Where Louisville Football's Offense Needs The Most Improvement

Matthew McGavic

In his first year as the head coach of the Louisville Cardinals football program, Scott Satterfield and his coaching staff completely revitalized the program. Outside of the overall culture change, one of the most noticeable differences came from the offensive side of the ball.

In Bobby Petrino's final year, all the offense could muster was a paltry 352.6 yards and 19.8 points per game. Those marks were good for 108th & 121st in the nation out of 130 FBS teams.

Insert the new staff, and those numbers skyrocket to 447.3 yards and 33.1 points per game, which comes out to 24th and 30th respectively. The Cards also featured their first 1,000-yard rushing & receiving duo in 20 years, thanks to running back Javian Hawkins & wide receiver Tutu Atwell.

As high-flying as Louisville's offense was in 2019, they still were not perfect. In fact, thanks to research from ESPN's David Hale, there's one particular area where the Cards actually struggled quite a bit: 

On first down.

Hale took a look at the Power Five vs Power Five statistics for: Yards per Play on First Down, Average Conversion Distance on Second Down & Rate of First Down Plays that Gained Zero of Lost Yardage. He found that Louisville was near the bottom in every one of these categories.

Against Power Five competition, the Cards averaged 4.98 yards per play on first down. That alone doesn't sound too bad, until you apply that contextually to how other P5 teams performed. In reality, that comes out to 59th out of 65 total P5 (plus Notre Dame) teams. Even 3-9 Georgia Tech outperformed Louisville here (5.67 YPP).

Then take into account penalties. Louisville committed 93 of them in 2019 (107th in FBS), with a number of them coming on first down and impacting the distance to go. In fact, Louisville's average conversion distance on second down was just 8.7 yards - the second worst in Power Five vs. Power Five (Hale doesn't reveal who is No. 1).

Now that leaves us with the final metric, and it isn't much better for the Cardinals. 38.04% of Louisville's plays on first down against P5 competition either resulted in no gain, or a loss in yardage. That was the third-worst in Power Five vs. Power Five, behind only NC State (38.71%) and Pitt (38.18%). Just behind Louisville at No. 4? Rutgers at 37.07%, who went 2-10 and 0-9 in the Big Ten last season.

This is not to discount what Louisville has done overall on offense. Clearly Satterfield's inside/outside zone scheme is working and the sky is the limit as the staff continues to transform the roster via recruiting. But as it pertains to this upcoming season, working on first down performance is probably the most pertinent issue on the offensive side of the ball.

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