Can Louisville's Defense Bounce Back?
Louisville's defense put up one of the worst performances of any Louisville defense in nearly a decade two weeks ago against Clemson. That's not hyperbole. Todd Grantham's group allowed Clemson to average 8.1 yards per play. The defense finished with no sacks. No QB hurries (Kelsey actually had one but wasn't credited for it). 2 tackles for loss. They also gave up 42 points in 22 minutes. If we're being honest, Jaire Alexander and Chucky Williams kept Louisville's defense in a game that they shouldn't have been in. For some context, 8.2 ypp is what Louisville's offense averages right now and that leads the country. Also, 8.2 ypp is the highest any team has put up against Louisville since Cincinnati beat Louisville 41-10 in 2009 when Steve Kragthorpe was the head coach. Wrap your head around that.
So what does Louisville need to do differently? Louisville's issues stem from the defensive front. Drew Bailey, De'Asian Richardson, and DeAngelo Brown aren't doing much of anything to help the pass rush or to hold up blockers for the second level players. Coming into the year I think everyone expected the line to miss Sheldon Rankins badly but it's been much more of an issue than I expected. Bailey isn't a bad player and isn't necessarily playing "bad". He's just not been an impactful player like the defense needs. Richardson is a defensive tackle playing defensive end and it's showing in the lack of pass rush. Richardson can run well for a guy his size and he's played well against the run, but he only has one tackle behind the line this season and Louisville needs more than that. Quite simply, just holding up blockers and shrinking running lanes isn't enough from the line. Louisville needs impact plays from these guys.
The group of linebackers hasn't set the world on fire either. They've played well collectively but from a standpoint of impact plays, James Hearns is pulling the entire group along. Keith Kelsey, Stacy Thomas, and Devonte Fields haven't made a lot of big plays so far and all three had a very forgettable game two weeks ago. Kelsey and Fields are two guys that absolutely have to make big plays for this defense to reach their potential.
How Will Duke's Offense Keep Up With Louisville's?
Louisville leads the nation in scoring and yards per play and Lamar Jackson is the Heisman front-runner. Duke has a redshirt freshman quarterback who has turned the ball over 13 times, a running back who's likely playing injured, and an offensive line that is struggling to protect the quarterback or open running lanes. Something has to give for Duke to be able to keep up with the Louisville offense. It starts with Daniel Jones protecting the football. Louisville might have looked pedestrian in most areas against Clemson but they did force 4 turnovers and made a play to secure a turnover on a giveaway by the Tigers. The strong point of the defense has been the secondary and they've made opposing quarterbacks pay for mistakes. Jones will have to avoid throwing the ball into coverage but he will also have to hold onto the football when he's in the pocket and running. Jones has fumbled 6 times this year and guys like James Hearns will be looking to strip him as opposed to just securing the tackle.
Duke also has to create big plays. They don't have a ridiculous amount of speed but T.J. Rahming is a fast enough player to break loose for chunk plays if he can get some space. Louisville was beat for three long touchdown passes against Clemson so I could see Duke trying to push the ball down the field. Jones has shown nice touch on his deep passes but they don't throw it deep too often. Against an opposing offense that is so hard to slow down Duke might try their luck just to try and keep up.
Louisville Needs To Get The Running Backs More Carries
At the beginning of the season I wrote that I would love to see Louisville have a "feature back" for the first time in a long while. Brandon Radcliff has been been the primary running back for the Cards, but he's not even averaging 12 carries per game and you can combine all of the running backs on the depth chart and you wouldn't have as many carries as Lamar Jackson. There are a few issues with this. First, Radcliff is putting up 8.41 yards per carry and it only makes sense to exploit that fact. Second, Lamar Jackson is maybe 205 pounds and he's 3rd in the conference and 28th in the country in carries per game. It's a long season and it makes little sense for him to take so many hits if they're not needed. Third, Lamar Jackson (and the offense as a whole, really) need more work in the passing game. And lastly, Jackson has shown a tendency to play hero-ball and keep the ball when he should hand off on read option plays. That can stymie the offense and it just leads to more hits that he's taking.