If the 2018 edition of Louisville Football is to be forever remembered for an inexplicable collapse, then it makes sense to label the 2019 Cardinals as the complete unknown. Predictions for the fast approaching season range from 1-11 to 6-6. Excluding the most consistent eternal optimists, I have not heard one credible fan or “expert” predict/argue for Louisville Football wining seven games or more (insert sad face emoji here).
When Louisville enters a new season fresh off a 2-10 disaster which saw the Cardinals go winless in conference play and rank near the bottom in every major statistical category, it is hard to find believers. Throw in an entirely new staff and head coach, a looming quarterback battle between two returning players who did little in 2018 to inspire hope, an offensive line who has been maligned for the better part of the past four seasons, and a defense that played so poorly in 2018 that one could argue they didn’t realize college football was a contact sport; a complete unknown is the only reasonable conclusion.
Popular topics in the offseason and through camp will obviously revolve around Jawon Pass and the quarterback situation, as well as depth and improvement along the offensive and defensive lines. I am not suggesting those concerns aren’t keys to improvement and or success in 2019, but I do believe there is one statistic that stands above the rest. If Louisville Football is to defeat Las Vegas in 2019 and flirt with a possible bowl birth, then ball security must be the focal point of this team.
If you are looking for a reason why Bobby Petrino is no longer coaching at UofL (aside from the fact he appeared to quit on the players and school in 2018) then look no further than the turnover statistics during his second tenure.
If you are still scratching your head as to how Louisville failed to win ten games at least once in the past five seasons, and with Lamar Jackson on campus for three of those seasons, review Louisville’s turnover problems.
Still perplexed why running backs never became a focal point during Petrino’s second tenure? browse through the fumble numbers over the last five years.
Continuous fuming that Louisville let Clemson slip away in 2014, 2015, and 2016? Look no further than the Cardinals carelessness with the ball.
Confused why Louisville’s special teams always seemed to struggle? For one, they didn’t have a coach, but two, the Cardinals could not secure possession.
Forever annoyed that UK Football took down Lamar and the Cardinals in 2016? Repeat after me … turnovers!
There was a loud but small minority who consistently banged their drums about Louisville’s ball security throughout the last five seasons, however, until everything hit the fan in 2018, these intelligent ones were largely ignored. The Cardinals were winning, and Lamar was exhilarating, so the detractors went unheard. Looking back, it should have been the number one signal to everyone that Petrino completely ditched discipline in his second go around on our sideline.
For the years 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018, Louisville Football ranked inside the top seven in the nation in turnovers lost. Excitingly, the Cardinals “improved” to 11th in 2017 (for purposes of clarity, this is a stat where you prefer to be in the 100’s, not top ten). Louisville averaged 26 turnovers a year during this span which breaks down to just over two a game. It is a miracle Louisville Football won eight and nine games each season up and until 2018 with those issues, and even more of a testament to how great Lamar was.
Louisville’s turnover margin was even more eye opening, or depressing, during Petrino’s five years at the helm. The Cardinals ranked 43rd in 2014, 75th in 2015, 107th in 2016, 56th in 2017, and a beautiful 124th in 2018. What makes 2014 even harder to swallow is the fact Louisville set records for interceptions/takeaways that year. Louisville also enjoyed fumbling to the opponent and throwing to the opponent in almost equal amounts. They lost 16 fumbles in 2014 and threw 10 interceptions. 2015 wasn’t any better with 12 fumbles lost and 15 interceptions. 2016 was incorrigible with 22 fumbles and 10 interceptions. Almost even in 2017, 11 versus 10, and lastly, yet unsurprisingly, Louisville fumbled it away only 10 times in 2018, but threw 15 picks.
Discipline has been a buzz word on campus since Scott Satterfield arrived in December. On the field, off the field, and everywhere in between, the players and fans have begged for it, and I am sure the coaches are now fully aware how much it was lacking.
If Satterfield and Co can emphasize discipline as it relates to ball security, 2019 has the potential to be special in terms of overachieving. The Cardinals should make taking care of the ball their number one concern. Think of it this way: improved ball security can only mean positive results and impacts on all of Louisville’s question marks and concerns. If Louisville improves their turnovers lost statistic and turnover margin, it will most likely mean the Cardinals benefitted from improved quarterback play from probable starter Jawon Pass. Such a result would also lead one to believe the defense improved and played faster and more fundamentally to the ball. Reducing the turnovers will help Satterfield control time of possession thereby imposing his system on opponents and using our stable of running backs to wear down defensive lines. Simply put, nothing bad can come from the Cardinals protecting the football.
Will Louisville Football be better in 2019? Absolutely. Can the Cardinals take down the oddsmakers and win four games or more? I’d bet on it. Is it fathomable that Louisville Football and its fans take part in the postseason? Possible, but not probable. If Louisville Football wants to prove everyone wrong, first, there must be 100% effort at all times, and after that, protect the pigskin like your life depends on it. It is ball security or bust in 2019.
Go Cards !!