Clemson suffered an embarrassing loss in South Bend last weekend, but also clinched the ACC Atlantic by virtue of Syracuse losing to Pittsburgh. With the College Football Playoff – or at least making a real run in it – out of mind and the division already clinched, this game has lost a lot of its original zest. Nevertheless, the Tigers still have a lot to play for as their ACC-record 38-game home win streak is on the line. Regaining momentum and attempting to finish strong heading into the offseason is always important. Louisville won’t make it easy though and to help us preview the game we connected with @CardinaIStrong to give us the inside perspective on Louisville.
Ryan Kantor: The Cardinals got off to an awful start to the season and were quickly written off by many, including myself, when they were 2-3. Since losing to Boston College (who is now 2-7), Louisville has rattled off four wins in a row by 14+. Among them are victories over Pittsburgh and Wake Forest. How do you explain the turnaround and just how good is this team playing right now?
CardinaIStrong: Meet me and a couple buddies at the local watering hole and we’ll be happy to tell you that it’s because the coaches finally started listening to what we’ve been screaming at them for the last two years, but obviously it’s a bit deeper than that… maybe.
After the BC loss, with the Cards sitting at 2-3, the question wasn’t how do we turn this around, but how many more games do we see Satterfield running the team. This was a show me season, and still is to some degree, and so it was not only that they had a losing record halfway through the season but how they got those losses as well. An uninspired loss to Cuse in the opener, a team they’ve dominated as of late, a loss at home to FSU after being up double-digits and knocking out their starting QB, and then a no show to Boston College, at home. It was a dark time.
After the BC game, Satterfield said what any coach would say “changes, they are a comin’” and told the media that he was going to be more involved with the defensive scheme and assist with playcalling, leaving some of the offensive stuff to OC Lance Taylor. Since that press conference…Cards are 4-0 and have created more pressure in the backfield and forced turnovers better than nearly any team in the country.
The Sunday morning QBs here in town have been clamoring for more defensive pressure up front with blitz packages up the gut, off the edge, or from the corner, knowing the secondary is not elite, and they have the dogs up front to create push, and the coaches did just that. Instead of getting picked apart by QBs, Yaya Diaby, Ashton Gillotte, Dez Tell, Monty Montgomery, Momo Sanogo, and Yasir Abdullah have all made their presence known the last month, leading the team to have 30 TFL, 18 sacks, 14 PBUs, 14 QB hurries, 9 forced fumbles, and 8 interceptions. How’s that sound in a four game stretch? The pressure has been turned up to eleven, so that even when they dont get home the QB is hearing steps and forcing throws. While the defense has done a 180, the offense has made some minor adjustments and the run game has improved for sure, but in my opinion they need more from QB1, Malik Cunningham to have a real threat at beating these last three opponents.
Ryan: Quarterback Malik Cunningham is incredibly dynamic and someone opposing defenses have to spend extra time honing in on. Despite that, in the couple of games I’ve watched of him this season, it didn’t seem like he had taken the next step in his development. I noticed a lot of bad body language, nagging injuries, and inconsistent passing. As someone who has watched a lot more of Cunningham than I have, am I selling him short?
CardinaIStrong: Me personally (and what appears to be the bulk of the fanbase), I don’t believe you are overstating your analysis. Malik Cunningham is a good college quarterback who undoubtedly has almost single-handedly won Louisville football games in his career. On the flip side, his athleticism and big play making ability is countered with a real lack of development during his time on campus. He still struggles greatly with touch on balls over 15 yards, poor accuracy all over the field, situational awareness (when to run, when to stay in the pocket, when to throw it away, etc.), and when the opportunity to put the bright lights on himself is there, he takes it.
To be fair, there are only a couple QBs in the ACC I would even consider trading him for, which should say something, but as a sixth year guy who has been in the same system for four seasons, the expectation was “darkhorse Heisman” and instead we’ve got “darkhorse third team All-ACC.” His inconsistency in the passing game, missing open receivers, etc. has driven fans crazy for years and you figured at some point it would improve but outside of some nice balls here and there each week it’s still disappointing to see. I could pick on his selfishness around the goal line, his football IQ, or his recent hesitation for any contact after an early season concussion, but I’ll save that for the “family” discussions within the fanbase.
Has Malik matured and grown as much as I’d like to have seen the last couple years? No. But he’s still my QB, and we’ll ride the pros over the cons these last three games. The guy will go down as a Top 5 QB in program history statistically, so tough to argue his value to the team.
