LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – If you’re a Louisville fan, just read this, and burn it. If you’re reading on your phone, don’t burn the phone. Maybe press delete. Whatever.
The point is that it’s going to bring up some bad memories, one more time, but there’s a reason for that.
Here’s the deal. No matter how many runs I've made at this advance of Louisville’s season-opener against No. 9 Notre Dame tonight at Cardinal Stadium – and by extension, the entire season -- the stuff that keeps popping up in the copy is less “preview” than it is “review.”
It turns out, your perspective on this season really hinges, has to hinge, on what you think of last season. It’s the key question. How much of what happened last season was the product of dysfunction gone wild, and how much was the result of a roster that couldn’t compete?
The answer to that question determines how much, or how little, hope you have for the Louisville season that begins Monday night.
The psychology of this football program, right now, is as difficult as any I’ve seen. I’m sure new coach Scott Satterfield would tell you it was badly damaged when he arrived. He’s had to work as hard on confidence and chemistry and things you see on "successories" posters as he has RPOs and zone blitzes and cover 2s.
It’s why you hear so much talk about “family.” Offensive coordinator and veteran O-line coach Dwayne Ledford said as much to his unit during a meeting that was captured by the ACC Network’s All-Access special. He had players get up and tell their stories, share their motivations for playing.
“Sharing this is more important than watching film,” Ledford said, “because what we share is what we’re going to rely on.”
So, if you’re one of those fans hoping for the best Monday night, you’re betting that fixing the psyche will go a long way toward fixing the other stuff. And if you’re in the more pessimistic vein, you probably think that it’s nice that the chemistry is so good, but a lot more size and speed on the lines would be nice to have.
When a TV series starts back up after some time off, there’s that little trailer to bring you up to speed in a couple of minutes before the show starts. In Louisville’s case, here’s that trailer:
-- Five straight games of giving up 50 or more points.
-- Eight ACC losses by an average of 29.25 points per game.
-- An average of 6.1 yards per carry allowed.
-- A season total of 40 rush touchdowns allowed, the same number the program allowed in the 2013, ’14, ’15 and ’16 seasons combined.
For therapeutic purposes, the thing to do might be to write those stats down on slips of paper, and burn them, or bury them, or toss them into the Ohio River.
The problem is that nobody knows how quickly they will become a thing of the past. What Satterfield and his staff are confident of is that they know how to turn the ship. They haven’t promised any short cuts. But they have laid their chips on bringing players together, demanding maximum effort and consistency, and stressing flawless execution of relatively simple schemes.
“If you do these things,” defensive coordinator Bryan Brown told players during one practice featured on the ACC Network special, “you will be successful.”
Louisville will count on Jawon “Puma” Pass at quarterback, but he’ll be subject to withering early pressure, as Notre Dame tests Louisville’s offensive line and looks to rattle a quarterback who lacked confidence a season ago.
The Cardinals will need a big game from its smallest player, 5-foot-8 Tutu Atwell, who figures to get the ball in a variety of ways.
Their success in this game likely will hinge on their ability to string together first downs and maintain possession enough to ensure that their defense isn’t subject to more time on the field against an offense that has been projected as perhaps Brian Kelley’s best in his Notre Dame tenure.
Satterfield knows something about playing the role of David against some college football Goliaths. He was on the Appalachian State staff that upset Michigan in Ann Arbor. He was head coach when App State struck fear into various big-name opponents, most recently Penn State a year ago.
But those teams had been together for years in Satterfield’s program. They knew its values and made them a reality. This Louisville team has been introduced to them, but still hasn’t mastered them. The only resemblance this Louisville team bears to one of those App State teams, Satterfield has suggested, is the point spread.
Louisville has starting units that can be competitive. But behind that, things get dicey. It’ll take years to build the program's numbers to where they should be.
Tonight in Cardinal Stadium, the largest home crowd ever to watch a Louisville football game will gather to see how much progress Satterfield has made in a short time. He and his staff have picked up the pieces of a shattered program, and have gone to work to repair the psychological cracks. How far that will go in repairing Louisville’s damage will begin to be revealed tonight.
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