Yesterday, we chronicled Louisville’s offense and their new head coach Bobby Petrino. Today, we discuss Petrino’s not-as-sexy defense and special teams. He takes over a Cardinals team that held opponents to 12.2 points per game- second in the nation. That being said, the 2014 Cardinals defense bear few similarities to Charlie Strong’s bullying defense.
Last season, Louisville’s imposing 4-3 defense consistently won the battle-of-the-trenches. This year, Petrino pried Georgia’s former DC Todd Grantham to employ a speedy 3-4.
The looming problem, though, is there lack of experience on the line due to attrition. They only return two players who took snaps on the line-Sheldon Rankins and B.J. Dubose- who combined for eight tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks last year. Currently, the Cardinals have no solution at the all-important nosetackle spot.
Grantham, however, will rely plenty on his more experienced linebackers and secondary for intricate zone and blitz schemes to mount pressure and force turnovers. Junior James Burgess, the Cardinals second-leading tackler last season, will star as an inside linebacker. The 6-3, 243 senior Lorenzo Mauldin moves from defensive end to blitzing outside linebacker. Lined up on the opponent from first-round pick Marcus Smith last season, the monstrous Mauldin had 9.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss. Six other linebackers contributed last season with a slew of highly-touted recruits eager to crack the lineup.
The secondary will dearly miss head-cracking safety, and Jets first round pick, Calvin Pryor and his counterpart Hakeem Smith. However, their two stud cornerbacks, Terrell Floyd and Charles Gaines, will pick up the slack from the inexperienced safeties.
Due to the new schemes and graduation-in addition to steeper in-conference competition-this team will not be a top-10 ranked defense. That being said, it’s still fraught with freakish athletes and playmakers that should keep the Cardinals among the best defenses in the ACC.
Everybody returns from a very solid special teams unit last season. Kicker John Wallace made 52-54 extra points, 18-20 field goals inside 40 yards and 2-4 from beyond 40 yards. Wallace is consistent, but lacks a big boot, scoring touchbacks on only 17.5 percent of kicks.
Senior punter Ryan Johnson has been a major asset for the Cardinals' field position. Out of 39 punts, he knocked 11 inside the 20, 12 were fair catches and five for touchbacks. His average punt is an outstanding 41.2 yards.
The lockdown cornerback Gaines seconds as a home-run hitting return man and a quarterback’s best friend. The 5-11 speedster averaged 30.1 yards on 10 returns and took one the distance.
The Cardinals’ playmakers and talent trumps the Demon Deacons’ youth and inexperience at the quarterback position. Unless Riley Skinner comes back to muster some 2006 magic, Louisville will take the Orange Bowl rematch.
Wake Forest: 13