2011 College Football Preview: Louisville Cardinals

| by

2010 Record: (7-6, 3-4 in Big East)
Head Coach: Charlie Strong (7-7 All-Time)


CFBZ Louisville Links

College Football Roundtable: Big East Edition

Pre-Spring All Big East Team

Returning Big East Offensive Firepower



9/1: Murray St

9/9: FIU

9/17: at Kentucky (2010 result: lost 23-16)

10/1: Marshall

10/8: at UNC

10/15: at Cincinnati (2010 result: won 26-0)

10/21: Rutgers (2010 result: won 40-13)

10/29: Syracuse (2010 result: won 28-20)

11/5: at West Virginia (2010 result: lost 17-10)

11/12: Pittsburgh (2010 result: lost 20-3)

11/19: at UConn (2010 result: won 26-0)

11/25: at South Florida (2010 result: lost 24-21 OT)

2010 Offensive Statistics:

Scoring: 26.4 ppg (2nd in Big East, 63rd in Nation)

Rushing Yds/Game: 175.0 yds/game (1st in Big East, 33rd in Nation)

Passing Yds/Game: 194.0 yds/game (4th in Big East, 79th in Nation)

Total Yds/Game: 369.0 yds/game (3rd in Big East, 71st in Nation)


2010 Defensive Statistics:

Scoring: 19.4 ppg (4th in Big East, 18th in Nation)

Rushing Yds/Game: 144.31 yds/game (7th in Big East, 52nd in Nation)

Passing Yds/Game: 167.4 yds/game (2nd in Big East, 9th in Nation)

Total Yds/Game: 311.7 yds/game (4th in Big East, 14th in Nation)


2010 Misc Stats:

Turnover Margin: +0.23 per game (3rd in Big East, 44th in Nation)

Penalties: 63.8 yds/game (last in Big East, 105th in Nation)


Returning Starters:

Offense: 3

Defense: 6

Kicker/Punter: 2


Top Returning Statistical Leaders:

Passing: QB Will Stein, Jr (9 of 14 for 72 yds, 1 TD)

Rushing: RB Jeremy Wright, Soph (59 for 327 yds, 5.5 ypc, 4 TD)

Receiving: WR Josh Bellamy, Sr (29 rec for 401 yds, 5 TD)

Tackles: S Hakeem Smith, Soph (88)

Sacks: LB Daniel Brown, Jr (4)

Interceptions: CB Darius Ashley, CB (2)


Last year when we did our Big East predictions we picked Louisville to come in 7th in the conference. They ended up in a tie for 5th but were actually only two games behind the division winners. Did I mention that they beat the Big East Champion UConn Huskies by 26 points in a shutout! Steve Kragthrope's three year reign at Louisville netted a 15-21 record but he only won 5 conference games while he was in charge. On the surface, a 7-6 might not look too impressive but I was impressed by Charlie Strong in his first year as a Head Coach. Louisville was very competitive last year as they only lost by double digits one time all year (a 17 point loss to Pitt coming the week after a 26-0 victory over UConn). The previous year under Kragthrope, the Cardinals lost 5 games by double digits. Louisville put a Top 20 defense on the field in terms of yardage and points and also had one of the best offenses in the league from a statistical standpoint. Louisville loses a bunch of guys off of last years team, Phil Steele has them in the bottom 10 of all teams in terms of returning starters. That being said, there is just something about Charlie Strong that makes me think that they won't take a step back this year. Maybe it's me as a Georgia fan remember how he always had that Florida defense ready to play. To get an inside look at Louisville we caught up with Mark Ennis of SB Nation's Big East Blog Big East Coast Bias. Make sure you follow Mark on Twitter @Mengus22 and also follow the Big East Coast Bias site @becb_sbn as they are one of the top new blogs on the net.


As a first time Head Coach Charlie Strong improved Louisville by 3 games in the win column. What were the biggest strengths he showed as a coach and what do you think he can do better this year in his second season?

I think the biggest strength Strong showed in his first season is the ability to get players to raise their games. It's so cliche, but, some of the best coaching jobs are done by those guys that come in and pull guys off the scrap heap and get inside their heads and get them to perform at a level that perhaps even they didn't know they were capable of playing. Strong came in and got the entire team to get physically into shape with an excellent off-season conditioning program and then individually got players like offensive linemen Conrad Thomas, defensive end Rodney Gnat, and most importantly Bilal Powell to focus and make the most of their abilities.

A close second would be his flexibility in terms of play-calling and philosophy. He hired Mike Sanford to bring a spread-option type of offense to Louisville and after two games realized that his big line and Powell simply made it more effective for the team to line up and run downhill and be a play action passing team. Defensively again the team tried to play a base 4-3 defense and get pressure with the front four and after two or three weeks he scrapped it and the Cardinals were attacking and blitz-happy for the rest of the season. The numbers reflect that both decisions were the right ones.

In year number two I think it is vital that the offense develop the ability to make more big plays in the passing game. Part of the limitation last year was personnel. There was no real big play receiver and no real big arm to get it down the field either. That shouldn't be the case in 2011. Both Will Stein and Teddy Bridgewater can throw the ball and receivers Josh Bellamy, Charles Gaines (if he comes back to offense after playing corner in the spring), and some of the other freshmen can really stretch the field. With no Powell in the backfield, they've got to be able to punish teams for bunching up to stop the running game.


