LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In 2020, Louisville’s football program saw a surprise turnaround on the defensive side of the ball.
While the Cardinals only went 4-7 that year, defensive coordinator Bryan Brown led a defense that allowed just 369.1 yards per game, which ranked 39th in FBS. That was a far cry from the 483.5 yards per game allowed in 2018, the year before he joined head coach Scott Satterfield.
Louisville has, by definition, made some improvements in 2021 by going 6-6 in the regular season to return to a bowl game, but the defense has taken a very noticeable setback. The Cardinals allowed 403.3 yards and 27.3 points per game, 84th and 77th respectively in FBS.
The Cardinals are retaining 10 players who started a game last season, but Brown knows there’s work to be done between now and the start of the season. Louisville recently kicked off spring training, and the fourth-year defensive coordinator set three main goals for his guys in the spring: become more consistent, limit explosive plays and create more turnovers.
“You see glimpses in every game where we look like a dominant defense and then you see glimpses in a game where it’s like, ‘oh my god, is that the JV team over there? ‘” Brown said. “That’s the very first thing we need to improve on is being consistent.”
Satterfield echoed similar sentiments after the very first day of practice and previously said Louisville needs to improve in situational calling play on both sides of the ball. One of those areas for defense was in the red zone, as their defensive conversion percentage of 89.8 was 110th in the nation.
As far as explosive plays go, this is where Louisville suffered a lot. They made 83 passes of 15 yards or more, as well as 77 rushes of at least 10 yards. While only 16.4% of the opponent’s run attempts were chunk plays, this increases to 29.5% of their successful passes.
“When you can limit explosive plays, now you make that offense drive on the football field,” Brown said. “You’re hoping that at some point they make a mistake or you make a play. You want these guys to score field goals and not give them free touchdowns. Whether it’s a deep ball, a run or one of our guys don’t fit into a gap in defensive quarters or anything.”
Then there are the reversals. On the face of it, Louisville has done a better job in that department, getting 15-12 in 2020, though that mark is still good for just 82nd in FBS.
But a deeper dive into the stats shows the Cardinals still have a lot of work to do. According to Football Outsiders, Louisville’s turnover rate, which is the percentage of opponent’s offensive orders that end in a turnover, is only 122nd in the nation at 6.8%.
“When you’re able to stay on top, coverage helps pressure, and pressure helps coverage,” Brown said. “So we have to do a great job of being consistent with both at the same time in the same place.”
Louisville will kick off the 2022 season at Syracuse on Saturday, September 3.
(Photo by Bryan Brown: John Sommers II – Courier Journal Special via Imagn Content Services, LLC)
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