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Louisville coaches encouraged by defensive improvement; Cardinals prepare for Georgia Tech

By Russ Brown
Kentucky Today

Louisville’s struggling football team will try to snap a two-game losing skid when it meets Georgia Tech on Friday in Atlanta, but coming off back-to-back defeats to Miami (Fla.) and Pittsburgh, at least the Cardinals have one aspect of their situation to feel upbeat about.

Courtesy of the only bright spot in last week’s 23-20 loss to the Panthers, Louisville head coach Scott Satterfield and his staff went into the current bye week encouraged by the much-improved performance of their maligned defense.

That unit came under fire after giving up 485 yards, 27 points in the second half, 8.1 yards per play, two game-changing 75-yard touchdowns — being an equal opportunity defense, one was a run, the other a pass — and a 47-yard score that put the game out of reach in a 47-34 defeat to Miami (Fla.).

Louisville’s Thurman Geathers reacts after collecting a sack against Miami (Fla.) last month. (Photo by Adam Creech)

But the defense did an about-face at Pitt, keeping Louisville (1-2, 0-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) within easy striking distance while its offense sputtered throughout. 
The difference was glaring, although the Panthers certainly aren’t an offensive juggernaut. And quarterback Kenny Pickett is no D’Eriq King, the Miami signal-caller who leads the ACC with 1,003 passing yards.

Still, it was an impressive showing that created an air of optimism that the defense can be a force the remainder of the season if it can develop some consistency.

Most impressive was that the Cards recorded 11 tackles for a loss, their most in three seasons, and three sacks while allowing 376 yards and 4.8 yards per play. Pitt’s longest rushing play was 21 yards, and Pickett completed only two of Pickett’s passes went for over 20 yards. While the Panthers’ yardage was substantial enough to produce more than 23 points, Louisville forced them into settling for three field goals in a bend but don’t break mode.

”We still don’t want to let them have 23 points on the boards,” safety Russ Yeast said. “But it’s a good starting point for what you should see from this defense. We’ve got to create more turnovers and just play more sound football. Limit our mistakes and get off the field on third down.”

Going into last weekend’s college football action, Louisville senior linebacker Dorian Etheridge leads the nation in tackles for a loss with 8.5 after getting 3.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage against Pitt. He also intercepted a pass, only the second of his career.

Junior linebacker Yasir Abdullah also stood out, contributing three tackles for loss and forcing two fumbles, one of which was recovered by Jared Goldwire to set up a touchdown.

Against Georgia Tech (1-2, 1-1 ACC) the Cards will get a chance to show that their defensive resurgence was the start of a trend and not simply an aberration. The Yellow Jackets are no slouch offensively. They’re fifth in the ACC in total offense with an average of 441.3 yards per game and freshman running back/ kick returner Jahmyr Gibbs leads the league in all-purpose yards with 197.0 per game.

Quarterback Jeff Sims has completed 55 percent of his passes for an average of 231.7 yards, but has thrown nearly three times as many interceptions (8) as touchdowns (3).

Whatever happens, Louisville cornerback Marlon Character says he and his teammates won’t pay any attention to either criticism or praise.

”We go into every game motivated and believing in each other,” he said. “We don’t really feed into the outside social media talk. We come into every game with the mindset that we are going to set a statement.”

Louisville head coach Scott Satterfield is preparing his Cardinals for Georgia Tech on Friday. (UofL photo)

COULD OUTBREAK AFFECT LOUISVILLE/NOTRE DAME?: After Georgia Tech, Louisville’s next opponent will be No. 5 Notre Dame — or at least the teams are supposed to meet on Oct. 17 in South Bend, Ind. But that game could potentially be endangered by the pandemic.

The Irish paused football action, and its game at Wake Forest this weekend was postponed due to a coronavirus outbreak. Notre Dame reported 18 positive tests among players and staff, with 25 players in isolation and 14 in quarantine. Coach Brian Kelly tied the outbreak to a pre-game meal before the Sept. 19 game against South Florida.

Satterfield was asked this week whether he was concerned that UofL’s game against the Irish might also be postponed, but responded that he was unaware of the problems on the Notre Dame campus.

“I’m not paying any attention to Notre Dame, so I really don’t know what’s going on,” Satterfield said. “I assume you’re talking about maybe the virus and contact tracing and that type of thing. All our focus is on what we need to get better here. There’s so many things out there with other teams, and this and that, I can’t spend my time worrying about that. We’ll worry about that game when it comes up, and we do that anyway.”

The Irish returned to practice Wednesday and its home game against Florida State next Saturday has so far been unaffected.

Russ Brown covers University of Louisville sports for Kentucky Today.

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