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Music City Bowl Film Review: Third Quarter

NCAA Football: Music City Bowl-Mississippi State vs Louisville Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Louisville made their comeback in the third quarter and Micale Cunningham was the star. He completed passes at multiple levels of the defense while also using his legs effectively. Louisville’s defense also made a ton of plays in the third quarter. This was fifteen minutes of Louisville’s coaches looking like they were the better prepared and just overall better coaches in the matchup.


Louisville ended up finishing the year ranked 24th in rushing. They still have so far to go and I think they could end up being a program that consistently finishes in the top 15 if they can fix some of the issues with the offensive line. I think that some of it stems from guys playing in a new system but I also think that having such a lack of depth as well as how the schedule played out led to guys not being able to get backup reps. Adonis Boone played a good amount this year but he also played all over the place because he was the only available depth.

This play looks like a communication issue to me. MSU lines up a bit “odd” up front and everyone from Bentley down to Boone has to know who they have before the snap because there isn’t a guy directly in front of them. I don’t think those calls were made and Boone ends up not blocking anyone as Bentley and Caleb Chandler block down to the left. That leaves a guy free to make a tackle in the backfield.


Louisville was able to convert a handful of third and long plays in this game which is a good sign going forward. MSU doesn’t have an elite pass rush or anything but plenty of teams struggled to rush the passer until they got to their game against Louisville. The line does well to slow down the rush here even though the numbers don’t really favor them. Micale Cunningham shows some real growth here also as he retreats while keeping his eyes up so that he can see if anyone drops into the window that Tutu Atwell will be running into. This allows him to throw while retreating without having to worry about a floated pass being picked off or Tutu being blown up by the safety. Everyone does enough to make the play here. That’s all you can ask for.


My memory isn’t what it used to be but I don’t remember Louisville using pulling linemen at all this season but they used them a good amount in the bowl game. Here, Robbie Bell pulls from the play side and gets outside to cut down a pursuing linebacker. That leaves one guy to stop this play for MSU and it’s the pitch guy. Cunningham makes the easy decision to make the pitch and Javian Hawkins has room to run with Bell eliminating the pursuit player on defense.

My theory on why we saw more guys pull in this game is that MSU didn’t line up a wide guy very often. You can see that the last man on their line is inside the tight end. Ean Pfeifer and Tyler Haycraft get easy block downs here and the edge is wide open for Bell to get around and get to the second level. I also love Devonte Peete and Emonee Spence getting after it as blockers. Neither of those guys saw the field much this year so it’s a good sign that they’re blocking just as hard as the normal starters. It’s a standard that’s been set by Gunter Brewer.


Scott Satterfield was described as an “instinctive” play caller by Daniel Jeremiah when he was hired by Louisville. Jeremiah is an App State alum who is now a draft analyst for NFL Network so he has some bias but you know that he had followed Satterfield’s career as a former player. The way he described Satterfield as a play caller always stood out to me because there were always issues with Bobby Petrino’s play calls during his second stint. Brent Venables stated that he knew eactly what call was coming on the final play of the Clemson game in 2014 and Petrino’s third down and goal line calls were always predictable.

Louisville's third down offense improved every month of the season. They worked to get more receivers involved while also doing things like this where they used MC as a runner in passing situations. The offense became more “global” as I like to call it. Satterfield started using all the tools he had available and things improved throughout the season.


I really like this run stuff by the defense. It’s all about disruption and you can see the right side of their line get pushed into the backfield while the interior guys have no clue who they’re supposed to be blocking. Tabarius Peterson loops inside at the snap while Rodjay Burns gets up the field and G.G. Robinson slants to his left. The MSU offensive line gets discombobulated and no one gets up to the linebackers. That allows T.J. Holl to just walk up into the tackle. Essentially, Peterson takes up two blockers on this play while G.G. and Rodjay shut down the potential cutback lane. Holl couldn’t have an easier tackle to make.


Louisville gave up a couple of long third downs in the first half but they started bringing pressure and it paid off. This blitz is great because you get C.J. Avery lining up in the middle of the defense but if loops around to the outside. Khane Pass sneaks up from the third level as a deep blitzer and replaces Avery right up the middle. You also get a two-man game on the left side of the defense that confuses the left tackle. The guard passes off Jared Goldwire as he stunts left but the tackle follows Gary McRae inside. UofL sends six and keeps a safety deep to protect the defense and they get home with a couple of guys getting a hit on the quarterback.

This is what matching pressure with coverage looks like. The only option for the quarterback is this comeback at seven or so yards because he doesn’t have the time to wait for anything else to open up. You give this cushion not only because you don’t want to get beat deep but also because you want the quarterback to throw it to the guy that’s nowhere near the first down marker. Cornelius Sturghill trusts his speed and runs through this tackle instead of breaking down which I love to see.


