LOUISVILLE, Ky - Heading into the 2021 season, the offensive line was viewed as not only a strength on that side of the ball, but potentially one of the stronger units on the team as a whole. It is one the more experienced position groups on the entire roster, as the Cardinals returned four of their five starters from last year.
But through the first two games of the season, the offensive line has been disappointing. Both in the run game and in pass protection, they haven’t been generating nearly the push that was expected of this group, partially leading to both a somewhat limited rushing attack, and a passing game that isn’t able to meet its potential.
“We know we're not living up to our expectations, and that some things aren't going our way,” redshirt junior offensive guard Caleb Chandler said. “It's been hard looking at film the last couple of games, because we're literally just a couple guys away from breaking things open.”
The line has been a major contributor to the slow starts Louisville has experienced in both their season opener vs. Ole Miss and home opener vs. Eastern Kentucky. It has had difficulty maintaining blocks to both create rushing lanes and a clean pocket, resulting in the Cardinals averaging 3.3 yards per carry, and quarterback Malik Cunningham throwing for 113 yards in both first halves combined.
That being said, Chandler believes the disappointing start by the offensive line is very much correctable. After taking a deep dive into the film, he thinks it boils down to simply fine tuning their technique and fundamentals. Although, that doesn’t make watching it play out in the film room any easier to watch.
“We’re literally two inches away from a two-yard gain that should be a 25-yard gain. That's the part that hurts the most, and it hurts because there's so many plays like that too,” he said. “We just got to do the right technique, so things can be clearer for the running back, can be clearer for Malik if he needs to pull it or not.”
With UCF coming to town, the offensive line will have to correct a lot of these mistakes in a hurry. Powered by an incredibly athletic front seven, the Knights are allowing just 22.0 rushing yards per game through their first two games.
“They love to come off the ball,” Chandler said. “Especially their two interior guys, I'm not even talking about Big Kat (Bryant). Their two interior guys love to come off the ball, so we got to match their physicality, their pad levels.”
Chandler believes that increasing the amount of push they generate, such as driving guys off the ball to the point where they get to the defensive side of the line of scrimmage, will be the key to the offensive line’s success. While the offensive line hasn’t demonstrated a great ability to do that in the first two games, he is confident they can rebound moving forward.
“Everybody's ready, we just got to have that mental part, and then remember our techniques, remember the step with this foot, keep a base and things like that,” he said. “That's our big thing right there: stay in our training, and what we trained over this summer for. I love them boys, and them boys are gonna be just fine.”
(Photo of Louisville Players via Cindy Rice Shelton)
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