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Syracuse football 2020 opponent preview: Louisville Cardinals

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Louisville’s back to being fairly good, but thankfully Lamar Jackson’s in the NFL.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 30 Music City Bowl - Mississippi State v Louisville Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There’s certainly a chance that the 2020 college football season looks nothing like what’s on the schedule. But until we hear something different from what we know right now, it’s business as usual around here.

Last time out, we previewed Western Michigan for the third straight season. We can’t quit you, Tim Lester. And we can’t quit the Louisville Cardinals, either, since we share a division in the ACC with them. The Cards found a way to recover quickly from the Bobby Petrino-inspired hell they inhabited in 2018 to get back to a bowl game in 2019. Cool...

If you think it’s a little early to be talking about upcoming opponents, you’re probably right, especially given the circumstances. But whether we’re coming off a five-win season or a 10-win season, I’m personally excited to see what 2020 turns into for the Orange. And since I run this place, we’re already diving into the coming year’s opponents. Next up:

Louisville Cardinals

School: Louisville

Mascot: Cardinals

#BRAND Slogan(s): #GoCards OR #LsUp

Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: #FewerIssuesThanTheBaskeballTeam OR #BirdTeeth

Recommended Blog: Card Chronicle

Conference: ACC

Coach: Scott Satterfield, second season.

Admittedly, I didn’t think Satterfield was going to be able to put things together so quickly in Louisville. The former App State quarterback had only spent three seasons outside of Boone, N.C. before last year, and like many, I just figured it would take a minute or two to get things operational. Obviously I was incorrect.

Following his four-year college playing career, Scott coached receivers at Appalachian State, then running backs and then QBs before trying his hand as a passing game coordinator at Toledo in 2009. One season there led to him taking over the OC gig at FIU, but he was back at App State by 2012. One year later, he was the head coach at his alma mater. From 2013 to 2018, he went 51-24 with three Sun Belt titles. That was good enough to get hired at Louisville, where he won eight games in year one.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 30 Music City Bowl - Mississippi State v Louisville Photo by Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2019 Record: (8-5) (5-3)

Recapping Last Season:

The Cardinals’ offense was what guided them through much of last year. They were 24th in the country in yards per game (447.3) and 30th in points per game at 33.1 — this despite scoring fewer than 20 points in four separate games. Just a year after finishing in the bottom 30 in the country in rushing yards per game, Louisville was top-25 at over 214 yards per. UL’s passing game was average, but that’s all it needed to be. Micale Cunningham was a dynamic playmaker under center just the same, with over 2,500 total yards and 28 scores.

Where things were less than ideal were on the defensive side of the ball. Louisville allowed nearly 440 yards per game (102nd in the country) and 33.4 points per game (110th). Yes, they managed to beat Syracuse last year by a 56-34 score but they also let what was then a struggling offense pretty much walk all over them. Despite the poor numbers there, the Cards were middle of the road in terms of both turnovers and sacks, though, so the group was capable at times.

2020 Season Outlook:

Louisville has a fairly tough road ahead in 2020, with Notre Dame again (this time on the road) and Virginia Tech swapped in for Miami. The season closes with a particularly tough November stretch — at Virginia, Wake Forest, at Notre Dame and Kentucky. Even a better UL squad could potentially struggle to put together a much better campaign than last year’s.

Speaking of better, this year’s team could very well be, though. Leading rusher Javian Hawkins (1,525 yards and nine touchdowns last year) is back, as are Cunningham and Hassan Hall (501 yards last season). Top wideout Chatarius Atwell also returns to follow up on an impressive 1,276-yard and 12-score campaign, and he’ll be joined by three more of UL’s top five receivers from last year. Offensive tackle Mekhi Becton was selected in the first round, so he won’t be back. There’s experience back elsewhere, though.

Defensively, it’s always a debate about whether or not returning a lot from a poor defense is actually a good thing. But in any case, six of Louisville’s top seven tacklers are back, including linebacker C.J. Avery, who led the team with 93 stops. Up front, however, is where Louisville loses some experience. Beyond linebackers Rodjay Burns (11 tackles for loss) and Dorian Etheridge (8 TFLs), the next three players in terms of TFLs are all gone. No returning defensive linemen has more than two sacks (and that player’s Jared Goldwire).

Virginia v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, October 3

Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.

Odds of Orange Victory: 30 percent

Very Early Outlook vs. Syracuse:

Even if Syracuse’s defense finds itself improved from last year’s disaster, there’s just too many skill players back for Louisville to entertain an upset too much. The lone cause for hope could be that if the Orange offense gets back to what we knew previously under Dino Babers and Louisville’s defense gets even worse (not a stretch), we could just wind up in a shootout. It’s far more likely this just comes down to whether or not SU can stop the Cards’ run game or not. Unfortunately I’m not buying it.