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How Good was Louisville’s Defense Last Year? Part 2.1 in a Series

Was Louisville Good on Defense in 2014? That is an understatement.

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

In Part 2 of breaking down the nation’s best college football defenses, there were some distinctive features of last year’s Cardinals’ defense that will be looked at further.

To recap the key components of the defensive rankings and where Louisville ranked, see the table below.



National Rank

Conference Rank

Yards Per Drive

(Versus Expected)




Points Per Drive

(Versus Expected)




Opponent Score Rate




Turnover Rate




Overall Rank

(Unadjusted for SOS)




Overall Rank

(Adjusted for SOS)




The Cards were very strong in all aspects of their defensive play. The seeming anomaly is their 26th national ranking in opponent scoring rate. A couple of things to keep in mind, only 30 FBS teams held their opponents below a 30% scoring rate (field goals and touchdowns). Not to mention, and this is key, Louisville’s starting defensive field position last season was 119th out of 128 FBS teams. Ending field position was ranked 16th. Only one team (Penn State) had a better performance than the Cards.

This is why efficiency and consistency are looked at from a starting field position perspective and not simply raw numbers. To illustrate, below are a couple of charts with drive data compiled over a 10 year period for all FBS teams.

(Note: Field Position is expressed as yards to end zone)

As you can see, the correlation is very strong and a solid indicator of what to expect in terms of preventing scores and lowering yards. Thanks again to and for great data and articles. We have derived our own uses for this information by combining additional information.

So How Good Was The Cards Defense?

Given their starting field position, excellent is probably an understatement. The chart below shows the Louisville Defensive Starting Field Position versus All FBS Teams.

Looking at the number of drives starting inside the 50 yard line, Louisville started on defense 18% more than most the rest of the FBS. 24 of their 177 drives started at their own 48 yard line or less (7 inside the red zone). The impressive part is only 14 of those drives made it to the red zone. Throwing out the drives that started inside the 20, the Cards only allowed 41.1% of their drives that started inside the 50 to make it to the red zone. The FBS average is just under 60%.

More impressive, is the number of points allowed, 2.9 points per possession versus 3.6 points expected. That is better than three saved touchdowns over the course of the season.

Louisville allowed 39 total drives to make it to the red zone. Considering 7 started in the red zone, 7 more started inside the 50, only 25 of 153 remaining drives (16.9%) made it to the red zone. Overall, Louisville had the 26th rated red zone defense; more importantly, they ranked 4th in touchdowns allowed from inside the 20.

What this translates to is during the course of the season, the Louisville defense saved nearly 120 points (9.2/game) and over 1,450 yards (112/game) of opponent offensive output. More important, the put their offensive unit in a position to win games.