads under pressure. The learning curve seems steep.
The offense is rarely in situations that favor the Cardinals because they have been a bad team this year. Their average third down distance is 116th in the nation. That could easily be worse after this week. No one is breaking off explosive plays with any reliability. The receivers aren’t doing anyone any favors.
The Louisville offense doesn’t really have an identity or thing they excel at this year. I don’t know what Louisville is going through, but it’s something fierce. The weaknesses match up with many of the Tigers strengths, and Clemson has been on an absolute tear this month. I would expect that to continue Saturday.