Louisville just wasn’t good enough when it comes to defending the pass last season. I don’t think there’s a need to sugarcoat it. The defense improved in some ways last season but the regression in coverage was debilitating to the team. Louisville allowed opposing teams to complete 65% of their passes last year after only allowing 53% the year before. There are a few schools of thought on what caused that regression but at the end of the day, it has to improve this season.
The star of the group is Kei’Trel Clark and he has become a star at the conference level after two years in the program. Clark is a cover corner who also does an excellent job of tackling in space in run support. He finished last season averaging 1.33 passes defended per game which would have landed him in the top 5 nationally if he played enough games. Though he was beaten for touchdowns a few times last season, he was always tight in coverage, forcing great throws and catches. With an NFL future on the line, I expect Clark to have a big year.
I think we will have to wait and see who lines up across from Clark but I think as of now the best bet is Chandler Jones. While Jones has not been able to be a consistent playmaker for Louisville, he does enter this season with 23 career PBUs and 6 tackles for loss in his career. The influx of experience in the secondary could allow Jones to play a more specialized role as a nickel corner. He has shown that he can blitz off the edge and be a strong tackler in run support. While I don’t know that he will be the starter on the outside, I think that Jones has a very real role in the defense.
Jarvis Brownlee was a surprise addition to the transfer class after leaving Florida State during spring practice. Brownlee is an interesting player because he was beaten for a couple of big touchdowns last season and FSU fans soured on him. But as I pointed out above, Clark was beaten a handful of times as well. The difference was that Brownlee didn’t make enough of the positive plays to offset those negative plays. He finished the year with 5 passes defended and 2 tackles for loss. He did have 51 tackles and two highlight interceptions, however. If He can be sticky in coverage for Louisville, I think the cornerback group would be improved.
The most productive member of the group from the 2021 season is Quincy Riley. The MTSU transfer finished second in the country in interceptions last season and led the nation in interceptions per game. Throw in his 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks; his production is impossible to ignore. He also had 9 PBUs. With the way he performed last season, I think it will be hard to keep him out of the starting lineup for long.
The players listed above have all started at the FBS level for at least two seasons. That’s something that not a lot of programs in the country can say. The depth is there, but it just needs to be utilized. The staff will also be able to rely on guys like Trey Franklin and Rance Connor who played in the bowl game. Franklin also had two interceptions last season. Derrick Edwards could also see some time as a reserve.
I think Quincy Riley could have a Tre Clark type of impact on this defense. UofL is in desperate need of a guy who can be sticky in coverage and can make big plays. Riley has appeared in 15 games over the past two seasons and he has totaled 7 picks, 5.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, and 13 PBUs. That type of production is what this secondary has been missing opposite Clark. But his ability to play the ball is what really stands out. UofL needs playmakers and Riley is just that. I think he will have a big year.