Coming into the 2019 football season not many of us knew what to expect from this Louisville team, but the target was to see progression, improved effort, and signs of life in regard to rebuilding the football program back to the level we were used to seeing. There were numerous surprises in the 2019 season, but the overall offensive production in year one of the ‘Satterfield Era’ has to be at the top of my list.
Scott Satterfield was brought into the program as the 22nd head football coach in December of 2018 and had less than eight months to mold one of the more challenging rosters we’d ever seen into something that could compete at the Power 5 level. It can be difficult at times to remember where the offense was when 2018 wrapped up, and the players we were pointing at to get things back on track like Jawon Pass, Hassan Hall, Seth Dawkins, etc took on much smaller roles than we envisioned. With the emergence of some new faces, and a couple old ones as well, the 2019 offense put up numbers that rivaled some of the best offensive teams Louisville football has fielded not only in recent memory, but ever.
When I started to put this synopsis together I felt it was only fair to look at offensive numbers back to 2014 when the Cards joined the ACC as the level of competition was similar across the board over the last six seasons. The big caveat in all this of course is the LJA, or “Lamar Jackson Affect”. The offensive numbers in 2016 and 2017 are going to be tough to match…..like….ever…so expecting an unproven roster and a first year coach to compete at that level is slightly unrealistic, but, the gap may not be as far as one would think.
When looking at offensive production on a per game basis few would be surprised to know that we had an improvement from the mess we saw last year but notching a +94.7yd/g differential is beyond impressive. I know I eluded to it before, but we have to remind ourselves that the definitive starter at QB at the end of this year was not the starter heading into the season. The definitive starter at RB was not the guy we pointed to in the summer and the definitive go-to at wideout only had 24 total catches last season. These are all relatively new guys, making new plays, in a new offense. And they did this…
The 2019 offense overall outperformed the 2014 and 2015 teams which won 9 games and 8 games respectively. The ground game also outperformed 2014 and 2015 and was only 33 yards short of the peak LJA offense in 2017. Not shown on this chart is the 33.1 pt/g the Cards averaged this season which was only 5 pts shy of the 2017 juggernaut (38.1pt/g). So how did they do it, where did they lean?
The three most successful seasons over the last six years in terms of offensive production have come when the Cards have success on the ground. From the chart above you can see in 2016, 2017, and 2019 Louisville got around 45-47% of their total yardage on the ground (left side of chart), with 2019 being the highest output (47.58%) since joining the ACC. In relation we see that those yards on the ground this year came at least in part due to the focus from Satterfield on establishing the run. On the right side of the chart you can see the run/pass percentages broken down from the viewpoint of attempts or play distribution. This past season Satterfield had a 65/35 run/pass split, not only the highest split in the last six seasons but easily the highest in the last ten years with 2010 (56/44) being the next closest. Satterfield found his horses in Hawkins, Hall, and Cunningham (sorry Justify) and rode them all season long.
Thankfully for us fans, the reliance on the run game didn’t translate to three yards and a cloud of dust football, as Louisville was one of the best “big hitter” teams in the country in 2019. Louisville finished the season with 83 plays that went for 20 yards or more, good enough for 11th nationally, but the fun didn’t stop there as they hit 39 plays for 30+ (15th), 28 for 40+ (3rd), 15 for 50+ (5th), 8 for 60+ (9th), 6 for 70+ (4th), 2 for 80+ (9th), and one that went for 90+ (3rd). The “Speed City” initiative from 2018 was showcased in many instances with guys like Hawkins, Hall, and Atwell flashing the jets and turning 10 yard gains into 30 yard gains and 20 yard gains into 40+ yard gains. In fact, when comparing those big play numbers to Louisville teams of past they not only beat out the non-Lamar teams in many areas, but actually beat out the 2016 and 2017 teams as well in a few categories…
Of course, long plays are worthless unless you translate them into extended drives and scores, so how did the 2019 squad do when it came to converting 3rd downs and ultimately getting in the endzone? Pretty dang good.
When focused on the 3rd down success rate this 2019 team was the second best to do it since joining the ACC back in 2014, and the difference between the 43.68% success rate this year and the 44.2% back in 2017 is fairly negligible. This seasons success (43.68%) was good enough for 31st nationally and a full 8% higher then what they churned out in 2018. They kept the drives alive at a greater frequency, and that translated to points. In addition to the 3rd down success, when the Cards got in the redzone they not only scored, they got the ball into the endzone at a higher clip than any team has in at least the last ten years. Their redzone TD% of 68.18% was ranked 32nd nationally in 2019 and 7% higher than what we saw in 2018.
While overall team performance is critical this squad doesn’t excel without some off the chart individual contributors on that side of the ball. While there are a handful of guy who made some incredible plays this year I picked out four studs that not only made a mark on the conference level or national level, but put their names in the Louisville football record books for all-time production.
Micale Cunningham (QB)
While Micale fell one pass attempt short of qualifying for most national rankings I took it upon myself to ignore the minimum requirements and slide his accomplishments right along side those other QBs in the ACC and nationally. Take a peek at what our man Micale did in basically only 11 games of production.
- QB Rating of 194.44 would place him at #1 in the ACC and #2 nationally
- Completion percentage of 62.6% places him at #5 in the ACC
- Rushing yards per game for a QB (40.17) places him at #4 in the ACC
- Touchdown to Interception ratio (4.4) places him at #4 in the ACC and #16 nationally.
- His 482 rushing yards in 2019 puts him at 5th all-time for single season (QB). He also holds onto 4th place for his 2018 effort (497).
- His 979 total career rushing yards already places him at #2 all-time (QB) at UofL.
- His 6 rushing TDs in 2019 puts him tied for 5th all-time (QB) for a single season. He also owns the 6th place spot for his total in 2018 (5).
