LOUISVILLE, Ky. - After falling to Florida State in their home-opener, the Louisville football program will be looking to bounce back when they host USF at Cardinal Stadium.
Here are some of the more notable storylines heading into Saturday's game:
One Starter Down, One Starter Back, Two Starters Questionable
Louisville's matchup against Florida State was extremely physical, and both sidelines felt the impact from an injury standpoint. For the Cardinals, it was one that saw starting wide receiver Dee Wiggins go down with what would end up being a season-ending toe injury.
"Wiggins is going to have to have surgery this week on his toe and so he'll probably miss the rest of the season," head coach Scott Satterfield said. "That's probably going to be a four to five-month recovery on his injury, which is a shame. I feel like he was really getting ready to hit his stride."
Fortunately, Louisville did receive some good news on the injury front. Starting running back Tiyon Evans, who missed the FSU game due to a hamstring issue, is back and is a full go against USF.
Two other players who went down against FSU, starting offensive linemen Caleb Chandler and Trevor Reid, are questionable but optimistic for the upcoming matchup against USF. At his weekly Tuesday presser, Satterfield was hoping to get both back at practice that day.
"I think both of those guys are back," he said.
Wiggins' Injury Deals Blow to Already Struggling Passing Attack
Wiggins was expected to play a major role in the Cardinals' passing game, especially as a deep threat. He started each of the first three games of the season for Louisville, logging four receptions for 67 yards. With him going down, it further depletes a position group that is already one of the most thin on the roster in terms of depth.
The retooled wide receiver room, one where most of the players are taking on bigger roles than the ones they had last season, will already have to see their roles adjusted moving forward. Ahmari Huggins-Bruce will likely see more time at the outside Z-receiver spot that Wiggins had started at, and that Jaelin Carter - who has been Tyler Hudson's backup all season - will likely "end up stepping up in a more prominent role."
But even before Wiggins' injury, Louisville had struggled to get the passing game going. Through three games, their 213.7 passing yards per game ranks 97th in FBS and 13th in the ACC.
Receivers have occasionally struggled to generate separation, especially against Florida State, but Cunningham has played a role in the sluggish passing attack to start the year. So far, he is 51-of-85 for a 60.0 percent completion rate, but that comes with three interceptions and just 596 passing yards.
"I think just being able to trust those guys, and find chemistry, and know where they're going to be - little nuances in the passing game that are holding us back," offensive coordinator Lance Taylor said. "It's not just one person. It's not just Malik. It really falls on all of us. From receivers, to quarterback, to pass protection. All of those things are included."
Self-Inflicted Wounds Continuing to Plague Cardinals
It's not hard to understand why Louisville lost to Florida State, despite having multiple opportunities to seize the game. Like what led to their blowout season-opening loss at Syracuse, and what nearly cost them a win at UCF, the Cardinals couldn't stop shooting themselves in the foot.
The biggest mistake that Louisville continues to make are the abundance of penalties they commit. After being flagged for a whopping 12 penalties at UCF, they committed 11 more against the Seminoles. Currently, Louisville ranks 125th out of 131 FBS teams with 30 committed penalties.
Penalties were far from the only self-inflicted wounds that Louisville caused. Friday night was another instance where the Cardinals couldn't seem to take care of the ball, turning it over three times. They've been just as indicative of the final end game result as penalties have for Louisville. In their win at UCF, Louisville turned the ball over just once. But against Syracuse and FSU, the Cardinals turned it over three times each.
In the meantime, the coaches are in the process of attempting to correct some of the on-field discipline issues that Louisville currently has. On top of multiple discussions they have as a staff, these talks have also carried over to the players, as well as activities to try and help deter mistakes such as penalties moving forward.
Tackling Issues, Allowed Big Plays Reappear in Loss to FSU
Of course, the defense isn't absolved from self-inflicted wounds, either, On top of the various penalties they committed, missed tackles that reappeared after first showing up against Syracuse, as well as giving up big plays, were a horrendous issue.
Louisville missed 12 tackles against the Seminoles, with a whopping six of them being attributed to safety Kenderick Duncan. Not only that, but the Cardinals allowed 10 plays that went more than 20 yards down field, including four that went 35 yards or more.
Despite the blatant lack of execution down the stretch, defensive coordinator Bryan Brown is still optimistic. When going back and looking at the film, the scheme - more often than nit - had guys in the right spot, they just didn't make the plays when needed to.
"We were there," he said. "I mean, everybody's seen the film. Our guys are there, and we just missed some tackles. I attribute that to just - we just got to pull our trigger. We're right there. Just go ahead and pull your trigger."
Louisville Run Defense to Face Stout Test Against USF
USF enters their Saturday matchup against Louisville with a 4-20 record under head coach Jeff Scott, and Louisville opened up as 14-point home favorite. But even with their struggles, they run the ball extremely well, and use it to try and control the entire flow of the game. Conversely, run defense currently is one of Louisville's biggest weaknesses as of right now.
Led by running backs Brian Battie and Jaren Mangha, as well as quarterback Gerry Bohanon, USF has a rushing offense that puts up 204.0 yards per game, which ranks 42nd nationally.
Then take into account how bad Louisville's rushing defense has been to start the year, it only accentuates the potential for an upset bid. Through three games, the Cardinals are giving up an average of 201.7 rushing yards per game, which comes in at 117th nationally out of the 131 schools at the FBS level.
Not only are the Bulls able to get nearly anything they want on the ground, they eat up the clock in the process. For example, against Florida, USF was able to run 74 plays and had the ball for 36:19 of the game. By contrast, the Gators only got off 48 plays and had the ball for 23:41. Had it not been for a botched snap and bad hold on USF's final drive, they could have pulled off the upset as a three-score underdog.
Considering Louisville's had offensive struggles of their own, putting up 418.7 yards per game but only coming away with 19.3 points, fewer opportunities on that side of the ball is far from what the Cardinals need. Containing the USF run game will be tantamount to a UofL win.
USF Eager to Build on Positive Performance Against Florida
USF entered last week's game at Florida as a 23.5-point underdog, and still nearly came out of The Swamp with an upset win. Had it not been for a bad snap and bad hold on two consecutive plays on their final drive of the game, they might have pulled it off. Instead, they fell just short, losing 31-28.
While the Bulls are certainly unhappy with the loss, it was a game that shows that there is some very real improvement in the team after a poor showing to start the year. They're ready to build on that performance when they travel up to Louisville to face the Cardinals.
"Our guys are disappointed, coaches are disappointed because we had a real opportunity there to win the game," Bulls head coach Jeff Scott said. :But there's also confidence that comes from that. ... There's a lot of positives in there. But it's time for us to kind of take that next step and be able to finish it, and we'll just continue to improve. We'll get those opportunities."
(Photo via Jared Anderson - State of Louisville/Louisville Report)
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