LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The vast majority of Power 5 football programs prefer to ease into the season.
You know the drill. Show up, listen to the professor talk for a little bit, pick up the syllabus, maybe take a look at the first assignment and how many papers you're going to have to write and how many exams, and head out the door.
The University of Louisville football program is doing things a bit differently. No sooner will the Cardinals walk into Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta Monday night than they will hear the words, "Take out your pencils."
They'll face a test on Day 1 – and it will count toward their final grade.
No. 25 Ole Miss is a 10-point favorite, and its up-tempo offense poses problems on both sides of the ball for Louisville coach Scott Satterfield, who in his third season at the school, needs a strong start to erase the disappointment of a 4-win campaign in the COVID-altered 2020 season.
Satterfield's players have heard all about the opposition. They're also hearing about the opportunity.
"It's a great opportunity," Satterfield said. "We're playing a team that's been talked about a lot in the offseason as a Top 25 team, an SEC team and we're the game that's on TV for all the nation to watch. It's a great opportunity for us to showcase where we are and showcase what kind of players we have, and how much fight we have. I'm happy for our guys, I'm excited for them. This is a big-time game. As opposed to playing a smaller team, an FCS team or something to start the season off, we're primetime, spotlight. Let's go, let's showcase what we have.”
A couple of groups will be under some pressure in the opener. Clearly, the defense will have a challenge. Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffen wants his team running lots of plays, in quick succession. It can wear a defense down. Even defenses that have great depth can find it difficult, because there's little time to substitute.
"You watch them last year against Alabama, and we know how talented Alabama is, and their defensive line is walking around because they're tired because they couldn't substitute any guys," Satterfield said. "They're going so fast, you can't get anybody in because you'll get a penalty, because they're going to snap the ball. We have to do a good job of recognizing when we can substitute and when we can't. If they sub a guy, then we need to be able to run a guy on to get some guys some breaks."
But more than that, Louisville is going to have to establish some possession of its own. It needs to sustain some drives. It needs to use offensive efficiency as a defensive weapon. That means success in the running game, a high completion percentage from quarterback Malik Cunningham and a steady flow of first downs.
"Early in my career, I thought our job was to move the ball and score and not worry about that defensive side, the defense's job is to stop them," Satterfield said. "Over the years I've learned you have to play team football, and there's times where the defense has been out there for a while and they need to catch a break, so we need to slow it down a little bit offensively to give those guys an opportunity to catch their breath. It absolutely comes into play. That's more of a feel thing as you go through the game. We have times where we're going to go fast on offense as well, but you don't want to get into that if your defense needs a blow, and ultimately, we have to score points, we know that, and we have to sustain drives and if we're doing that, then we are going to help our defense out, but it certainly comes into my mind.”
On Monday night, Louisville is scheduled to run a dress rehearsal, its final full-speed scrimmage before next Monday's game.
In it, Satterfield will be looking for performance, for execution, for little things. He'll be watching turnovers, who commits them and who creates them. He'll be watching for technique on both sides.
How important is tonight's scrimmage? The depth chart won't be released until it is completed and coaches have evaluated it.
"It is important, and tonight is also just operation, a sideline operation," Satterfield said. "We're going to go through the pregame routine what we do. We’ve got guys that have never traveled, never played a game for us so we’ve got to go through the locker room to the field, where you're at on the sideline, where do you go at halftime. Then we're going to be exchanging for all the teams like kickoff teams, kickoff return and punt return, all the different teams will go through all those scenarios. . . . We are very excited to be headed down to Atlanta to compete in the Chick-fil-A game. We did it once before in 2015 against Auburn. It is a great opportunity to showcase not only our football program, but our school on national television on Monday night. Our guys are excited about it, they are fired up for this opportunity."
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