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WTWF: 2018 Louisville Football Spring Game

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The 2018 football season kicks off with a mixed roster spring game at PJCS.

Boston College v Louisville Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

WILL THE OFFENSE AIR IT OUT?

Louisville is practicing right now without the two guys that will likely combine to lead their rushing attack in the fall. Dae Williams is in a walking boot and Colin Wilson is recovering from a knee injury. With neither guy available, the guys that would probably only be used in blowout situations or situational spots are getting first team reps.

Trey Smith, Harry Trotter, Malik Staples (Who was a linebacker a few months ago), and Tobias Little will probably be the guys we see carrying the ball for the most part. Smith is a veteran back that can be a fullback if needed also. He will probably find his way into the rotation if Williams or Wilson struggle to start the season. Trotter definitely looked the part in his limited time on the field. But, the likelihood is that these guys won’t be relied on very much in the fall.

I can’t help but think that Petrino uses the spring game to showcase Jawon Pass and the veteran group of receivers. Fans would love to see that and it is truly a good use of the scrimmage. Louisville will have to have a balanced offense this year with the loss of Lamar Jackson’s play making ability. The more reps Pass gets with his receivers, the better the familiarity.

BRIAN VAN GORDER’S BASE DEFENSE

BVG has run different defenses during his career but he seems to prefer a base 4-3 defense. That defense has been very basic from an alignment standpoint but he has been known to utilize some creative blitzes at times. From what I saw during his time at Notre Dame, BVG rushed four down linemen a lot with some blitzes from the second level.

Anyone that follows me on Twitter knows that I reviewed Peter Sirmon’s defense after he was hired and was very blunt about how boring it was. That’s not the case with Van Gorder. Even though the looks are “basic”, there is a versatility to what he does. His 4-3 allowed for guys like Jaylon Smith to cover as well as blitz when he was at Notre Dame. At times he even floated around a bit and was allowed to be an athlete that makes plays.

I think what we will see in the game is a base 4-3 with some of the second level blitzes that he has used before. Some safety blitzes with outside linebackers coming at times. For the most part, however, we will see four rushers with man coverage in the back. Safeties will line up against slot receivers and corners will mostly be off the receivers. The big difference that fans will notice with that last part is that corners will be a few yards off so that they can turn and run. BVG will also put his corners in press coverage much more often.

NEWCOMERS AND IF THEY STAND OUT

One of the best thing about college sports is the fact that fans always have new players to be excited about each spring. The player that is creating that excitement this year is Tutu Atwell. Tutu is a high school quarterback that is playing in the slot for UofL this spring. He is working to get Traveon Samuel’s snaps now that he has transferred to Troy. Atwell might be the most physically gifted player UofL has had in the slot since Petrino returned. He has the quickness and elusiveness to create mismatches and those attributes also help him create separation with his routes.

Jatavious Harris is the other newcomer on offense but he hasn’t garnered much attention this spring. Harris will add some much needed speed outside but he might not be an “impact” recruit like Atwell. Personally, my hope is that Bobby Petrino finds a way to get him into the offense as a deep threat, even if that’s his only role.

The defense will have lots of new faces this year with a mix of high school recruits, FBS transfers, and JUCO transfers. I would be surprised if we don’t see new players starting at all three levels of the defense.

Cornerback will see P.J. Mbanasor and Rodjay Burns either starting or rotating in on a regular basis in the fall. Mbanasor is probably a lock to be the top corner because he fits the need to be able to press or play off the ball. He is aggressive style of play should be on display during the game. Burns will be battling Russ Yeast for the other starting spot but the overall depth “should” be better this year. The position is young, but the talent is better.

The scheme change might be a factor in how much we see Robert Hicks with the first unit. He would have been a perfect fit to replace Stacy Thomas as the strong side inside linebacker in Sirmon’s 3-4/3-3-5. The move to a 4-3 could put him in a position where he is behind Dorian Etheridge at the sole middle linebacker spot. BVG might chose to put Hicks at outside linebacker on the outside to get him on the field, or he could move Etheridge. Whatever he decides to do, it would be a surprise to see Hicks sitting on the sideline very much.

The defensive line was a spot where UofL had to replenish multiple positions. The staff all but whiffed up front in the previous recruiting class so transfers were vital this past cycle. Jarrett Jackson is an early enrollee who could see some early time in the new defense. BVG’s defense at Notre Dame featured bigger defensive ends as opposed to the smaller and longer guys that seem to be the trendy thing lately. Jackson should standout with Jordan Goldwire and Mike Boykin during the game. Their size alone will be obvious but they all have the athleticism that UofL has lacked a bit over the last couple of years.

THE CROWD

College football is facing the same issue that college basketball and pro football are facing? Fans aren’t showing up to games like they used to. The NBA is still kind of riding a wave that started a handful of years ago. But, fans aren’t big on showing up to football stadiums during the season like we once saw unless you’re a consistent powerhouse. So will fans show up to a spring game?

The real question when it comes to the crowd is: Do fans care enough about the program to show up to a Friday night spring game that won’t have Lamar Jackson being Lamar Jackson? Jawon Pass is the new leader of this team at quarterback and Petrino hired a former Broyles award winner. Yet, every practice has been closed and fans have to follow the team through a website set up by the program.

An obvious concern is whether the fanbase has utilized that website and if it has created more excitement for the new things happening this year. Newness usually leads to excitement, but a letdown season followed by the removal of fan access could lead to fans ignoring that newness. Even with those worries, I think that a Friday night game on the first really nice day of the year will get fans out to the game and I think people will be loud.

WILL THE OFFENSE LOOK ANY DIFFERENT?

Lamar Jackson is the exact type of player that changes what you can and will do on offense. His running ability forces you to include designed runs into your game plan. You can also be more aggressive with your down field passes because he could slip out and run for a big game on a scramble. Those things won’t disappear from the offense in 2018, but Pass isn’t a dynamic runner like Jackson. He’s a going to be one of the better running quarterbacks in the country but not a guy that you focus your running game around.

Pass will be in a non-contact jersey for the game so we won’t really see too many designed run plays but I will be on the lookout for different types of passing plays and formations. Louisville is as deep at receiver as it has been in years. They have veteran guys on the outside and speedy guys in the slot. The tight end spot has some questions so it wouldn’t shock me to see more wide open formations with quick passes designed to get guys into space. Louisville hasn’t had the ability to create big plays after the catch, but that could change this year with more weapons.