Louisville Football started the 2020 season with a penalty on offense. They then went on to not get the first down and needed to punt. That’s when the tone for the season was set. Logan Lupo dropped the snap and Lousiville’s defense was forced to defend their goal line from the one-yard line. The punting game never really improved from there and Lousiville put the defense in some bad positions because of it.
The bright side of special teams was James Turner. Turner was one of the best kickers in the conference going 13-15 on the season. Both of his misses were from 50+ yards and he wasn’t far from making both of those. With a summer to work on his leg strength, I think that Turner could be a huge weapon for Louisville’s offense.
In the middle of the summer, Louisville’s punter announced that he was entering the transfer portal. As expected, that led to a lot of confused feelings from the fanbase as the Cards didn’t have another punter on the roster. Concerns were quelled later that day as Mark Vassett committed to UofL over the chance to play at Michigan State. Vassett is a 6-4/215 Australian who is also 25 years old.
Australian punters are all the new rage in college football so it’s great to see Lousiville get a guy who has a background in Rugby but is looking to make the switch. Vassett trained at Prokick back home and six of the last seven Ray Guy Award winners did the same. UofL may be in a position of “unknown” at the Punter position but I don’t think they could be in much better shape than having a guy who had to be able to punt 45 yards with a 4.5-second hangtime just to learn how to actually punt a football properly.
Hassan Hall was one of the top kick returners in the country two years ago but really struggled with injuries last season. Those injuries and missed time really hurt his production but Scott Satterfield says he’s fully healthy now and they feel like he’s back to his 2019 form. Hall was a huge factor in Lousiville’s explosive offense in 2019 as he put the offense in good field position and allowed Satterfield to be more aggressive. Being able to do the same this year would be very big.
The other player I expect to see back deep for kicks is Jordan Watkins. He replaced Hall last year and looked very timid as a true freshman. By the end of the season, he was obviously more comfortable with the ball in his hands. He has also added bulk and looks like a well-conditioned college football player now. I think those factors could help him if he’s called upon to return kicks again.
Braden Smith is listed as the starting Punt Returner and I think we will likely see him get the first crack at the job. He has the hands, size, and shiftiness needed with teams rarely allowing a lot of space for returners these days. Louisville needs a player back deep who can secure the ball and possibly get a handful of yards if the opportunity presents itself. Smith won’t likely run away from a crowd but he has enough speed to create a big return. The other player who will likely get a shot is Shai Werts. He can obviously make people miss and he has four years of experience protecting the football as a former Quarterback.
James Turner was a star for Lousiville last year but because the ACC is full of great kickers, he has been overlooked outside of our fanbase. I think that will change this year with his potential improved leg strength. Turner finished second in the ACC in field goal percentage but he was eight in made field goals. I think he will see more opportunities this year if Lousiville doesn’t turn the ball over as much and he will become a much more known player in the conference.