Bronco Impressed By Louisville’s Resurgence Under Satterfield

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Louisville quarterback Micale Cunningham is chased by NC State defenders (Photo: gocards.com).

After breaking its two-game losing streak and placing a major emphasis on improving both its offensive line and its performance in the red zone, Virginia takes its success on the road this weekend to face an improved Louisville program.

The Cardinals, under the guidance of new coach Scott Satterfield and staff, are 4-3 overall and 2-2 in ACC play as a member of the league’s Atlantic Division. Last season, the final one for controversial coach Bobby Petrino, Louisville went winless in the ACC and 2-10 overall, including a a 27-3 loss at Virginia.

Satterfield’s team has wins over Eastern Kentucky (42-0), Western Kentucky (38-21), Boston College (41-39), and Wake Forest (62-59…no, that is not a typo). The three losses have come against two Top-10 teams, Notre Dame (35-17) in the season opener, and to Clemson (45-10) this past Saturday, along with a 35-24 loss at Florida State, the week after Virginia defeated the Seminoles, 31-24.

At Bronco Mendenhall’s presser on Monday, I asked him about his impressions of the Cardinals, and if Clemson’s defense was that overwhelming or did Louisville’s offense just have an off day?

“I think Clemson is that overwhelming defensively, just by personnel,” Mendenhall said. “Clemson has both very good players and they have great depth. I was actually impressed with Louisville’s game, especially defensively. It was 17-3 (Clemson) going late through the third quarter and they did a nice job taking the ball away and holding Clemson in relative check offensively.

“And then things kind of slipped away from them as sometimes it does if there’s a talent or execution differential as the game goes on, and it wasn’t until late until that happened.”

Clemson outscored Louisville 28-7 in the second half. Louisville entered that game averaging 6.9 yards per play, but were held to a season-low 263 yards and 4.0 per play by the Tigers’ Top-10 defense, which forced three turnovers, including two interceptions.

“So the score didn’t necessarily reflect how three quarters of that game went,” Mendenhall said. “Louisville is certainly not struggling offensively. The Clemson game, or barring the Clemson game, if you just looked at points, their quarterback got hurt, yet the scheme and what [Satterfield] has already done there is, I think, really impressive, how hard they’re playing, their culture.

“And so they’re certainly capable of scoring on anyone at any time at any quarter, at any minute, no matter where they play in the country. Very dynamic offensively, and I would certainly say capable and active defensively, and right now they’re probably more known for their offensive explosion and firepower, and that side seems to be performing a little in their first year at a higher level. That doesn’t mean their defense isn’t capable and won’t catch up.”

Mendenhall explained that when that happens (the defense catching up), Louisville can become a powerful football team. He pointed out that the reason he believed the Cardinals stayed in the game so long against Clemson was due to Louisville’s defensive effort.

Satterfield has played with two quarterbacks of late after Jawon Pass started the season against Notre Dame. Pass suffered a turf toe injury (and has since had season-ending surgery), and was replaced by Micale Cunningham, who has started the past four games, but has split time with true freshman Evan Conley. Even Cunningham has missed part of the past two games with different injuries.

Neither Cunningham or Conley performed up to Satterfield’s expectations against Clemson.

“Probably the worst ball they’ve played this year,” Satterfield said after that game.

Together, Cunningham and Conley passed for a mere 107 yards, with each being intercepted once, and a mere four completions apiece.

That was completely opposite of their previous two games when the duo lit up Boston College and Wake Forest. Louisville’s combined quarterback situation leads the ACC in passing efficiency at 161.23, and is ranked 19th nationally in that category.

With Louisville playing two quarterbacks of somewhat varying styles (Cunningham is more of a dual threat), Mendenhall and his defensive staff are in somewhat of a time crunch trying to prepare for both.

“I think there’s not enough time to truly prepare [for both],” the coach said. “You have to look at what they’ve done well, what concepts really work, and then treat both quarterbacks like they are the starter. We basically look at when throwing, which quarterback is more likely to have been the thrower and then match those concepts.

“If [either] was running well, then which of the two quartebacks runs (Cunningham) and then you try to make two guys one. Otherwise you don’t have enough time and the plan becomes too diluted.”

Virginia opened as a 3-point favorite for its fourth road game of the season. The Cavaliers are 1-2 on the road this season, having beaten Pitt, while losing at Notre Dame and Miami.

 

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