BOZICH | Can Louisville intercept 26 passes again? No
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Louisville led the nation in interceptions last season. The Cards, along with TCU and Louisiana Tech, stole 26 passes.
There goes Gerod Holliman with one of his 14 picks. There goes Gerod Holliman to the NFL – along with the rest of the Cards’ starting defensive backfield.
Louisville earned about 24 return yards per game – and one touchdown – off the picks. Six guys contributed interceptions. Two contributors– linebacker James Burgess (three picks) and defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins (two) – return as signature players in the 2015 defense.
The follow-up scenarios are as natural as waving the football overhead after you’ve stolen it from the opposing quarterback:
A.) Can the Cards do it again?
Or B.) Should they expect a significant drop in the interception total?
My call: Go with B, as in Breaking up that many passes two seasons in a row is as unlikely as Charlie Strong combing his hair.
I looked it up.
I studied the numbers of every team that has intercepted at least 20 passes during the seasons from 2009-2013.
There were 39 teams with at least 20 picks.
Of those 39 – one, Florida in 2010, improved its interception total, climbing from 20 to 22.
Another squad – Arizona State in 2013 – stole 21 passes, the same total the Sun Devils intercepted in 2012.
The other 37?
You guessed it.
Their totals slipped – and often plunged.
Over the previous five seasons, the average decline in interceptions for teams that picked off 20 balls the previous seasons has been 7.5.
A dozen teams suffered declines of 10 interceptions or more. Luck. Fresh personnel. The alignment of the moon. Choose your explanation.
It’s a volatile statistic. Not one team that led the nation in interceptions finished in the Top 10 in that category the following season:
Texas slid from first to 99th from 2009 to 2010.
Tulsa dropped from first to 12th the following year.
In 2012, North Carolina State fell from first to 20th.
In 2013, Oregon went from first to 23rd.
And last season it was Florida State that dropped from first to 29th.
The next question is also a natural: How did the win totals for those five teams hold up? The trend line is not encouraging.
Texas slipped from 13 wins to five.
Tulsa dropped from 10 to eight.
North Carolina State won eight games in 2011, and seven the following year.
Oregon went from 12 wins in 2012 to 11 in 2013.
And last season Florida State finished 13-1, one year after leading the nation in interceptions and winning the national title at 14-0.
Draw your own conclusions. But I’ll say Louisville will need more consistency from its offense this season because the Cardinals will not be able to exploit the turnover game. And I know that some people will argue that with the arrivals of Josh Harvey-Clemons and Shaq Wiggins from Georgia, the Cards will actually be more talented in the secondary.
Interceptions are skill – and luck. They can be credited to superb play in the defensive backfield, terrific pressure delivered by the defensive line or erratic quarterbacks forcing passes where they do not belong.
Last season Louisville faced one quarterback – Jameis Winston of Florida State – who finished the season ranked in the Top 20 nationally in passing yards. Winston threw for 401 yards (with three touchdowns and three picks) in a 42-31 Seminoles’ victory.
What is the lineup of quarterbacks that Louisville will face this season?
According to Phil Steele’s 2015 College Football Yearbook, coach Todd Grantham’s defense will have to stop two of the nation’s top 30 draft eligible quarterbacks – Jacoby Brissett of North Carolina State (No. 12) and Jeremy Johnson of Auburn (13).
Steele picks Clemson sophomore Deshaun Watson as the second-best QB in the Atlantic Coast Conferences, but wants proof that he can stay on the field.
So there you go. The Cards have lost most of the personnel that generated the 26 interceptions, but it’s not as if they’ll be defending Connor Cook, Cardale Jones, Dak Prescott, Cody Kessler and others who really make it happen from the quarterback position.
But will they intercept 26 -- or even 20 -- passes again?
My prediction is that 14 to 17 seem more reasonable.
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