LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Back in 2020, the Louisville football program had a surprise turnaround on the defensive side of the ball.
While the Cardinals went just 4-7 that year, defensive coordinator Bryan Brown led a defense that allowed only 369.1 yards per game, which ranked 39th in FBS. It was a far cry from the 483.5 yards per game allowed in 2018, the year before he and head coach Scott Satterfield arrived.
Louisville did make, by definition, some improvements in 2021 by going 6-6 in the regular season to get back to a bowl game, but the defense took a very noticeable step back. The Cardinals allowed 403.3 yards and 27.3 points per game, which came in at 84th and 77th in FBS, respectively.
The Cardinals do retain 10 players who started a game last season, but Brown knows there is work to be done between now and the season opener. Louisville recently kicked off spring practice, and the fourth-year defensive coordinator set three main goals for his guys in spring ball: become more consistent, limit explosive plays, and create more turnovers.
"You see glimpses in every game to 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 out there?'," Brown said. "That's the very first thing we have to get better at is being consistent."
Satterfield echoed similar sentiments after the very first day of practice, and has previously stated that Louisville needs to get better at situational play calling on both sides of the ball. One such area for the defense was in the red zone, as their 89.8 defensive conversion percentage was 110th in the nation.
As it pertains to explosive plays, that's one are where Louisville suffered greatly. They surrendered 83 passes of 15 yards or greater, as well as 77 rushes that went at least 10 yards. While only 16.4 percent of opponent's rushing attempts were chunk plays, that bumps up to 29.5 percent of their completed passes.
"When you can limit explosive plays, now you make that offense drive the football field," Brown said. "You're hoping at some point they make a mistake, or you make a play. You want to make those guys kick field goals, and not give them free touchdowns. Whether it's a deep post ball, whether it's a run, or one of our guys misfit a gap in quarters defensive, or whatever the case may be."
Then there's the turnovers. At face value, Louisville did a better job in this department, securing 15 as opposed to 12 in 2020, although this mark was still good for just 82nd in FBS.
But a deeper dive into the stats shows that the Cardinals still have a lot of work to do. According to Football Outsiders, Louisville's turnover rate, which is the percentage of opponent offensive drives that end in a turnover, is just 122nd in the nation at 6.8 percent.
"When you're able to stay on top, the coverage helps pressure, and the pressure helps coverage," Brown said. "So we got to do a great job being consistent with both of those at the same time in the same place."
Louisville will kickoff the 2022 season at Syracuse on Saturday, Sept. 3.
(Photo of Bryan Brown: John Sommers II – Special to the Courier Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC)
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16′ Sport Administration graduate of the University of Louisville, and native of the Derby City. Has been covering the Cardinals in various capacities since 2017, with a brief stop in Atlanta, Ga. on the Georgia Tech beat also with Sports Illustrated. He is also a co-host of the ‘From The Pink Seats’ and ‘3rd & Central’ podcasts on the State of Louisville network. Video gamer, bourbon drinker and dog lover. Find him on Twitter at @Matt_McGavic


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