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Clemson vs. Louisville Preview: Looking At The Satterfield Offense

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You don’t have to watch this game. No one is making you

Boston College v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

It’s been three years since Louisville hired Scott Satterfield from App. State and I still have absolutely no idea what to make of his tenure. There’s the general atmospheric weirdness of taking over a program the year before covid and the extremely specific atmospheric weirdness of coaching at a place crazy enough to hire Bobby Petrino twice.

In his three years in Louisville Satterfield has managed to lose almost his entire offensive staff, piss the fanbase off by taking an interview for a South Carolina job he had publicly said he wasn’t interested in, then say he would take almost any Carolina coaching job if they came calling while apologizing for the aforementioned interview. All of this is to say that Scott Satterfield walked into a strange and chaotic environment and, instead of imposing order, set the trash can on fire in the restroom.

The offense is in many ways an outgrowth of this instability inside of the team. Louisville has, at best, about average offensive efficiency. Louisville also has one of the most explosive offenses in the country. The end result is a team that is solidly middle of the pack in terms of scoring points. This has left fans of the Cardinals frustrated by the lack of consistent success and wanting more based on the potential displayed during the explosive plays.

To summarize: Everyone is somewhere between anger and disappointment, it appears the guy in charge of things does not want to be in Louisville and the fans don’t want him either. On top of this, the actual FBI was crawling around the athletic department talking about felonies because of the basketball team. Things are just great in the ACC man, I love this conference.

Satterfield’s running game basically consists of inside zone, outside zone, draw and a counter scheme with some reads attached to keep quarterback Malik Cunningham (#3) involved in the running game.

The extreme simplicity, in an ideal world, translates to offensive linemen who are absolute masters at doing what you ask them to do. This is not an ideal world. You can still, three years into Satterfield’s tenure, absolutely kill Louisville runs in the backfield with well timed run blitzes.

The offensive line struggles in general, but particularly in run blocking. Most of what works on the ground for this team is Cunningham.

Cunningham has had a frustrating career in the eyes of many Cardinals fans. The fourth year QB is as electric on the ground as ever, but has either plateaued or regressed as a passer since becoming a starter in 2019. That’s a problem against this Tigers front, especially when the running backs aren’t producing on the ground at the moment.

Of the two main backs, Hassan Hall’s (#19) numbers jump off the stat sheet, but he’s only gotten more than half a dozen carries once this season (against UVA nearly a month ago).

For reasons I don’t entirely understand the less productive freshman Jalen Mitchell (#15) gets the majority of the carries. Neither running back carry the ball as often or as efficiently as their quarterback, but both can break big plays in the space afforded by defenses keyed in on Cunningham. That’s more than can be said of the receiving talent on the roster, Marshon Ford (#83) is a good tight end and probably the best pass catcher on the roster.

Every flaw Cunningham had as a first year starter is still there, there’s just no reason to think he can change anymore. The man is well into his third year as a full time starter. He’s twenty three years old. This is who he is as a college quarterback.

Cunningham still struggles to work through his progressions because he still looks to run at the first sign of pressure and he still stares holes through his intended receivers chest. Venables is very good at using QB spies and Clemson has the edge rushers to get pressure against a Louisville offensive line that is one of the worst in the country.

Cunningham is a good enough runner that he can keep the chains moving on a combination of zone reads, speed options, bootlegs, scrambles and play-action passing but Cunningham has never shown much capability as a drop back passer. Running the same quick game concept to both sides of the field is something most high school QB’s can handle.

Cunningham does have the arm, if not always the accuracy, to beat teams on play-action passes down the field. Against a Tigers defense that simply is not allowing long drives, a handful of explosive plays are your best bet to come up with a few scores.

You can score 21 points in three plays if you get lucky enough, and that beats Clemson the vast majority of cases this year. Get lucky on a couple of deep passes, make a couple of tacklers miss and Louisville has the ingredients for an upset here.

Does anything change if that happens? I have no idea. We’re all older than we were in 2019. If you’d told me Satterfield could beat Clemson and stay on the hot seat I’d have laughed in your face then. Now, I’m at least hearing you out. I don’t know if you can come back from publicly flirting with a lateral (?) job like he did by beating a 5-3 team at home, I don’t care what logo is on the jersey.

Both of these teams are in a bad way and recovering from that is going to take more than beating a conference opponent hovering around .500. I’ve heard that public school employees in Louisville have been inundated with offers for free tickets to this game, things are fine. It’s going to be ugly and in the end it may not matter whatsoever, this is ACC football.