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Louisville Football: Thoughts at the 1⁄2 Pole

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The second segment of the Cards race towards a championship

139th Kentucky Derby Photo by Jamey Price/Getty Images

Welcome back to Part 2 of the Cards ‘Race Toward a Championship’ where we follow along with the seasons progress as it unfolds on the magnificent dirt track in front of us. If you missed Part 1 feel free to go back and check it out now. I’ll wait right here until you get back…

Welcome back. What did you think? Things weren’t all that great back then, huh? Well buckle up buttercup, we got a rough ride ahead…

After nosing out Western at the 3/4 pole Louisville has its sights set on the Virginia horse, who is trailing the second group by a half length. They didn’t have the cleanest start to this year’s race but have certainly handled the lesser competition early in this contest. Louisville and Virginia have saddled up next to each other and for a decent chunk or time now neither appears eager to make a move. Nose to nose as they continue through the turn it seems as if the UVA rider is starting to get things going and asking a little more from his thoroughbred. As Virginia starts to pull ahead there seems to be some debris on the track and...WOW…Virginia just hurdled over whatever that was out there with ease and is actually gaining momentum as...IT DOES IT AGAIN! Twice Virginia has hurdled what seemed to be inanimate object of some sort and Louisville seems stunned as the horse out of Charlottesville pulls ahead and is not looking back...

There is no time to be shocked as Florida State is quickly approaching on the outside. Louisville recognizes the threat and for the first time this race looks as if they are ready for the challenge. Edging ahead of the horse known as ’Seminole’ Louisville is clearly showing signs of life we haven’t seen in quite some time. As the group continues through the turn Louisville is nearly a full length ahead of Florida State and is moving towards the group ahead of…wait…the Louisville rider unexplainably just turned and looked back and the horse has taken a misstep. He seems to have regained his balance but his momentum is completely lost and Florida State, who was once dead to rights, has now not only caught Louisville but is passing them. Yes, PASSING them. No one would have even seen this PASS coming just a few moments before. If he was stunned with Virginia earlier I’d say he’s downright astonished with what just happened as they start to come out of the turn and into the backstretch…

While Louisville is still in a state of shock Georgia Tech, the horse who just rides the rail the entire race no matter what, has found a path to grind in and is not slowing down. I’m not even sure Louisville prepared to see him in this contest and is letting the events in the turn clearly impact his performance going forward. Georgia Tech walks past Louisville as if they are standing still and I’m not sure if the rider on Louisville even saw the ‘Yellow Jacket’ buzz right past him with no issue. Louisville is already towards the back of the pack as we reach the 1/2 pole. You hate to make predictions halfway through the contest but Louisville will need to show some life soon or else I see no reason for the rider to even break out the whip the rest of the competition…

Areas of Concern

Offense- Remember three weeks ago when I said things weren’t great on offense? Well, unfortunately not much has changed. While there is no denying that Puma has taken back his starting position and looked more efficient than he had in weeks past, he went from driving a car with square wheels to a car with no gas. The updated version may look better, but you’re still not going anywhere. The passing offense has jumped up 34 spots nationally since Week 3 which should be considered impressive, but jumping from 113th to 79th isn’t going to get the gears turning. Conversely, the running game has gone from mediocre (98th) to downright pitiful (113th), even with the emergence of a new potential threat in Hassan Hall. Colin, Dae, Jeremy, Trey…not a single one of these players has taken that next step to be an every down back, a guy you can’t afford to keep off the field, and in turn…Bobby has kept them off the field. Last year I charted non-QB runs and found that when the backs went over 25 attempts they always had over 150 yards over production (6yd/att at worst), but only four times did they get over 25 carries. In the chart below you’ll see that only one time this year has the number of “non-QB” attempts been above 25 (FSU), and they responded in that game with 129 yards and arguably played their best offensive game of the year. In the other three Power 5 games they have never been higher than 17, and that of course was against one of the best defensive lines in the country (insert shoulder shrug emoji).

The offense in general is just not getting things done and while you would hope dropping 28 and 31 points the last two weeks would get the job done, it hasn’t, and nationally they are still one of the worst ten schools in all of Division-I when it comes to scoring points (20.5pt/g).

Sure, part of it is the lack of a solid rushing attack which falls squarely on both the backs and the under performing offensive line, but in my humble opinion the play calling hasn’t helped anything either. At this point in the year we know what Pass can and can’t do so putting him in a situation where he needs 4 seconds for a play to develop and will likely be forced to read a check-down is setting the team up for failure. It may go for a 60 yard TD, but statistically speaking, with this team, it’s more likely to result in a sack or a wasted down. I mentioned this briefly last recap but UofL currently gets 71.1% of their first downs on 1st or 2nd down, meaning if they don’t hit a big play early in the series the odds of success drop dramatically. In fact, 58.8% of the time UofL is facing a 3rd and long situation (7 yards or more) which is 120th nationally (i.e only ten teams in the country are worse than they are at putting themselves in a horrible situation). Currently, Louisville’s average 3rd down distance is 8.1 yards. EIGHT. FREAKING. YARDS. If they are consistently put in that position, they have very little chance to succeed with any type of re-occurrence.

Defense- A group that was showing signs of improvement as the season progressed took a big step backward last week. Scoring defense, rushing defense, and total defense took a absolute nosedive after last Friday night, but hey, passing defense improved! (It helps when they only attempt two passes). The discouraging part of this scenario is not losing to Georgia Tech or giving up a ton of rushing yards, its that we to some degree went and hired a defensive coordinator, and paid him a wad of “straight cash homey” to help in this game in particular. I speak in hyperbole a lot and sometimes I can take it over the top but I’m being honest when I say that the defensive coordinator for any other Division-I school in the state could have had this team equally prepared…for far fewer dollar bills. Georgia Tech dropped 542 yards (.31 miles) on this defense and did not punt the ball one time. Yuck.

