BOZICH | Five questions Louisville football must answer to make 2016 better than 2015
The Louisville football team opens practice Wednesday, and the Cardinals have several questions to answer if they want to make the 2016 season better than the last two.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- On Tuesday afternoon, Louisville football coach Bobby Petrino, defensive lineman DeAngelo Brown and multi-skilled offensive player Reggie Bonnafon will answer questions from local media.
I'm already warmed up with Five Questions the Louisville Football Team Must Answer to Make 2016 Better than 2015.
1. Is the offensive line ready to rock, roll and rattle the line of scrimmage?
The Cardinals ranked seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing last season -- and that was with a quarterback who routinely scrambled and turned trouble into triumph. Subtract Lamar Jackson and Louisville did not have a 650-yard running back.
They were ninth in the ACC in yards per carry on first down and tied for 11th in rushing touchdowns with seven. Athlon ranked the U of L offensive line ninth in the ACC while Phil Steele placed the unit 11th among 14 teams.
Using advanced metrics, Athlon also ranked U of L eighth in the ACC in finishing drives, which is points scored per possession inside the opponents' 40.
With four starters returning, the offensive line should play better. And needs to.
2. Will Lamar Jackson step up and stand out?
Two seasons of revolving quarterbacks are scheduled to end this season. Lamar Jackson is The Guy. Period. End of story. No more easy quarterback controversy columns.
Except Jackson was elevated to The Guy at times last season. He started against Houston, moved behind Kyle Bolin and then started five more games before Bolin started the next four, including the Kentucky game.
Jackson separated himself by rallying the Cardinals for a victory in Commonwealth Stadium, trashing Texas A&M in the Music City Bowl and upgrading his fundamentals during spring football.
As a sophomore, Jackson has to do it again. Every Saturday. Week after week.
3. Who will make the special teams special?
There wasn't a lot of special in the Louisville special teams last season. The Cardinals ranked ninth in the ACC in average yards per punt return and failed to return a punt for a touchdown.
Kickoff returns weren't much better. Louisville ranked 10th in average return yardage, even though Traveon Samuel took one 100 yards against Clemson.
Add the subtractions of punter Josh Appleby and place kicker John Wallace, and you understand why Phil Steele ranked the U of L special teams the worst unit in the ACC.
4. Can the Cardinals manage the schedule?
The first five games will determine the arc of what this team achieves.
Petrino should empty the bench against Charlotte. Since 2003, the Cardinals have won 8 of 11 against week two opponent Syracuse, which has a new coach.
Make it 2-0. At least it better be.
Then comes the season-defining three-game stretch. Florida State at home. At Marshall. At Clemson.
Win all three and cue the playoff talk.
Beat Marshall and one of the others and you're in the ACC Atlantic race.
Beat Marshall and lose the other two, and it's 2015 and 2014 redux.
Lose all three and you can figure it out.
5. How much will Sheldon Rankins and James Burgess be missed?
The Louisville defense has been excellent the last two seasons. Good enough to carry the offense during several games when the offense needed to be carried. Most of the pre-season talk about the 2016 team has been about players on Todd Grantham's defensive unit.
But this season, like the previous two, Louisville must replace guys who were productive and dependable players on defense.
Linebacker James Burgess, second in tackles with two fumble recoveries and nine tackles for loss, is gone. Replacing him for an entire season isn't the same as replacing him in the Music City Bowl, where he was ejected early in the first quarter.
Tackle Sheldon Rankins was a 303-pound Stop Sign and a first-round NFL pick.
Steele ranks Louisville's defensive line only the eighth best in the ACC. Athlon puts the Cards' ninth. In other words, they wonder.
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