LOUISVILLE, Ky. - With the Louisville football program heading into their first bye week of the 2020 season, this week we'll be handing out grades for every position group on the roster. Monday's focus will be on the the offensive side of things, and Wednesday we will take a look at the defense & special teams.
The Cardinals sit at 1-2 on the season and winless in conference play after a season-opening victory vs. WKU & losses vs. Miami and at Pitt.
I didn't want to assign a grade this low since a lot, albeit not all, of Malik Cunningham's struggles have not been of his own doing. But the Montgomery, Al native threw just five interceptions in all of the 2019 season, but has already matched that total in 2020 just three games in. He has self-admittedly not played to the best of his ability so far this season, with even head coach Scott Satterfield calling his performance against Miami "average". That being said, he has still thrown for seven touchdowns and 757 yards - both of which top out the ACC - so he hasn't been awful. Hopefully he can use the bye week to recover after having to be carted off the field towards the end of the Pitt game.
Running Backs: B
The Cardinals' run-first offense averaged 212.8 yards per game on the ground a season ago, but Louisville has yet to meet this rushing mark so far in 2020. To be fair, all three defenses the Cards have faced have stellar defenses lines, which undoubtedly plays a factor into them not receiving a lower grade. While Javian Hawkins' 104.3 yards per game is around 13 yards under his average from last season, he already has three touchdowns through three games - whereas he had nine through thirteen in 2019. Hassan Hall has seen some improvement so far when healthy, as his average of 5.9 yards per carries is better than his 4.6 average from last year, and is better than Hawkins' 5.3 average this year.
Wide Receivers: B+
Sure, defenses are starting to adjust to the speed that Louisville has on the outside. But Malik Cunningham has had a few overthrows or inaccurate passes and the coaches' play calling hasn't been completely conducive to a successful passing attack. But Louisville is still averaging 14.0 yards per completion, Dez Fitzpatrick is averaging a career-best 66.0 yards per game and Braden Smith is shaping to have a breakout year. Tutu Atwell's is YPG & YPC averages are far below what they were in 2020 and Justin Marshall has been largely disappointing as the new WR3, but both should eventually settle in as the season progresses.
Tight Ends: C-
Before I further expand, I do have to give Ean Pfeifer & Marshon Ford credit as they have hauled in three of the seven receiving touchdowns so far this season and have shown flashes of brilliance and tenacity. Plus they have been heavily under-utilized in the passing attack which isn't necessarily their fault. But at the same time haven't done the best job from a blocking standpoint - especially Ford. Granted, it's hard to block against All-ACC caliber DEs in Quincy Roche, Patrick Jones III, etc., so the hope is they will only get better.
Offensive Line: C-
The offensive line had a pretty good start to the season against the Hilltoppers & Canes, but all their existing issues that have been lingering since last season and that partially bled into this season were put on full display against Pitt. Malik Cunningham had little to no time to throw the ball, and only one of Javian Hawkins' thirteen rushes went for more than four yards. So far this season, the line is giving up 3.67 sacks and 10.67 tackles for loss per game, both of which are worse than their marks form last season.
(Photo of Malik Cunningham: Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports)
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