Ryan: Back when Louisville was 2-3, it felt like Coach Satterfield getting dismissed was a forgone conclusion, but now they’re 6-3. They close the season with Clemson, NC State, and Kentucky so fortunes could change, but if they can win at least one more and finish 7-5, is dismissing Satterfield off the table? What are your thoughts on Coach Satterfield and the job he has done? What type of recruiting class is he looking at bringing in next season?
CardinaIStrong: At the time of the BC loss, the narrative was not if, but when. Louisville was staring down a losing season that already included three losses to teams you went 3-0 against the season before and beat by a combined total of 100-40. Tough to point towards overall progress if that is the case, and the fashion in which you had lost them (see above) had sports talk radio throwing around candidate names before the leaves had turned.
No one, I mean not even Beth Satterfield, predicted a four game winning streak against a couple ranked/recently ranked opponents on the horizon after that outing. He did what had to be done to save his job, and frankly, I think outside of going 0-3 and getting run out of the building in all three, he has done just that. Even a 1-2 record against those three means you have either beat another ranked opponent or finally got over the hump against your rival, any of which will help fly the enthusiasm flag into 2023 where as of right now, the Cards are still sitting inside the Top 20 nationally in recruiting rankings, easily their best class in program history. If he can keep it together until signing day he’s bring in the #1 running back in the country per 24/7 (Rueben Owens), the #13 WR (DeAndre Moore), #6 IOL (Madden Sanker), #20 corner (Aaron Williams), and the #13 QB from St. John Bosco (Pierce Clarkson). Some absolute “dudes” are on the way if he doesn’t fumble the bag late.
For me, his overall resume is almost a week-to-week analysis. You hate to be that way but for a guy three and half years in who is just peeking over the fence of a .500 record we need to see some signs of life to know he is the guy to get it rolling long term. Since joining the ACC in 2014 the Cards have shared a Division Crown, won nine games twice, and added a Heisman trophy to the case, so they can compete for sure. The problem…none of those things happened under Satterfield’s watch. If I’m making the call, 7-5 keeps him here and you give him 2-3 years to build an ACC contender with the ‘23 and ‘24 classes. A 6-6 end of the year with 3 straight losses makes for a long December in the athletics department with some serious conversations taking place about Satts ability to get it done.
Ryan: Clemson is known for elite D-line play, and while they’ve had a serviceable season, Clemson has just 23 sacks as a team. Louisville is tied for 2nd nationally with 33 sacks. How do they get after the QB so well and do you think they can do it against Clemson?
CardinaIStrong: The game plan for Louisville, especially in the last four games, is to overwhelm you up front with pressure from all over. Sometimes it’s a numbers game, just bring more than they have to block, other times it’s a scheme with stunts or decoys, and sometimes it’s just big bodies up front creating pressure only bringing three or four. The challenge is getting you in an obvious passing situation and then mixing it up so you don’t know if you have eight guys coming for your neck, or eight guys dropping into coverage, and the next thing you know you’re forcing throws and delivering bad balls.
For those who missed the Louisville/Wake game the third quarter was a great encapsulation of what they’ve done very well the last month. If pressure doesn’t result in turnovers, attacking the ball has made for a significant spike in TFL and QB hurries. While Coach Satt injecting himself into the defense appears to have helped, it really has been better overall play calling on that side of the ball to create havoc at all three levels.
Ryan: Clemson is 7-0 all-time against Louisville and riding a 38-game home win streak. What is the biggest X-factor Louisville needs to break in their favor to pull the upset. What kind of odds do you give them to pull it off?
CardinaIStrong: Paw to talon. Snout to beak. Teeth to teeth (these bird have them). I’ve been comparing these teams all week. In my Q&A with you over at Card Chronicle, I touched on some of the heartbreakers in this series for Louisville including 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2020 all basically coming down to the last minute. Some of it is athleticism and depth, but some of it has been mental, and the ability to finish. One could argue the odds were in Louisville’s favor to win three out of the four noted above at various points in the final few minutes…but they didn’t. Can they do it now?
My gut says the ND shellacking last week is more of a wake up call than the start of a Clark Griswold downhill slalom. DJ Uiagalelei comes out playing well and builds a small lead before starting to get uncomfortable with the pressure in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. The Cards try to emulate ND and feed Tiyon Evans and Jawhar Jordan while also letting Malik loose on a few designed runs. Early 4th it’s still a 7-10 point game before Shipley breaks a big one to create separation. Cards fall short again, 31-14. Louisville can’t exorcise the demon, and of course Clemson will scream (first word of all my answers).
Thank you to @CardinaIStrong. We appreciate him stopping by. Please also check out the other half of the Q&A over on Card Chronicle.