Satterfield calls another QB run on third and long here and I just can’t get over how good the play calling was. They used Tutu Atwell on crossing routes early and when MSU looked to drop guys into the passing lanes Satterfield anticipated it and decided to take advantage of the vacated space with Cunningham’s legs. MSU tries to dummy the look by bringing their linebackers up but your coverage behind it will tell you what the linebackers are going to do. With no man coverage to the top of the screen it’s obvious the linebackers will drop out here. What’s better is that you get one guy turning his back to the play so that he can get to his zone in time. Cunningham just has to make the middle linebacker miss and he’s plenty fast enough to do that.


Louisville made their comeback in this game off of third and long plays and this is just another example of Satterfield being a step ahead of MSU’s defensive coordinator. The Bulldogs try to bring disguised edge pressure but all that matters is that this is man coverage and no one can cover Tutu Atwell in man coverage ten yards down the field.

Atwell points out the blitz and Cunningham sees it. This is just an easy pitch and catch for him. One thing that stands out is that the middle linebacker can’t help but step up into the vacated area that Cunningham would definitely look to run through. When he steps up, Micale throws right into the spot he leaves open. A lot of this stuff looks simple but I promise you it wasn’t this simple all season. The progress is great to see from the coach down to the players.


Louisville targeted Tutu Atwell 11 times in the bowl game so you can imagine how much I loved Satterfield using him as a decoy to set up a touchdown pass to Devante Peete. Louisville lines up in trips with MSU in cover three. This play only works if Seth Dawkins runs his route perfectly. Not Peete but Dawkins. The reason he’s the key is that he has to run this route skinny in order to draw the outside corner into the middle of the field. If he runs this too flat the corner will pass him off because he’s no longer in his third of the field. Dawkins runs it skinny enough that the corner doesn’t even think to look for another guy running behind him.

Watch the safety after Peete makes the catch. He flips out on the corner but you’re talking about a true freshmen against Scott Satterfield and his veteran receivers. It’s a mismatch to say the least. Also, the protection was outstanding. Cunningham had plenty of time to let this play develop.


These two plays were so great to me when I watched the game live. On the first play Chandler Jones gives the worst effort possible on a “tackle” on the receiver. Watch as Bryan Brown (white hat on the right side of the screen) loses his mind and let’s Jones know what he thinks about his effort. That’s an earned ripping for Jones.

A couple of plays later Jones comes off the edge on a corner blitz. He does a great job disguising it as he doesn’t hop inside until right before the snap. The other great thing is that he takes the right angle because he doesn’t allow Tommy Stevens to get around him. Stevens sees him early and he tries to bait him to a bad angle and bounce around him. Jones is wide enough that he can get both of his legs and get him down. This is textbook and it’s great that Brown gave him a chance to redeem himself. Some coaches bench guys after that poor effort or they lose trust in them. I thought it was good to see Brown call his number so quickly after lighting him up on the sideline.


This is one of my five favorite defensive plays of the year. Just watch Gary McRae at right defensive end. This is maximum effort. He rushes up the field and ends up behind the play. The next time you see him he looks like he’s running in hyper speed. It’s such a great showing of individual effort and it’s exactly the type of play that this staff has been talking about since they got here. They’ve talked about the “hustle tape” that they use in practice to recognize guys that chase down plays and make an effort to get back into plays down the field. I’d put a decent amount of money on the fact that they’ll be replaying this play all summer long as an example of what the standard is.

Also, this was a part of a string of big plays being made by seniors in their last game. Peete got his first touchdown since 2015 and McRae and Khane Pass combine for a huge forced fumble and touchdown return. For me, this was one of he more fun things about this game.


This was another disruptive effort by the defensive front that had a different look to it. If you focus on the middle linebackers you can see that they end up with blockers free to get to them but the blockers have no momentum because they’re so out of sorts. T.J. Holl ends up ducking under his blocker because when the pulling H-Back gets to him he doesn’t even know what to look for. He nearly runs right past him because there’s so much going on in front of him. C.J. Avery blows by the center that’s trying to get to him because G.G. Robinson takes on two guys at the snap.

Look at where G.G. ends up. He’s so far behind the play that the gang tackle ends up running into him. But he also has a blocker running after him even though it’s away from the play. He just blows up what they’re trying to do from a blocking standpoint. Avery is the beneficiary as he gets a free shot at the back. Then you have Amonte Caban just whipping his man to meet Avery at the back. This play wasn’t disruptive by design like some of the others but effort from the players made it that way.


I think this was Cunningham’s best throw of the game. First, he looks to extend the play early by sliding to his left even though the rush hasn’t arrived. He knows that all of his receivers are flowing that way so it only makes sense for him to work that way. Next, look at the amount of room he has to run. A few months ago he would’ve taken off in a heartbeat. Instead, he stays patient and waits for Tutu Atwell to clear the defenders to reach a pretty tiny window and then he throws a rope across his body right on the money.

As things transition to next season it’s so hard not to be excited about what Micale Cunningham could progress to. He feels a lot more like a pocket passer who can run than the opposite and it feels organic instead of forced. That’s a great sign in my opinion.