Both of the QBs Louisville played last year were seniors. Who is going to be the QB this fall?

Will Stein is probably going to be the starter to begin the season. Stein is a generously listed 5'10 former walk-on that has a strong arm and a very quick release. I say he's an even smaller Zach Collaros. He has a stronger arm than either of the two quarterbacks that played in 2010 and should give the offense more options. He's mobile enough to do the things the offense likes to do and he's a very smart quarterback who won't kill you with mistakes throwing the ball. The backup and future of the position is freshmen Teddy Bridgewater. Teddy reminds me of Tyrod Taylor. Tall and lanky in the pocket, very good mobility, good arm, and nice pocket presence of a young kid. Louisville was lucky that he graduated from high school early and participated in spring practice where he showed that he was very promising and very raw. I think you'll see them use Bridgewater like Florida used Tebow in 2006. He'll come in with a package of plays in games that will highlight his mobility and then try to grow that package of plays throughout the season.


The biggest loss from last years team might be RB Bilal Powell, who rushed for over 1,400 yards. Who steps in to take up the slack from his departure?

Powell's load will be shared in 2011. Victor Anderson is finally healthy for the first time in almost two full years and it showed in spring practice. Anderson, a senior now, rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2008 and was the Big East Freshman of the Year. His backfield partner will be sophomore Jeremy Wright. Wright filled in for Powell a handful of times as a redshirt freshman in 2010 and played well. The coaches beamed about him last spring and due to an injury he didn't see the field much until mid-October. But, once he did he lived up to their billing. With Powell out against Syracuse he rushed for just shy of 100 yards and at Rutgers in the season finale had a 64 yards touchdown run that broke the game open. In the bowl game Wright ran a kickoff back for a touchdown to tie the game in the fourth quarter. Neither Anderson nor Wright is quite the homerun threat that Powell was, but, they've both got plenty of long touchdown runs and by sharing carries should keep the other from getting too beat up.


Defensively, Louisville had some young guys step up and play important roles last year. Who are some under-the-radar guys to keep an eye on this year on the defensive side of the football?

One guy to watch out for is redshirt freshman defensive tackle Jamaine Brooks. Brooks is just an enormous kid (6'4, 310). He arrived at Louisville last year somewhere around 350 pounds and after a redshirt season has himself in amazing shape this year. Brooks was a terror in spring ball and more than once defensive line coach Clint Hurtt praised him for his play in spring. With Louisville breaking in new secondary players, I think you'll see them take fewer chances with blitzes and lean on that defensive line to get pressure on its own. Brooks is a guy to watch out for.

I'll stay on the defensive line and say watch out for sophomore defensive Marcus Smith. Smith came to Louisville as a 6'4, 230 pound quarterback whose athleticism got him moved to outside linebacker where he played as a true freshman. Due to injuries in the spring, Smith bulked up to 250 pounds and moved full time to defensive end where he was nearly unblockable at times. Smith reminds me of the slender but dangerously fast defensive ends that Strong had at Florida like Jermaine Cunningham or Jarvis Moss. He's likely to share time with fellow sophomore defensive end B.J Butler as a weakside pass rusher and I think everyone in the Big East will know his name by year's end.


Looking at the schedule, what are the most important games this year?

I think the Kentucky game is a a huge game, and not just for the emotional aspect of it being a rivalry game. With the Cardinals being so young and facing virtually every tough opponent on the road, they have to end that losing streak to Kentucky if they hope to improve on last year's 7-6 final record. Kentucky lost its quarterback, running back, and both wide receivers that were such a hassle for the past three years. They've got to reverse the trend in that game. I'd also say that the home games against Rutgers and Syracuse in consecutive weeks in October will determine just what kind of season the Cardinals will have. If Louisville wins both and is already bowl eligible come November, it could be a special season. If it loses one or both and is desperate to get to six wins with so many tough games left, it could be a disappointing year.


What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2011 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?

My gut feeling is that the 2011 season finishes pretty close to the 2010 record. I wouldn't be shocked to see Louisville go 6-6 or perhaps 7-5, which, considering the relative youth and inexperience of the team and the much more difficult schedule, would be an accomplishment. For the season to be successful, Louisville needs to make the postseason again and continue the momentum that was built in year number one of the Strong era. A close second to the successful season marker is that Charlie Strong needs to beat Kentucky. If nothing else than for the psychological value of ending the win streak the Wildcats have built up since Bobby Petrino left for the NFL. If Strong goes 6-6 or 7-5 and beats Kentucky, Louisville will probably sign another quality recruiting class and may very well contend for the Big East title in 2012.



Coming In August: CFBZ Big East Preview

Next Preview: UCF


2011 Team Previews

ACC- Clemson

Big Ten- Minnesota

C-USA- East Carolina, Houston , Marshall, SMU, Southern Mississippi

Independent- Army

MAC- Ball St, Bowling Green, Buffalo , Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Temple, Toledo

MWC- New Mexico, UNLV, Wyoming

Sun Belt- FAU, FIU, Louisiana, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Troy , ULM, Western Kentucky

WAC- Idaho, San Jose St