2015 Louisville Football Preview

Aside from the obvious reference to the circumstances in which Bobby Petrino left Arkansas, this video is also indicative of his reputation from moving quickly from program to program.  If you squint too, you can also see a hint of how he likes his offense to run: fast with lots of downfield passing.  Yeah I know that last one was a stretch, but admit it the first two were spot on!  Well this year’s Louisville team probably won’t, or at least shouldn’t, play that way.  Keep reading to see why.

Offense

UL RB Brandon Radcliff (Photo Courtesy of Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)
UL RB Brandon Radcliff (Photo Courtesy of Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)

Even with should-be star seniors in Michael Dyer and Dominique Brown, Brandon Radcliff emerged as a sophomore to lead this team in rushing yards and touchdowns in 2014.  His competition may have prevented him from reaching the 1,000-yard mark last season, but it didn’t stop him from rushing for twelve touchdowns.  With less competition, Radcliff has the potential to be a 1,200-yard and 15 touchdown guy.

He may have the potential to do that, but whether or not he achieves that will largely depend on how the big boys in front of him fare against their counterparts.  That is a big question mark too, with center Tobijah Hughley and right tackle Aaron Epps being the only linemen with multiple career starts.  Epps isn’t exactly a seasoned veteran either with six career starts.  The new pieces of this line will need to mesh together quickly to create holes for Radcliff and keep whoever ends up playing quarterback upright.

As of now, the quarterback position is still unsettled, or if it isn’t Louisville’s coaches have done a good job of keeping the news hush-hush.  Will Gardner, last season’s starter to begin the season, hasn’t been mentioned in most of the offseason talks or projected depth charts, but the two guys who replaced him after an injury ended his season feature prominently.  Neither Reggie Bonnafon nor Kyle Bolin were great in replacement duty last season, but considering both were freshmen at the time that doesn’t necessarily mean they should be written off yet.  Penn State transfer Tyler Ferguson is the other man in the mix for the starting job, and impressed the coaches this spring.

With the exception of James Quick, the quarterback will also have to fins some new targets this fall.  DeVante Parker is in Minnesota now, and receptions leader Eli Rogers was drafted by the Steelers.  Quick is by far the leading returning receiver with 566 yards to boast from last season’s campaign.  There are a couple of transfers who will have the opportunity to standout.  Jamari Staples heads up to Louisville from the UAB fire sale and Ja’Quay Savage (apparently changed last name from Williams to Savage) comes over from Texas A&M.

Defense

Oct 18, 2014; Louisville, KY, USA;  Louisville Cardinals safety James Sample (2) and Louisville Cardinals linebacker Keith Kelsey (55) tackle North Carolina State Wolfpack tight end David Grinnage (86) during the second half of play at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Louisville defeated North Carolina State 30-18.  Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 18, 2014; Louisville, KY, USA; Louisville Cardinals safety James Sample (2) and Louisville Cardinals linebacker Keith Kelsey (55) tackle North Carolina State Wolfpack tight end David Grinnage (86) during the second half of play at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Louisville defeated North Carolina State 30-18. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Last year’s tenth best run defense returns five of the six defensive linemen who made a tackle and its top two linebackers, and it brings in a big-time playmaker in transfer Devonte Fields.  Fields had 18.5 tackles for loss and ten sacks as a freshman at TCU, but missed most of the next season due to injuries and then left the program because of a domestic violence-related arrest.  Next, Fields enrolled at Trinity Valley Community College for a year, and now finds himself looking for a second chance in Louisville.

Fields will be joined by some solid players in their own right.  Linebackers Keith Kelsey and James Burgess combined for 17 tackles for loss and nine sacks last season.  Burgess also exhibited good hands for a linebacker with three interceptions, and Kelsey led the front seven with 73.5 tackles.  On the line, defensive end Sheldon Rankins returns to wreak havoc again in 2015.  Rankins had eight sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss last season.  In a conference dominated by strong secondary play, the Cardinals just might boast the strongest defensive front.

The secondary has some concerns though, but they get some help with transfers from my alma mater.  Former Georgia players Josh Harvey-Clemons and Shaq Wiggins are both in Louisville’s secondary now.  Harvey-Clemons was one of the two defensive backs responsible for the “Prayer at Jordan-Hare” and the first of two significant blows to my sanity in November 2013.  Wiggins was great as a freshman for the Dawgs, but followed Todd Grantham to Louisville.

Random story: I ran into Shaq WIggins in downtown Athens one night less than five hours after he played a game in Knoxville, which is roughly four hours away from Athens.  The most memorable part of our conversation was him telling me how much he hates Ohio State.

Prediction: 9-3

Photo Courtesy of Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports
Photo Courtesy of Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports

Radcliff and the ferocious front seven are good enough to make the Cardinals a legitimate threat in a stacked Atlantic division, but there are also plenty of reasons to still believe they will come in behind frontrunners Clemson and Florida State in the division.  Several transfers will not only help out by adding depth, but most of them will be expected to play key roles.  Opening the season with Auburn, Houston and Clemson means that the new guys and the veterans will have to figure out how to play together in a hurry though, or they could already be way behind before October even rolls around.  However, Bobby Petrino’s ability to win is almost as renowned as his ability to leave town with a pile of destruction in his wake.  You can bet against “Neck Brace” Bobby if you want to, but I’m not.  Louisville goes 9-3, finishing a step behind Clemson and Florida State.

Photo Courtesy of the Associated Press
Photo Courtesy of the Associated Press

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