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Determined Louisville Offensive Line Fueling Improved Offensive Efficiency

After a slow start to the season, an improvement in technique and determination has revitalized Louisville's offensive line - and it's raising the ceiling for the Cardinals' offense.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Over the first two games of the 2021 season, the offensive issues for the Louisville football program were well documented. While the Cardinals had put up 24 and 30 points against Ole Miss and FCS foe Eastern Kentucky, respectively, they only averaged 398 yards of total offense during that span.

While a myriad of factors played into their slow offensive start, the crux of the issues on that side of the ball was the play of the offensive line.

Overall effort did not seem to be there, as did cohesion between the five starters. On numerous occasions, four would be doing their jobs, but then one would cause the play to get blown up. In those two games, they allowed 10 tackles for loss and three sacks.

Since that rough two game stretch to open up the season, the guys in the offensive line room have morphed into the unit many thought they would be heading into the season.

In their last five games, they have not only done a tremendous job of keeping quarterback Malik Cunningham upright, but opening rushing lanes for running backs. After allowing 10 TFLs in the first two games, they have allowed 15 in the last five, and haven't allowed a sack over the last two games.

As you can imagine, the offense has looked much more efficient since then. The Cardinals are averaging 470.8 yards per game over the last five games - crossing the 500-yard mark three times - as well 33.6 points per game.

The offensive line's best performance of the year came most recently in Louisville's 28-14 win over Boston College. They did not allow a single sack or tackle for loss, and paved the way for Cunningham and Louisville's running backs to rush for 331 yards - the most since 2019 when the Cardinals ran for 370 against Syracuse. Guard Caleb Chandler was even named co-offensive lineman of the week.

"They opened up some big holes Saturday," head coach Scott Satterfield said. "It gives us confidence to know that no matter what we're calling, we're going to be in plus yardage. That just keeps you on the sticks and enables you to have an opportunity to at least pick up a third down."

Part of that, at least according to offensive line coach Jack Bicknell, is that Louisville is starting to get their execution rolling on outside zone runs. That has been a bread and butter play during Satterfield's tenure as head coach, and early on, Louisville had trouble establishing it on a consistent basis.

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Other factors are at work here, too. Ahead of Louisville's game against UCF, the offensive line put an added emphasis on the mental aspect of their game - more specifically their technique and determination. Offensive guard Caleb Chandler believes this has really manifested itself onto the field since their game against Wake Forest.

"Now, we see guys doing the right technique, doing what coach is asking us to do, and guys are coming off the ball," he said. "We're winning the ball on the other side, we're playing on the defensive side, which is great as an offensive line. It's definitely that the technique has improved, and our "want to" has gotten better."

In fact, their overall drive might be the most noticeable difference in the offensive line since the start of the season. Bicknell noticed that during their game against Boston College, not only was their "want to" there, as Chandler put it, but noted that his guys looked "mad" - and that proved to be the difference.

"Either go backwards and feel sorry for yourself (following their recent close losses), or you get mad," Bicknell said. "I think our guys kind of got mad, and kind of have a chip on their shoulder. No way in heck were they going to lose the BC at home."

He even believes that this group is "not far off" from potentially being the best college offensive line he has ever coached, as he proclaimed in the preseason. While there are some areas they need to continue to improve in, such as short third and second downs, Bicknell just wants them to keep fighting.

"I'm real proud of them. But again, who cares about last week? We got to go prove it every week," he said. "I think we are improving, but we need to keep bringing it every week, for sure."

(Photo of Louisville Players via Cindy Rice Shelton)

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