So what is going on? Why is the defense not seeing results? To me the answer is three fold. They stink on 3rd downs, they stink in the redzone, and they are not creating any disruption on that side of the ball. Put on your stat goggles…

3rd Down defense:

· Louisville is currently allowing a 47.6% success rate on opponents 3rd down attempts. In other words, nearly 50% of the time they give up a first down (118th nationally).

· Only 40% of the time are they forcing teams into a 3rd and long (7 yards or more) situation (122nd nationally)

· Almost 13% (12.9) of the time opponents are in a 3rd and short (3 yards or less) situation (102nd nationally), and those opponents convert 90.9% of the time.

· Before you think that maybe their opponents are just really good on offense, see chart below for 3rd down differential (i.e. The difference in % of successful 3rd down attempts on the season vs. what they had against UofL) 3 of 4 games teams have been more successful against UofL than they have on average against everyone else.

Redzone defense:

· Louisville is currently allowing a score at 66.7% of the time when a team gets between the 11 and 20 yard line (129th nationally).

· Louisville is currently allowing a score at 46.7% of the time when a team gets between the 21 and 30 yard line (91st nationally).

· Louisville is currently allowing a score at 62.5% of the time when a team is in a first and goal situation (94th nationally).

· Louisville is currently allowing a score at 80% of the time when a team is in a goalline situation (93rd nationally).

· Same as above, before you think that maybe their opponents are just really good in the redzone, see chart below for Redzone differential. 3 of 4 games teams have been more successful against UofL than they have on average against everyone else. Like, way more successful.

Disruptive defense:

· Louisville only has 6 sacks this season (116th nationally).

· Louisville only has 22 tackles for loss this season (117th nationally).

· Louisville only has 2 interceptions this season (107th nationally).

· Louisville only has 2 recovered fumbles this season (107th nationally).

· Louisville only has 4 defensive turnovers this season, putting them at -10 in turnover margin (128th nationally).

· Louisville’s havoc rate (% of plays w/ TFL, fumble, or defended pass) is only 9.2%, placing them at 127th nationally.

· Louisville has not had a game yet where they have more than 9 “disruptive” plays in the backfield. For reference, last season, the extremely bland Sirmon defense had 7 (SEVEN!) games with nine or more disruptive plays in the backfield.

Areas of Promise

Jawon Pass- How ironic that three weeks ago Malik Cunningham sat in this very spot. How quickly things can change. Pass went from a player who couldn’t complete simple crossing routes and was taking painfully awful sacks to a young man who is growing in the offense and performing well enough that that focus of the problem on that side of the ball has mostly shifted to other position groups. He absolutely still has plenty of growing to do but what we saw last week was an impressive transition from what we witnessed less than one month ago. If he can go out and connect on 23 of 35 passes for 299 yards, 2 touchdowns and zero interceptions every week the rest of the year…sign me up. I was real high on Pass during the summer and was brought back down to earth quickly over the first three weeks, but he has the raw talent and the physical size to still develop into something special.

Special Teams- I mean, think about how rough this season would look if we didn’t have a punter bombing the ball 42.7 yards on average and dropping 11 inside the 20, and a kicker who wasn’t 6 for 6 on the season kicking field goals and 16 for 16 on the point after. The oft overlooked phase of the game has outperformed the other two by a significant margin in most every statistical measure.

NCAA Football: Citrus Bowl-Louisiana State vs Louisville Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This of course includes the punt return game of Rodjay Burns who is still Top 11 nationally in return average and already has one return touchdown to his name. ‘The Regualtors’ are upholding their end of the deal in all aspects, they just need some help.

Speed City- Although this is a bit tongue in cheek I’m still holding out hope that Petrino has a stockpile of plays on both sides of the ball that he is going to let loose so these ‘speedy’ athletes can start to make plays. We’ve seen flashes of what Tutu Atwell can do in space, what Hassan Hall can do when he gets more than 2 carries, what Yasir Abdullah can do on the defensive side of the ball, and we have another handful of guys who have seen very little or no action at all this year (Jatavious Harris, Keion Wakefield, Justin Marshall, Ori Jean-Chrles…). You recruit speed to compete with bigger teams. You’ve kicked the tires with some guys who have shown they can make a play. Why not let them loose and see what happens…especially when you’re staring at a season of only 3 or 4 wins in the face.

TL;DR

· Offense is still not great, and statistically speaking they are worse than they were three weeks ago in most major categories.

· Louisville has yet to establish a solid ground game from a non-QB in over two seasons.

· Defense had flat lined as an average team statistically speaking and then took a steep nosedive last week against Georgia Tech back into the bottom of the barrel (i.e. ranked 90th or worse in most major categories)

· Defensive performance on 3rd downs, in the redzone, and success in creating disruptive plays has been atrocious.

· Jawon Pass has improved and the last two weeks, from a statistical standpoint, have been his best two games of the year.

· Special teams unit continues to do their job every week and have performed at a level of efficiency that has them as a Top 5 unit nationally.

· Cards have a lot of talented players that are Freshman and Sophomores who have either shown they can make plays when given a chance or have not yet been given that chance.

Be on the lookout for Part 3 of this series after the Cards battle the Clemson Tigers. We’ll be right here celebrating a complete turnaround of the season and Top 5 win over a division rival. Or we’ll be back here wallowing in the current state of the program.

Tomayto, Tomahto

Go Cards.