- His 11 total career rushing TDs puts him in a tie for 2nd all-time (QB) behind only Lamar.
- If he qualified (1 attempt short) his QB rating (194.44) would be #1 all-time at UofL
Tutu Atwell (WR)
For most fans Tutu was viewed as one of the more underutilized players in 2018. We all saw the jets and the potential for him to excel even with his limit opportunities. Satterfield did not hesitate to make him a key piece of the offense in 2019.
- His 98.2 receiving yards per game was #1 in the ACC and 14th nationally.
- His 12 receiving TDs this season placed him at #2 in the ACC and 11th nationally.
- His 18.23 yards/rec this season placed him at #4 in the ACC and 31st nationally.
- His 1,276 receiving yards in 2019 places him at #1 all-time at UofL for single season production.
- His 70 receptions in 2019 puts him at 8th all-time for single season catches at UofL.
- His 3 TD game against WKU puts him tied at #3 all-time for TD receptions in a game at UofL.
- His 12 TDs in 2019 puts him in a tie for 1st for single season TD receptions at UofL.
- His 18.23 yard per reception average in 2019 puts him at 2nd all time (min 50 rec) at UofL.
- His 17.58 yard per reception average for his career puts him at #8 all-time (min 50 rec) at UofL.
- His 7 games of 100 receiving yards or more in 2019 places him in a tie for 1st all-time at UofL in a single season.
- His four consecutive games with 100 receiving yards or more places him in a tie for 3rd all-time at UofL.
- His five consecutive games with a TD reception places him in a tie for 2nd all-time at UofL.
Javian Hawkins (RB)
Coming out of 2018 many saw Hawkins as a bonus back, supporting Hassan Hall and providing a “shiftier” option out of the backfield. The depth chart in fall surprised some folks listing him as the number one back but he never turned in a performance in 2019 that would indicate otherwise. A freshman who was used heavily, stayed healthy, and remained consistent through the season.
- His 117.31 rushing yards per game ranked #2 in the ACC and #7 nationally.
- His 9 rushing TDs ranked #6 in the ACC.
- His 5.78 yards per attempt ranked #5 in the ACC.
- His 264 attempts in 2019 rank #3 all-time at UofL.
- His 233 yards against Syracuse rank #7 all-time for single game rushing performance at UofL.
- His 1,525 rushing yards in 2019 rank #3 all-time for single season performance at UofL and #1 all-time for single season performance by a running back.
- His eight games of 100 yards rushing or more in 2019 puts him in a tie for 2nd all-time at UofL and #1 all-time for a running back.
- His 3 consecutive games of 100 yards rushing or more places him in a tie for 9th all-time at UofL but is still on-going at this time.
- His 10.13 yards per attempt (min 20 att) against Syracuse puts him at #4 all-time for single game average.
- His 5.78 yards per attempt (min 200 att) in 2019 puts him at #5 all-time for season long average.
Marshon Ford (TE)
Marshon Ford was a relative unknown after 2018, and while many saw him as a nice addition to the tight end room, no one predicted the former walk-on would not only earn a scholarship but be catapulted to the top of the depth chart for the extremely important H-back role in the Satterfield offense. Ford impressed the staff early and impressed the heck out of me from the first game on. Not listed in his accomplishments below is him becoming one of my all-time favorite players in just one season, but noteworthy in itself. I love this kid.
- His 22.5 receiving yards per game ranked #7 in the ACC for tight ends.
- His 7 receiving TDs ranked #1 in the ACC for tight ends and #4 nationally.
- His 14.6 yards per reception ranked #3 in the ACC for tight ends.
- His 7 receiving TDs in 2019 already ranks him #6 all-time at UofL for TD receptions by a tight end in their career.
-Only the Lamar Jackson lead teams in 2016 and 2017 and the 2013 Bridgewater team put up better overall numbers offensively than the 2019 squad in the last decade.
-Only the Lamar Jackson lead teams in 2016 and 2017 put up better overall numbers on the ground than the 2019 squad in the last decade.
-The 65/35 split between rushing attempts and passing attempts is the greatest disparity in the last decade.
-The 47.58% of total yardage coming from the rushing game is the largest percentage of yardage production from the ground game in the last decade.
-The 2019 offense has big play ability, including a national ranking of 3rd for plays that went over 40 yards (28).
-The 43.68% 3rd Down conversion rate was the second highest since joining the ACC.
-The 68.18% Redzone TD percentage is the highest it’s been in at least the last ten years.
-Micale Cunningham was extremely efficient and would have been the most efficient QB in the history of the program is not for falling one pass attempt short of qualifying.
-Micale Cunningham is already the second-best rushing QB in UofL history (just a smidge behind Lamar).
-Tutu Atwell was the leading receiver in the ACC with a 98.2 yards/game average.
-Tutu Atwell had more receiving yards this season (1,276) than any receiver in the history of the program.
-Tutu Atwell had as many receiving TDs (12) this season as any receiver in the history of the program.
-Javian Hawkins rushing yards per game average (117.31) was second in the ACC
-Javian Hawkins had more rushing yards in 2019 (1,525) than any running back has had in a single season in the history of the program.
-Javian Hawkins had more 100+ yard rushing games (8) in 2019 than any running back has had in a single season in the history of the program.
-Marshon Ford finished 2019 with more receiving TDs (7) than any other tight end in the ACC.
The 2019 Louisville football team will be remember for quite a few things but near the top of that list should be the pure unadulterated, unfiltered, offensive firepower they unleashed on the ACC in season one of the Scott Satterfield era. With the majority of the offense not only returning next season but being underclassmen the potential to take this side of the ball to the top of the conference and into the Top 10 nationally is a realistic possibility. The 2020 Louisville offense should be fun to watch.