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2020 Season Recap: Playing It Close

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Part 1 of the 2020 Season in Review

Virginia v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Now that we’ve officially concluded the 2020 Football season (it is over, right Vince?) I thought this would be a great time to put together my first recap post of the off season. I hope to make this a multi-part series focusing on a few areas I thought were noteworthy while piggybacking off the new signing class and building some excitement for 2021.

While I may have buried the lead a bit I think if I had jumped out of the gate screaming “turnovers” you likely would have felt that we’ve covered this topic, skipped to the end, just dropped a joke in the comments about “ball security” and moved about your day. I don’t hate it, but now that we’re a couple paragraphs in let’s stay committed together, I think it will be worth your time.

I went back to 2019 and did a quick analysis focusing on one possession games initially and then expanded it out to 10 points or less since statistically speaking that’s still a close game and last season the average scoring margin across college football was around 9.1pts. What I found in 2019 was that Louisville performed very well in tight games and of the four contests where they were within 10 points of their opponent, they finished the season 4-0, or for those mathematically challenged, undefeated. While that stat may not come as a surprise to those who follow the program it may not be as well-known that in those four games Louisville finished +6 in the turnover battle, winning every game by at least one turnover.

For all you Doc Brown’s out there who already think they know where I’m going with this…. you’re probably right. I did another analysis on the 2020 season and found the results to be eerily similar, but in a “these are completely opposite of one another” kind of way. The Cards once again played four games where the final outcome resulted in a point differential of ten or less. In these four games the Cards finished 0-4, once again for the mathematically challenged, winless. And as one may expect the turnover margin was not in their favor in any of those contests, in fact, it was the exact same margin from 2019, just in the opposite direction.

So what does all this mean? It means the law of averages was in full effect for the first two years of the Scott Satterfield era. In tight contests last year Louisville protected the football or found ways on defense to still win the turnover battle which resulted in more possessions and ultimately more points on the board. In those same closely contested battles this year they did not protect the ball, did not force turnovers on defense, and lost because they gave their opponents more opportunities to score. You can see in those four games noted above in 2019 UofL averaged 42.3pts/g compared to just 22.3pts/g this year. More possessions often translates to more points, and more points increases your odds of winning the game. Sometimes it can be that straightforward.

In the first game noted above for the 2020 season here are Louisville’s three turnovers, showing the length of the drive, where they turned it over and any return yardage the opponent may have had, ultimately showing where they started the ensuing drive (probably best viewed on something other than mobile device).

Pittsburgh Points off turnovers: 3

Margin of defeat: 3

In the second game, Louisville actually finished net zero with Notre Dame but to further prove my point that kept them in a contest with a Top 5 team until the final possession of the game, while talent and experience helped win out for the Irish. In the third contest against Virginia Tech you can see the impact turnovers had on field position and how those “free points” impacted the result.

Virginia Tech Points off turnovers: 10

Margin of defeat: 7

And the final closely contested game against Boston College, we see how the field position battle and extra possessions once again came into play.

Boston College Points off turnovers: 10

Margin of defeat: 7

Over the last two seasons Louisville is 4-4 with a net zero turnover margin in games decided by ten points or less, it just so happens that the four wins and four losses all came in separate seasons. A 2-2 split in 2019 and 2020 produces completely different results in the W-L columns but likely something fans would be more willing to hang their hat on moving forward. A 5-7 record in season one of a rebuild last year and a 6-5 record this year among all the outside noise and chaos is more digestible and appealing, but that’s just not the way it played out. Statistically speaking the Cards are right on track as to where an average team would be in closely contested games, which is what I was hoping for two seasons into a rebuild. As the defense improves (it is) and the offense works on valuing the football more (it will) we should see these numbers creep up in a positive direction and start to reflect those of really good teams who seem to always win the close battles more often than not. The expectation is not zero turnovers, because I think that’s unrealistic, but the goal is to win that battle every single week and put yourself in a position to get the dub.

While football can be gloriously complex at times with sophisticated offenses and defensive philosophies aimed at identifying weaknesses down to a play by play level it can also be ridiculously simple at times. Protect the football, win games.