Things got out of hand for the Louisville Cardinals last season. Bobby Petrino, who a few jobs ago ran out on his Atlanta Falcons without so much as a goodbye speech, wore out his welcome big-time, as his team, just two years after a national ranking and a Heisman Trophy winner, looked very much like a squad that went into the tank. The Cardinals finished 2-10 straight-up and an even lousier 1-11 against the number, and in point of fact, Petrino didn’t even finish with them, having been fired with two games remaining in the nightmare.
Now the Cards, looking to pick up the pieces, have brought in a nee regime. But can they adapt quickly enough to compete with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish? The season starts on Monday night at Cardinal Stadium (no longer with the “Papa John’s” designation) at 8 PM ET.
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The new coach isn’t familiar to a lot of people, but his performance at his previous stop put him on the radar of a lot of athletic directors. Scott Satterfield played quarterback at Appalachian State, and became the head coach there in 2013, right before the program’s transition into FBS (Division I) ball. He then proceeded to win three Sun Belt Conference championship and win all three bowl games his Mountaineers played in.
It would be difficult to refer to Satterfield as a turnaround artist, because he hasn’t taken the reins of any downtrodden programs yet. So it would be safe to say that while he may be a bright young mind in the coaching business, he may be facing a rather daunting task here.
Notre Dame is dealing with some injuries, but there are plenty of elements in place to achieve another campaign with double-digit wins. All top-notch programs are going to lose players to the NFL, but the Irish are bringing back six starters on defense, as well as seven on offense, including quarterback Ian Book, who completed 68% of his passes.
In the NCAA football betting odds that have been posted on this game, the Irish are favored:
Notre Dame Fighting Irish -18.5 (-103)
Louisville Cardinals +18.5 (-107)
Over 54.5 points (-105)
Under 54.5 points (-105)
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A lot of times football coaches will talk about how they will have to “change the culture” around a program. Well, Satterfield will be doing that here for sure, but he is also changing his own culture, because he is AppState through and through. As we mentioned, he was both player and coach at the school, and when the Mountaineers had their greatest moment ever – the 34-32 win over Michigan in 2007 – he was right there in the sidelines, in the role of a quarterback coach.
The Louisville challenge was just too good to pass up, but make no mistake – this is an extraordinary challenge, particularly in the first season, as he takes this program from one style to another. These players were recruited with the idea that they were more suitable for an offense that relied more on the pass, so Satterfield’s way of doing things, which is more dependent on the run, makes the transition all the more difficult. How much of a problem is that? Well, last season the Cardinals ran the ball 46.9% of the time, and only twenty teams in the nation did it less often.
Meanwhile, Satterfield’s Appalachian State squad had 61.5% running plays, and that was the 15th highest percentage in the nation (out of 130 teams). So yes, things are changing, and the playbook has been simplified. Malik Cunningham may be the best run threat at quarterback, but he suffered a knee injury, which allowed Jawon Pass to overtake him in camp. And this offensive line gave up 43 sacks last season.
For a guy who likes to control the ball and win the field position battle like Satterfield does, there is surely some degree of excitement in that ten starters return on the defensive end, but let’s consider what that defense did. During a harrowing seven-game stretch last season, the Cardinals surrendered an average of 57 points a game. Over the course of the season, only two teams in the country allowed more points on a per-game basis. So even the good news comes with an ingredient that’s a little toxic.
It may be Satterfield’s team right now, but these aren’t the players he’s going to win with. In such a transition, opening up the schedule against a team like Notre Dame on national TV may be the last thing you’d want to do. The new coach will be brave about it, and this is a big impost at home. But we don’t think he’ll cover it.
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