LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The 2021 regular season has now reached the midway point for the Louisville football program, and it's safe to say that things could have gone a little smoother.
After embarking on a three-game win streak following their season-opening loss to Ole Miss, the Cardinals then stumbled to a two-game losing streak heading into their bye week.
It's been far from a perfect season, as you can expect. There have been some incredible highs, some unfathomable lows, and a lot in between. To use a tired sports cliche, it has been a roller coaster of a season so far.
With the season halfway in the books, we here at Louisville Report decided to issue a report card to assess the various position groups for the Cardinals. As you can imagine, some have met or exceeded expectations, and others leave some to be desired. Take a look below:
Was there any other grade that Malik Cunningham was going to get? At the midway point of the season, he is unquestionably the MVP of this team. His 320.5 total yards per game is good for 14th in FBS, his 10 rushing touchdowns are the second-most (Marshall's Rasheen Ali), and he is responsible for 18 of Louisville's 22 touchdowns. His decision making as a passer has been great, and his ability as a runner has been superb.
Running Back: B
There has been some really solid production across the board in the running backs room. Jalen Mitchell is averaging north of four yards per carry (4.2) as the feature back, which is alway good for an offense that likes to run the ball as much as Louisville. The future looks incredibly bright for Trevion Cooley, Hassan Hall seems to have rediscovered his groove after a career day against Virginia, and even Maurice Burkley looked good in a pinch vs. FSU.
Wide Receiver: C+
It took a little bit of time for this unit to truly gel with Cunningham considering how much relative inexperience it featured, but since the start of ACC play, it's really starting to come together. There might not be a 'go-to guy' yet, but three receivers are averaging over 40 yards per game and five have double digit receptions - even though the latter includes Braden Smith, who was lost for the year. Jordan Watkins and Justin Marshall have turned into reliable targets, the future looks promising for Ahmari Huggins-Bruce, and Tyler Harrell's speed is starting to translate into production.
Tight End: B-
Is it any surprise that Marshon Ford is leading the team in receiving yards (265)? By all means, he has had a good season, but he has been a touch inconsistent. 202 of his yards came in three games, and his blocking has been okay overall. The rest of the tight end room had a slow start blocking as well, but has gotten better since the start of ACC play. Plus, they're starting to get a bit more involved in the passing game.
Offensive Line: B
It's crazy to think that the offensive line has rebounded this much after their horrible start to the season. They are both keeping a clean pocket for Cunningham (1.33 sacks allowed per game - 24th in FBS), and allowing very few negative plays (4.17 tackles for loss per game - 20th in FBS) - a far cry from the first couple years under Satterfield. Renato Brown has played outstanding football, and Michael Gonzalez has a bright future.
Defensive Line: D+
Full disclosure: some of the defensive line problems do have a little bit to do with coaching, such as the constant three-man rush. That being said, this has been a unit that has been a bit disappointing. Ashton Gillotte looks like the real deal, but YaYa Diaby has not produced like we thought he would, and the various players at nose tackle have struggled to cause any real disruption in the backfield. At this point in the season, the defensive line is responsible for only 15.5 of Louisville's 41 tackles for loss, and nine of their 18 sacks.
Inside Linebacker: C
This grade is, unfortunately, a bit of a victim of circumstance. Losing Monty Montgomery for the year due to a torn ACL was a tremendous loss, and guys like Jaylin Alderman, KJ Cloyd and Dorian Jones aren't on his level. That being said, CJ Avery has not played like we come to expect of him so far this season. That, and Nick Okeke's reps in the middle haven't been that impressive either.
Outside Linebacker: B-
Louisville has gotten good production out of both OLB spots so far. Yasir Abdullah might be the best defender on the team right now, as he leads the team in both tackles for loss and sacks, with 8.0 and 5.0, respectively. After making a position switch, Jack Fagot has blossomed over at CARD, using his pass rush and coverage skills to make a meaningful impact. Plus, Marvin Dallas has looked really good on special teams, and could see more time on defense in the near future.
I'll be honest, this grade shouldn't make sense. Kei'Trel Clark has played solid football, Kenderick Duncan and Qwynnterrio Cole have moments where they look like a good Power Five safety duo, and young guys like Greedy Vance and Trey Franklin have played well. But when you give up the tenth-most passing yards in FBS, have as many missed tackles due to bad angles or poor attempts at wrapping up as this Louisville secondary does, you're going to get a bad grade. Especially with the amount of five and six DB sets they runs.
(Photo of Trey Franklin: Cindy Rice Shelton - Louisville Report)
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