Louisville using bye to plug holes, finish games stronger
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville has the same record it had a year ago but there is more optimism around the program under first-year coach Scott Satterfield.
The Cardinals believe they just need to find ways to finish games.
After hanging with Notre Dame for a half and overcoming a 21-0 hole at Florida State last week to lead briefly in the fourth quarter, The Cardinals are using their off-week do make some changes.
“Everyone’s positive, we’re all motivating each other,” senior offensive lineman Tyler Haycraft said this week. “I think that’s the biggest thing around here, just the attitude, the atmosphere. It’s really changed over the past year.”
Louisville (2-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) certainly needed growth in many phases following its worst season since 1997, which included the firing of coach Bobby Petrino after a 2-8 start.
Not surprisingly, the offense-minded Satterfield and coordinator Dwayne Ledford have made an immediate impact on that side of the ball. The ACC’s worst offense in 2018 is ranked sixth at 437.5 yards per game, led by a rushing game ranked third at 226.2.
The numbers are slightly skewed by a 42-0 pasting of FCS Eastern Kentucky, but Louisville outrushed Notre Dame 249-230 in Satterfield’s debut. Quarterbacks Jawon Pass and Malik Cunningham have each had promising performances, though both are nursing injuries during this week’s bye.
Receiver Tutu Atwell (310 yards, five touchdowns) has emerged as a go-to guy. Running backs Javian Hawkins and Hassan Hall have been instrumental in setting the offensive tone by combining for 639 yards and two TDs.
“They’ve been very solid for us,” Satterfield said of Hawkins and Hall. “They’re explosive backs. We’ve got to be able to win, and we’re trying to run the ball and control the game that way.”
A defense that yielded at least 50 points seven times last season is also developing in the 3-4 scheme of first-year coordinator Bryan Brown. The Cardinals currently rank in the middle of several conference categories and are coming off a contest in which it shut down Florida State long enough for the offense to score 24 unanswered points.
Satterfield views his team’s ability to compete late as a positive step.
“It’s a work in progress and I said that from day one,” the coach added said. “A lot of things we’re doing right now, we look great one play, the next play we don’t. We’ve got to find more consistency across the board because it’s not just one group, it’s lot of different places.”
All of which makes the first of two byes timely for the Cardinals. Not only does it allow players time to heal, coaches are preparing for a challenging October against four ACC schools that reached bowls last season.
The marquee matchup is Oct. 19 at home against defending national champion Clemson, sandwiched between games against Boston College, Wake Forest and then Virginia. Louisville will no doubt face huge odds against the top-ranked and Atlantic Division-leading Tigers, who have already distanced themselves from the rest of the conference.
For now, the Cardinals just want to build on a start notable for improved enthusiasm.
“We didn’t really want 2-2, it wasn’t in our mindset,” Haycraft said. “But we’re excited on the stuff that we have seen and the stuff that we have done.”