The Louisville offensive line left a lot to be desired in the season opener against Miami. Against what was essentially the same front seven from the Russell Athletic Bowl the line gave up six more tackles for loss and three more sacks. The run blocking improved in the second half once the attack change to more of a power mindset. Miami's defense tired and Bobby Petrino pounced by targeting Denzel Perryman and the other linebackers. Mark Ennis details this extremely well here.
Last year the line struggled mightily against undersized defenses. UCF and Eastern Kentucky were both games that stood out where the line theoretically should have dominated and the results failed to impress. Playing against smaller, quicker lines seemed to cause issues because the linemen couldn't get to their blocks in time. The running backs would end up running up their backs or the defender would have the space to get around the block instead of having to take it on. It led to a lot of 3-4 yard runs instead of chunk plays of 6-8 yards.
I will be looking to see if the play of the line improves from game one. Miami did a good job of disguising their blitzes at times, but they were also able to flat out beat their man to either get to Will Gardner, or make him move his feet. The early run blocking showed that there was still an issue with blockers getting to the second level and taking on linebackers. Perryman and others were able to shoot through gaps and make plays either at the line of scrimmage or in the backfield. Murray should be a good opportunity to shore up some issues we saw Monday.
LINEBACKERS IN SPACE
Murray's offense is much more reliant on spreading the field than Miami. Louisville's linebackers were absolutely outstanding Monday and led the defense to an impressive performance. Miami's vanilla play calling and inexperience at quarterback allowed Todd Grantham to be extremely aggressive and the linebackers were able to focus on getting into the backfield more. This week Lorenzo Mauldin and Deiontrez Mount will be tested more in their pass coverage abilities. Murray doesn't even list a tight end on their roster which puts a good context on how they line up. The linebackers will be asked to play in short zone coverage to try and stop the quick passing game of the Racers. A few of Miami's best plays were crossing routes that were dumped in right behind the linebackers. Something that teams will exploit if it proves to be a weakness.
WILL GARDNER'S BALL SECURITY
I was extremely impressed by Will Gardner Monday. He started off the game with some understanable nerves, but settled down and went 10-11 in the second half. Petrino switched the gameplan around and went with safe, short passes and heavy running to wear down the defense. This also got Will more comfortable and he played much better. The issue that is still unresolved is how he handles pressure from the defense. Gardner had two fumbles that honestly should have changed the game. Both put Miami in the redzone and if their offensive coordinator didn't handcuff the offense they might have scored two touchdowns. With the issues along the offensive line, Gardner has to make sure he protects the ball when he sees pressure.
The defense put on a show Monday night but there was one issue that stood out. There were too many times where Miami receivers were left wide open. I think some of this comes from the aggressive nature of a game against a team with a big time running back. Charles Gaines bit on play action on one of the first big plays for Miami's offense and even on James Sample's interception he was underneath a route he should have been over on. If Kaaya delivers a good ball Sample would have been 5-10 yards behind the play trying to chase it down. With a lesser opponent this is something I think Grantham will stress in practice and look for improvement.
CONTINUED GOOD PLAY AT THE POINT OF ATTACK
Louisville's front seven absolutely dominated the game Monday. Sheldon Rankins showed why some of us have been so high on him this offseason. He and the other lineman played quick and fast while wreaking havoc on Miami's running game. Duke Johnson routinely ran into a wall because his blockers were being held up or couldn't get across the face of the defender. This allowed guys like Sample and Andrew Johnson to make plays on the edge after the play was strung out to the boundary. If the line can continue to own the point of attack the linebackers can use their speed to really cause some issues for opposing offenses.