BOZICH | Three improvements Louisville needs to crack the Top 10
The Louisville football team believes it can win the Atlantic Coast Conference and contend nationally, but there are several improvements that Bobby Petrino's team must make.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – You can listen to the coaches. You can talk to the players. You can look at the numbers.
Or, you can do all three.
One week into practice for the 2016 college football season, I’ve attempted to do all three. This is my take on Three Improvements Louisville Needs To Crack The Top 10.
1. BLOCKING 101
No, I didn’t need to speed-dial Nick Saban to settle on this one. The offensive linemen and their coach, Chris Klenakis will tell you they were overwhelmed by inexperience at the beginning of 2015.
Louisville ranked last in the nation in yardage lost via sacks at 311. The Cardinals were also 121st (of 128 teams) in tackles for loss, allowing 97. (All statistics provided by cfbstats.com.)
Most programs that finished in the bottom 10 in yardage lost on sacks had miserable or at least losing seasons – SMU (2-10); Colorado (4-9); Tulsa (6-7); UTSA (3-9); Wake Forest (3-9) and Kansas (0-12). That's dreg territory.
It’s tough to win if you cannot block with the best. Winning eight games while overcoming that many negative plays was Louisville’s finest team achievement.
The coaches say the offensive line is improved. The offensive linemen say the blocking has improved. The defensive linemen say the blocking has improved.
I believe it will be improved. Most of the unit is back. Geron Christian, a sophomore left tackle, has star quality. The group played its best football in the final two games against Kentucky and Texas A&M.
But there’s work to do – and legitimate questions about how the Cardinals’ blockers will match up against Florida State and Clemson.
2. SPECIAL TEAMS
The Cardinals failed to rank in the top 80 in kickoff returns or punt returns.
Is that a killer?
Hardly. Texas A&M led the nation in punt return yardage and you know how far that got the Aggies in the Music City Bowl.
But positive return yardage is another piece to success. Virginia Tech feasted on special teams play for years under Frank Beamer. The Cards barely averaged 7 yards per punt return, fielding 30 without returning any for a touchdown.
Louisville ranked 87th in kickoff return average, a total boosted by the kick Traveon Samuel took 100 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Clemson.
Add in the expected questions about finding dependable replacements for place kicker John Wallace and punter Josh Appleby. Special teams coordinator Tony Grantham has work to do in fall camp.
3. TURNOVER MARGIN
Todd Grantham’s defense can ball-hawk with anybody. I expect Grantham to move into a head-coaching job in the next three seasons. His defense has been the heartbeat of this team the last two years.
Louisville ranked 21st in turnovers gained in 2015, knocking loose nine fumbles and snatching 17 interceptions. That's terrific.
I’m not a math major but that should have translated into 26 bonus offensive possessions.
Louisville gave the ball back 27 times (a dozen fumbles, 17 picks), ending 27 possessions. The Cardinals ranked 75th in turnover margin at minus-1. That's not terrific.
The only team that finished in the top 10 last season that had a worse turnover margin than the Cards was Clemson. The Tigers were minus-2.
Top 10 teams like Alabama (plus-10), Oklahoma (plus-9), Michigan State (plus-14), Houston (plus-21) and Iowa (plus-11) all ranked in the top 25 in turnover margin.
It’s a proven way that good teams help themselves to victories.
Copyright 2016 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.