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Louisville Football Position Preview: Quarterbacks

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Malik Cunningham returns with a lot of pressure to correct mistakes from 2020.

NCAA Football: Louisville at Boston College Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Louisville has been blessed to have more consistency at the Quarterback position over a 10-year period than most college programs. Outside of two seasons, Louisville has had an extremely high-level play from the leader of their offense and Malik Cunningham has the potential to put his name into the same conversation of some guys that stretch back well past the last decade. The single factor that throws that into question is ball security.

UofL’s offense in 2019 was electric. It was one of the best big-play offenses in the country and Malik Cunningham finished the season a few attempts away from having numbers that rivaled some of the top signal-callers in the country.

Things weren’t all that different in 2020. Malik’s attempts nearly doubled and his completion percentage ticked up a few points. However, his yards per attempt plummeted and his turnovers became a massive problem for the Cards. Malik’s ball security became a genuine factor in the outcome of every game.

It wasn’t that the offense was all of a sudden bad. Teams took away a lot of the big plays that we saw in 2019 but Javian Hawkins and the run offense were chugging right along. But it seemed like every time Louisville had a strong drive going, malik would throw an interception or he would fumble. What’s worse is the timing of the turnovers was unbelievably bad. Late in games or in bad field position.

fast forward to 2021 and it’s obvious what needs to change at the Quarterback position. Louisville has to continue to move the football while protecting the football. It’s as simple as that and Malik is the key. Louisville averaged 6.68 yards per play in 2019. That number dipped to 6.65 in year two for Scott Satterfield. Malik is an All-America candidate if the turnovers were closer to the median average in the country.

With the offense losing three major playmakers, the 2021 season will put more pressure on Malik than he has experienced so far. He has been inconsistent in his career as a passer but he could benefit from a scaled-down offense. My personal theory is that the Louisville offense will rely more on their running game as well as a quick passing game. In my opinion, this should help Malik avoid hunting the big plays. That’s where he got a bit reckless last season and it took away from the fact that he did good things in the intermediate passing game as well as running the ball when things broke down.

The Quarterback room is young but it does have a little bit of experience. Evan Conley returns and should be the primary backup. Conley starred in a backup role as a true freshman against Wake Forest, but he struggled in mop-up duty late in 2019 and only took a handful of snaps in 2020.

It would be shocking to see Conley take over as the starter in 2021 but I do think the staff would consider making a change if Malik continues to be careless with the football. Louisville lost four games last year by a touchdown or less. They led in the fourth quarter in another loss. Can Scott Satterfield allow turnovers to determine another season with a third-year Quarterback sitting on the bench?

Things get a lot murkier after Conley. Louisville has had some awful luck—or whatever you want to call it—when it comes to recruiting Quarterbacks. Chubba Purdy went from refusing to take visits to flipping to FSU after their coaching change. Tee Webb transferred as soon as his first season ended and Lousiville was left with a massive hole behind their veterans.

Louisville hasn’t gotten out of that hole and the third man on the depth chart will likely be Brock Domann, a JUCO transfer with plenty of experience but none at this level. Domann put up solid numbers at the lower level and his experience should be plenty to hold off freshman T.J. Lewis. Lewis is a big-time athlete but he has work to do to be the type of Quarterback Louisville needs him to be. I would be surprised if we see him on the field in year one.

The wildcard here is Shai Werts. Werts transferred in from Georgia Southern after being a four-year starter as an option Quarterback. He is a dynamic athlete with somewhat limited passing skills. But in a pinch, Werts should definitely be an option for the staff.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE

I’m actually going to go with Malik as the breakout candidate. I wholeheartedly believe that we will see a different type of offense this year and Malik will benefit from the changes. The only question in my mind is whether or not the staff can reign in his propensity to chase the big play. I don’t think they will need it as much as they did in 2019. It may be a bit less exciting, but it is what is needed to win games.