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Syracuse football 2021 opponent preview: Louisville Cardinals

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Pictured: Papa John himself

NCAA Football: Music City Bowl-Mississippi State vs Louisville Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Somehow, the 2021 college football season and Syracuse Orange kickoff are only about two months away. We’ve been going strong on “Get to Know” pieces for awhile now. Position group previews just started up. And preseason magazines have all submitted last-place predictions for Syracuse, as they’ve done most summers since 2013 — aside from 2019.

As is the case every year, the upcoming season also means we’re continuing our early look at all 12 of Syracuse’s upcoming opponents. Last week, it was Boston College’s turn to get profiled. This time around, we move onto another former Big East foe:

Louisville Cardinals

School: University of Louisville

Mascot: Cardinals

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

Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: “Get Your Degree in 15 Seconds or Less” OR “Papa John? Never Heard of Him...”

Recommended Blog: Card Chronicle

Conference: ACC

History vs. Syracuse: Things have gone pretty well for the Cards against Syracuse in recent years. Since joining the ACC, they’re 7-1 against the Orange, with the lone loss being a 54-23 drubbing at the Dome the year that the whole team quit on Bobby Petrino. Overall, Louisville’s 11-7 in this series, despite losing the first three games (including the still confusing Coca-Cola Classic in Tokyo back in 1989). If you ask any SU fan, their favorite game in this series was the 45-26 upset in 2012 that involved a fake Ryan Nassib quote. The 2016 game never happened, so we don’t discuss it.

NCAA Football: Louisville at Boston College Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Coach: Scott Satterfield, third season. It did seem like Satterfield was planning to be a lifer at his alma mater, Appalachian State. After playing quarterback for the Mountaineers, he was back a couple years later as a receivers coach, then took on running backs and quarterbacks over the next 10 years before giving Toledo a shot in 2009 and joined the FIU staff from 2010-11. He was back at App State as an assistant head coach for 2012 before taking over from 2013-18. A 51-24 record while navigating the program’s move up to the FBS level was enough to get a call from Louisville. Satterfield went 8-5 in year one, but 4-7 in year two and also flirted with the South Carolina job.

2020 Record: (4-7) (3-6)

Recapping Last Season

Following a strong start to his Louisville tenure, expectations were elevated for Satterfield in year two, yet things fell a bit flat. A win over Western Kentucky in the opener gave way to four straight losses, then they broke things up with a win over Florida State. After two more losses, they bludgeoned a sleep-walking Syracuse team 30-0 before splitting the final two contests vs. Boston College (loss) and Wake Forest (win). Going 4-7 meant missing a bowl game for the second time in three years.

That doesn’t paint a great picture, but some other data does. Louisville was a top-30 offense by yards per game with 444), and also managed to score almost 30 points per game. Malik Cunningham wasn’t half bad under center, completing 64% of his passes for 2,617 yards and 20 touchdowns (plus 12 INTs), and added another 609 yards and seven scores on the ground. Javian Hawkins led an impressive rushing attack with 822 yards and seven TDs on the ground. Dez Fitzpatrick and Tutu Atwell put in great work out wide, combining for 89 catches, over 1,460 yards and 10 scores.

Defensively, the Cardinals were top-40 by yards against per game and gave up nearly 27 points per game. So not amazing, but also not half-bad. Louisville collected 21 sacks on the season, though forced just 12 turnovers all year. Linebacker play was a major strength, as the top four tacklers were all from that group, led by C.J. Avery with 79 stops. Fellow linebacker Dorian Etheridge led the team in TFLs with nine, while five different players (including Avery and LB Monty Montgomery) tied for the team lead with one pick apiece.

NCAA Football: Louisville at Boston College Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

2021 Season Outlook

Given how weird last season was given the disparity between stats and final W-L record, it’s tough to get a read on Louisville this year. And that gets even more difficult when considering Satterfield fielding South Carolina interest and various departures on both sides of the ball. The Cards start things off with a challenging matchup vs. Ole Miss in Atlanta, and face another tough team in UCF two weeks later. Successive road dates vs. Florida State and Wake Forest then toss them into the meat of the ACC slate. Really, Louisville could be better than last year but wind up with a similar win percentage.

Cunningham returns, but Louisville won’t have the services of Hawkins, Atwell or Fitzpatrick this year. Beyond the top of the depth chart, there’s still plenty to like about this running backs group in particular, as returning players Jalen Mitchell and Hassan Hall both have explosive abilities and Hall’s already rushed for over 1,000 yards in his Louisville career. Braden Smith and tight end Marshon Ford are the best returning pass-catchers, though there’s admittedly some uncertainty beyond those names.

On defense, it’s somewhat of a reset, as the team loses four of the top six tacklers from 2020. Avery and Montgomery are both back, however, which should at least provide some consistency at linebacker to help ease the transitions elsewhere. What’s beneficial, at least, is that they don’t lose everyone as part of a given position group. The Cards bring back two of three linemen, two or three of last year’s top linebackers, and two of four in the secondary.

Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, November 13

Location: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, Ky.

Odds of Orange Victory: 30%

Very Early Outlook vs. Syracuse

As mentioned, Louisville’s end result was rough last year, but the numbers in the margins tell you there was actually more to like than the record let on. Losing some of the bigger reasons for optimism last year won’t fuel better vibes necessarily. However, there appears to be enough returning to see the Cards as a team that should hover around .500 with a tougher schedule than they had in 2020. While another 30-point win seems unlikely, another Louisville victory is probable, unless the SU defense can really make UofL pay for mistakes.