HOW AGGRESSIVE WILL BRIAN VANGORDER BE?
Thee’s kind of a running joke that Brian VanGorder’s defenses are always “aggressive”. I’m not really sure why that is the joke but the word has been thrown out a lot by players and coaches since this spring. VanGorder’s defenses at Notre Dame struggled to stop the run at times so I can’t help but wonder if he will look to put guys in the box to stuff the run and pressure the quarterback.
Alabama is pretty inexperienced at wide receiver and they could be young at quarterback if they decide to go with Tua Tagovailoa. With that being said, VanGorder might just decide that he trusts his talent in the secondary to handle one-on-one situations. I also think that BVG will rush either quarterback up the middle. Getting those guys uncomfortable with pressure in their face could force some mistakes.
IF LOUISVILLE ESTABLISHES A RUN GAME WILL THEY PUSH THE BALL DOWN THE FIELD?
Louisville’s staff has said that they will utilize running backs more this year than they did with Lamar Jackson at quarterback. That focus on the running backs could lead to more deep passing plays. If the running game can get going against Alabama, that could force them to put more guys in the box. The defenders themselves would also likely key on the run more often. That opens up opportunities to push the ball down the field.
Louisville didn’t go for the deep ball all that often last year but they did have some success at times when they did. I’m not totally sure why this was the case but I think the lack of traditional run plays might have been a factor. Without those runs, play action isn’t as much of an option. With Bobby Petrino stating that the running backs will be more of a focus this year, we could see that change.
Also, Louisville has a little more speed this year which helps in a couple of ways. Guys like Jatavious Harris and Tyler Harrell add speed at the outside receiver spots and can get down the sideline and beat their man. However, Tutu Atwell can really factor in from the slot. Putting him up the seam or running skinny posts with him could occupy the safeties. That gives Jawon Pass more room to deliver the ball to those outside receivers.
IS THE “UNKNOWN” WITH LOUISVILLE’S TEAM AN ADVANTAGE?
I’ve been writing about Louisville football for about a decade now and I don’t think there has been a time during that period where Louisville had more unknowns headed into the fall. Outside of who the starting quarterback and receivers are, we don’t really truly know much of anything else.
The running back appears to be the job of Trey Smith’s to lose even though he was behind Dae Williams last season and Petrino has said that Colin Wilson is the best of them. The offensive line will be breaking in a new center for the second straight year due to Robbie Bell being injured.
The defense is a complete unknown with the possibility of eight new starters stepping in. Throw in the fact that a few of those guys being transfers or newcomers to the team and I think it’s safe to say that we are all in a wait and see mindset.
So what does Alabama know about Louisville? They can watch BVG film from two years ago and assume that the scheme is the same. They can watch film of the guys on Louisville’s defense that actually played here last year. Do they watch the last three years of UofL’s offense to look for tendencies and schemes? Who knows if any of it will be the same without Lamar Jackson.
I’ll go out on a limb and say this: Don’t be shocked if Louisville looks pretty good early on. The offense could throw out some things that no one has seen from Bobby Petrino since 2014 or even further back.
ALABAMA’S OFFENSIVE LINE VS. LOUISVILLE’S DEFENSIVE FRONT
Defensive line play will be a big key for Louisville’s defense this season. VanGorder’s Notre Dame teams were at their best when his line was creating havoc. Louisville hasn’t shown the ability to do that too often over the last two years. The edges is where they got their best production while the interior line struggled to even eat up blocks for the most part.
Against an offensive line like Alabama, you have to be able to beat them at controlling the line of scrimmage. That’s not an easy task but the way to do it is to win the individual battles. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.
As you can see in the middle of the line, Jeffery Simmons (94) stands up the center at the line. What this does is shrink the hole that Damien Harris (34) has to run through. Simmons then goes on to get an arm on Harris and the rest of the defense comes in to limit the play to a couple of yards.
Louisville has to find a way to win one battle on the line. It doesn’t mean that that player has to make the tackle. But that player can be disruptive and force the back to change direction or they can cause that blocker to clear an area and another player can come through and make the play.
If they can’t do those types of things, Alabama’s veteran and highly skilled offensive line will clear running lanes for Damien Harris and Najee Harris (no relation) all day long. That will just make things much easier for a passing game that will feature a lot of youth.