LOUISVILLE, Ky. – I’ll be the first to let you know that I, along with many others in the city of Louisville, thought Louisville’s football program would be held in a very different location than they are now. When compiling my predictions for the fall camp season, I figured Louisville would be 2-1 in the first three games, but there was a very real chance of going 3-0.
I thought that given recent history they would blast the doors of Syracuse. I thought UCF is a winnable game but would be difficult given their offensive MO and tough street environment. I thought Florida State would be a win, in part because I wasn’t so confident that FSU would be “back.”
I don’t need to spend a lot of time repeating what actually happened. A listless blowout for the Orange, a surprise bounce against UCF, and then a soul-shattering loss to the Seminoles. Of course, Louisville is doing the exact opposite of what I imagined in the first three games. Counting.
It’s not so much that Louisville is currently sitting at 1-2, which is bad in itself considering what we all thought this team could be capable of. No, that’s what they looked like. The offense struggles to find a consistent rhythm, and turnovers have been a common theme in their two losses. Despite their good performance at UCF, the defense cannot step in to save their lives. Both sides of the ball can’t stop avoiding each other with the amount of penalties they commit.
Perhaps most alarmingly, other than the running backs and perhaps the defensive line, none of the positional groups are doing what we set out to do.
Quarterback Malik Cunningham remains an electric runner but appears to have fallen behind as a passer. The offensive line looked average after being billed as perhaps the best unit on the entire team. The converted wide-receiver room had trouble creating separation at times. The linebackers, with the exception of Yasir Abdullah and Ben Perry, have MAs and missed tackles galore. The pass defense was extraordinarily inconsistent.
As a result, the noise has already started. Sure, it was started early by Louisville fans after the listless performance against Syracuse, but following the recent loss to FSU, in which Louisville had multiple opportunities to gain firm control but failed to do so, the chatter on the to heat the hot seat (pun intended).
See Also: Missed Opportunities, Costly Mistakes Plunge Louisville into Loss to Florida State
Is Satterfield in *the* hottest spot in America? Absolutely not. That title is held in a trio between Georgia Tech’s Geoff Collins, Auburn’s Bryan Harsin and Colorado’s Karl Dorrell. But when it comes to the hot-seat tier of coaches among those three, Satterfield’s name is starting to pop up across the country.
After the Florida State game, a matchup that encapsulated everything that had ever gone wrong in the Satterfield era, it’s not hard to see why. Honestly, I’ve gotten to a point where I can’t blame Louisville fans for feeling this way. Results speak for themselves.
However, there are only three games of the season. By definition, there is still time to turn things around. But considering how busy Louisville’s schedule is, there’s not much time. In fact, the next three games on the Cardinals’ schedule — against USF, at Boston College and in Virginia — could be crucial in not only generating momentum down the track and salvaging their season, but tantamount to Satterfield even getting his job afterward has this season.
First, let’s look at Louisville’s next opponents in USF. While I’ve highlighted a very real possibility for the Bulls to be upset over their rushed attack (you can read that breakdown here), on paper this is a team Louisville* should have little trouble defeating. QB Gerry Bohanon struggled to open the season as a passer and despite some good one-offs on defense, they struggled to stop anyone.
See also: Behind Enemy Lines: Five Questions for Bulls247’s Will Turner
Now let’s look at the next two games: at Boston College and in Virginia. Before the season, I believed those two encounters were riddled with “trap play.” I’m really high on both Eagles HC Jeff Hafley and their QB Phil Jurkovec, and the Charlottesville games against the Cavaliers have always been weird.
Even with a sample size of just three games, not only are these two games extremely winnable, they are games I would expect Louisville to win. Boston College’s offensive line was absolutely atrocious and almost single-handedly cost them games. Virginia sorely misses offensive coordinator Robert Anae (who went to…Syracuse!), and quarterback Brennan Armstrong, who was one of the nation’s most prolific passers last year, looked borderline mediocre.
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This is a three-game stretch in which Louisville must not only remain undefeated, but also look a lot better while doing so. I’m not saying every game has to be a smash, but the energy, commitment and execution has to be light years better than the first three games of the year.
Why? Because after these next three games everything will be much, much more difficult.
After a bye week after the Virginia game, Louisville hosts both Pitt and Wake Forest on back-to-back weeks. Did either the Panthers or the Demon Deacons fulfill their potential early in the season? No, and for various reasons. But for now, they’re both well-deserved top-25 teams at No. 24 and No. 21.
After that, the Cardinals host James Madison for the ultimate trap game, then end the season with a killer’s row: at Clemson vs. NC State and at Kentucky.
Clemson’s attack wasn’t perfect with DJ Uiagalelei in the middle, but with an absolutely loaded defense they deserve their fifth place. Also, we all know how harsh the environment in Death Valley is. NC State No. 12 had to get away from East Carolina in their first game, but their defense was able to challenge Clemsons for best in the ACC. Then there’s number 8 Kentucky, who looked dominant on both sides of the ball. Yes, it was largely against cupcakes, but Florida is still Florida.
For those counting at home, that’s five teams ranked in the last six games of the year. The last three are all in the top 15, with two of those three operating in known hostile environments.
If Louisville has *any chance* of being competitive in the second half of the season and breaking .500 to return to a bowl game, it all starts with the next three games. Not only do the Cardinals need to win all three, they need to do it in a way that shows there’s a sweeping improvement not just in the players, but in the coaching tendencies — particularly on offense.
Drop any of these next three and you could almost say goodbye to a bowl game. A Louisville team that many, including myself, had seven, eight, or even nine wins last season might struggle to get even five.
If Louisville gets to this point, athletic director Josh Heird will have a tough decision to make. The Cardinals will have lost their third straight season, and even with a top-notch recruiting class along the way — at least for now — little would suggest they’ll develop properly or put themselves in the best position to succeed.
But only one thing ensures that this decision does not even come up on the table. Or at least the next three games — hell, maybe even the next six since Pitt and Wake Forest showed they’re mortal and you’re going to play them at home.
Just win baby
(Photo by Scott Satterfield: Jared Anderson – State of Louisville/Louisville Report)
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