Notre Dame Football 2014 Off-Season Preview: Louisville Cardinals

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame will meet Louisville on the football field for the first time this fall.

LOUISVILLE CARDINALS

Louisville_medium

2013 Record: 12-1

F/+ Rank: 12

Wins: Ohio, Eastern Kentucky, Kentucky, Florida International, Temple, Rutgers, USF, UConn, Houston, Memphis, Cincinnati, Miami

Losses: UCF

~~~

Season Recap

The Cardinals weren't challenged until the second week of October when they let a 17-0 lead slip to 17-10 against Rutgers. They'd finish the game off with another touchdown and the win. The next week, against the only ranked opponent faced all season, Louisville blew a 28-7 lead in the third quarter and ultimately fell to UCF 38-35. They cruised over their next two games but stumbled down the stretch in close wins over Houston, Memphis, and in overtime against Cincinnati. Their loss to UCF prevented a major bowl invite and instead Louisville out-gained Miami by 380 yards in a blowout Citrus Bowl victory.

Series: N/A

Notre Dame is familiar with Louisville on the basketball court and in other sports but this will be the first meeting between the schools on the football field.

Coach Resume: Bobby Petrino (41-9, 2nd Stint, 5th Year Overall )

Three years ago Petrino was one of the hottest coaches in the country. He had compiled 4 seasons of 10+ wins through his first 8 years of coaching and was 21-5 at Arkansas from 2010-11. Then this happened and he was fired at Arkansas. Petrino is making his second stint at Louisville. He initially left the Cardinals in 2007 and signed a 5-year $24 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons. After dealing with the Michael Vick dog fighting scandal he didn't even make it through a full season in the NFL and signed with Arkansas. Following his motorcycle accident and firing from the Razorbacks, Petrino sat out the 2012 season and then went 8-4 last season at Western Kentucky.

Linemen Situation: Solid

Four offensive linemen starters return from 2013, leaving only the right guard position open after a pair of athletes in Kamran Joyner and Chris Acosta split time their last fall. The Cardinals did lose three linemen to transfer in late May--including Abraham Garcia who started 2 games last year and might have been the favorite to fill the right guard position--so that will impact the team's depth a little bit.

Louisville is losing 3 out of 4 starters on the defensive line, though. Defensive end Marcus Smith (13 starts, 42 tackles, 18.5 TFL, 14.5 sacks, 1st round pick to Philadelphia), defensive tackle Roy Philon (12 starts, 41 tackles, 12 TFL, 4 sacks) and nose tackle Brandon Dunn (13 starts, 43 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1 sack) are all gone and leave a lot of production and experience behind.

Senior defensive end Lorenzo Maudlin does return and was very productive with 40 tackles, 12 TFL, and 9.5 sacks last year. Their depth will be tested but senior tackle B.J. Dubose (16 tackles, 4 TFL, 1.5 sacks), junior tackle Sheldon Rankings (1 start, 15 tackles, 4 TFL, 3 sacks), redshirt sophomore defensive end Nick Dawson (14 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 sack), and senior defensive end Deiontrez Mount (9 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 0.5 sack) have all been involved in the rotation and offer some decent experience.

Returning Quarterback: No

Teddy Bridgewater departs after a three-year starting career that saw him lead Louisville to 30 total wins and a 23-3 record over his final two seasons. A first round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in this past April's NFL Draft, he threw for 9,817 yards over his career with 72 touchdowns and just 24 interceptions.

Redshirt sophomore Will Gardner appears poised to take over the starting job. A big athlete at 6-5, 230 pounds he's already overcome two ACL tears in his career and got some playing time last year throwing for 112 yards and two touchdowns. The Cardinals also have redshirt freshman Kyle Bolin, former JUCO transfer and senior Brett Nelson, and incoming sophomore JUCO transfer Pat Thomas also competing this fall. Penn State transfer Tyler Ferguson also is on the roster but has to sit out 2014.

Biggest Problem for 2014: Finding a Quarterback

Gardner has impressed early and the fact that he already appears to have locked down the starting job speaks to his comfort in the new system. Plus, Bobby Petrino has done a very good job of developing quarterbacks over the years. Still, they are losing one of the game's best quarterbacks and that's no easy task.

Biggest Strength for 2014: Wide Receiver

Louisville lost Damian Copeland (58 receptions, 780 yards, 5 TD) but brings back the bulk of its pass catchers. The most important of whom is DeVante Parker. The senior decided to return for another season and is one of the top receiver prospects in the 2015 Draft following a 55 catch, 885 yards, and 12 TD season.

In addition, the Cardinals also welcome back senior Eli Rogers (44 receptions, 536 yards, 4 TD), top tight end fifth-year senior Gerald Christian (28 receptions, 426 yards, 4 TD), fifth-year wideout Kai De La Cruz (15 receptions, 271 yards, 3 TD), fifth-year wideout Robert Clark (25 receptions, 219 yards, 1 TD), plus the highly touted rising sophomore James Quick (6 receptions, 73 yards).

Offensive Scheme: Multiple Spread

Petrino is known to throw a lot of different looks at a defense. Shotgun with 5-wide, Under center with power sweeps, some Pistol, etc. it's a varied offense. At his first stint at Louisville he was tilted towards the run but swung towards throwing the ball more while at Arkansas. Last year, Petrino ran the ball 53.4% of the time. With the toys he has to work with at receiver I'd guess the Cardinals will be throwing the ball a lot in 2014.

Special Teams: 4/4

Redshirt junior John Wallace will enter his third year as the placekicker. He's 36 for 45 in his career. At punter fifth-year senior Ryan Johnson returns for his third season as starter too. Three different players returned at least 7 kickoffs last year with with corner Charles Gaines (10 returns, 301 yards, 1 TD) leading the pack. He returns as does receiver Robert Clark and his 9 returns for 142 yards. A trio of receivers returned punts last year and they all return.

Famous Alum: Robert Nardelli

He earned an MBA from Louisville in 1971. Nardelli first worked for General Electric and eventually became the CEO of GE Power Systems. After leaving the company, he became the CEO at Home Depot in 2000. Seven years later Nardelli became the CEO at Chrysler, a position he stepped down from in 2009.

Random Stat: 251.5

That is the average amount of yards surrendered by Lousiville during the 2013 season. That number was the best in the country.

Summary

If history is any indicator (TCU, Utah, to a certain extent Boise State) Louisville is going to struggle stepping up into a tougher conference. There's something to be said about Louisville's ability to win some big games under Charlie Strong but people said the same thing about the TCU's of the world too. It's a different ball game having to play tougher opponents across the board for an entire conference slate.

This move to the ACC combined with the loss of 3 first round draft picks is going to make a tough first year for Bobby Petrino. The Cardinals typically had a very good to great offense with Bridgewater but it was their defense last year that really made them super dangerous. Having to replace 7 starters from last year on defense is going to be quite the chore.

That said, Louisville's schedule certainly isn't a murderer's row. They have home games against Miami and Florida State plus road games at Clemson and Notre Dame. The rest of the teams (Murray State, Virginia, FIU, Wake Forest, Syracuse, NC State, Boston College, Kentucky) offer a pretty manageable route to 8 wins. This is a team that can go 9-3 without a big miracle.

Petrino has to be pretty excited with how things are shaping up on offense. A veteran line returns, a bunch of receivers are back, plus a few nice options at running back. He's done really well developing quarterbacks so the passing game might not take a huge step back without Bridgewater. A fairly strong offense and decent defense could lead to a successful first year in the ACC for Louisville.

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