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The Portal Paradox, Part Three

‘You’re Getting Real Defensive’

The transfer portal is a relatively new concept for many fans of college football so in this three part series I hoped to not only expose some of the benefits of the portal itself but also how the coaches and external NIL collectives at Louisville have used it extremely well in the past few years. If you missed Part One or Part Two of this series please go check them out as well, covering both the portal in general and how the Louisville offense has used it thus far.

Today, I shift focus to the defensive side of the ball where many expected the Cards to have anywhere from a small to massive drop off from the production we saw in 2022. Bringing in an offensive minded coach and one who had seen some struggles in fielding a strong defensive roster previously it was a fair question to see how the existing players would respond to Ron English and Mark Hagan and what the Cards could do in the portal to fill in the gaps of numerous vacancies due to graduation and NFL asperations. Similar to yesterday I think it’s a good idea to see who has joined the squad on that side of the ball the last few years and try and gauge their level of production.

The last couple seasons the staff has put an emphasis on the secondary as it was not only a position of need, but this year it was going to be a significant portion of the defensive philosophy running a 4-2-5 scheme. Take a look at the names above and you’ll not only notice guys who have stepped in and helped in times of need, but full blown legitimate starters and stars on that side of the ball. That's the power of the portal.

Taking a defense that was Top 15 in many categories across 2022 the assumption was that statistically speaking it was going to be impossible to replicate the aggressiveness and overall production we saw from a team that fielded multiple NFL caliber players, including a guy who has put up 6.5 sacks as a rookie in Yaya Diaby. So what did Brohm and staff do? They evaluated who they had left on the roster (some incredible players, by the way), and pulled in another strong piece in Stephen Herron on the edge, and Jeff Clark in the middle to shore up the line. Then they added lots of depth in the secondary knowing they would need rotational pieces and have to field five or even six guys back there at times capable of playing man to man coverage. Enter the likes of Storm Duck, Cam Kelley, Devin Neal and Gilbert Frierson....all four coming over from Power 5 programs in primary roles. So where did they fit in this year? Look at how impactful those players from the last two seasons are in terms of starting roles and number of snaps played (in parenthesis). (Click on image to enlarge)

The “typical” depth chart in 2023 contained anywhere from seven to eight starters pulled into the program the last couple seasons, meaning over 60% of those starting each week were not in the program less than two years ago. That’s the power of the portal. What would the defensive line have looked like this year without the contributions from Herron, Lole, and the highest graded lineman (noted by asterisk) Jeff Clark? The secondary was bolstered as well with Cam’Ron Kelly and Devin Neal. What did these additions, along with the 2022 adds in Riley and Brownlee, mean to how the defense performed in 2023? Well, instead of that major drop-off many expected the Cards still finished the regular season Top 25 in scoring defense (19.7), Top 13 in rushing defense (102yd/g), and Top 10 in opponent first downs (15.6/g), opponent 3rd Down conversions (28%), and opponent red zone scoring where they finished first in the country (68.9%). While the ‘havoc’ plays like sacks, interceptions, TFL, etc may have dropped off the overall defensive performance was equally as impressive and significant as the season prior. That's the power of the portal.

I understand the transfer portal still has to grow on some of you, and even the info shared over the last few days may not have convinced you it’s the best thing for the sport overall, but like I noted previously having a school do everything they can to take advantage of the opportunity that is being given sure helps sell the school and fans alike about how you can go from a two win team, to bowl eligible, to competing for ACC Championships very quickly. While we’ve seen what the staff can do during the winter months we know some major changes can happen in the spring as well, just like the addition of Duck, Kelly, and Clark in March and April of 2023, so if you think two previous Top 5 transfer classes are impressive, as we sit today in late December the Cards are holding down the #1 portal class (via On3) for the upcoming 2024 season as well. Brohm and company have shown they have the skill and the tools around them to put together a team that can compete for championships year in and year out. Identifying needs, finding players who can fill those roles, and giving your team an immediate boost in talent and experience all in the matter of a few months.....that’s the power of the portal.

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