In case you haven’t heard, the Virginia Tech Hokies have a big game this weekend. The Hokies travel to Louisville to face the No. 13 Louisville Cardinals. We’ll have a full preview of the game out later, including how to watch or stream.
But in a quest to learn all about the Cardinals, we spoke with “CardinalStrong” over at our sister site here on SB Nation, Card Chronicle, to give us the lowdown on the 2023 Louisville Cardinals.
Is Jeff Brohm the biggest difference between this year’s team and last? He appears to be a massive upgrade from the previous staff.
I think the answer here has to be yes, but it’s not just the on-field stuff people often point to, I think it’s a multitude of factors as to why this staff turned things around quickly. I can give you the condensed version, but bringing back home a coach who played, and played well, at the university helps, him bringing some family and friends on the staff who also played here and/or previously coached here also helps. Louisville is a unique animal as it’s a big city without a pro-sports team, so you have the advantages of living in a larger city with plenty of things to sell/do but avoid the disadvantages of fighting for attention with a pro squad. The trade-off, of course, is you lose a bit of the “college town” vibes in a metropolitan area, but the fans will back you if they believe you are committed. The previous staff did not give that vibe and showed evidence of such flirting with other positions. With a chunk of fans checking out, seeing some of the same mistakes repeatedly each week on field, and no real hype machine behind the program to sell what was going on behind the scenes or what the future held....it was ringing hollow for many.
This new staff brought a sense of nostalgia, yes, but that can wear off quickly without results. Brohm sold the fans on having a winner’s mentality, and he jumped into the portal to build a team that could win this year, not in two years or three years, but something they could compete with on day one. He also sold the hype of putting importance on big games (something previous staff downplayed), and it helps that he is really good at winning those most of the time. Beating Notre Dame in year one was big, and a potential win over Kentucky later this year helps plant the flag that he is not messing around with getting back to owning the state from a recruiting standpoint and results standpoint. The feeling around the program is obviously different, that’s easy to say when you’re sitting at 7-1, but I think most fans are equally excited about the next 3-4 years as they are with what we see now. That is 100% to do with what the new staff has done across the board.
How good is QB Jack Plummer?
Depends upon when you ask. Full disclosure: as a lifelong Louisville fan but Purdue graduate, I watched Plummer play for the Boilers for three seasons....and I was nervous when they brought him in. He was a good quarterback but inconsistent and a bit unreliable in pressure situations with decision-making. My fear was that his big numbers at Cal last year mostly came in non-pressure situations trailing by two touchdowns or more, and would we see the Plummer of old in tight games? My fears have been “somewhat” relieved, but we have absolutely seen poor decisions and inconsistent throws cost the Cards points and, ultimately, their lone loss (I know, I know, not one person loses a game...etc...) with multiple turnovers inside the opponent 30 against Pitt a couple of weeks ago. On the flip side, his play at times has helped put Louisville in a position to win games, and it’s hard to argue that he’s not meeting expectations leading a team with a 7-1 record with a direct path to the ACC Championship. The narrative in weeks past has been to get pressure on him, and I think that still applies, but Brohm showed last week we don’t need Plummer to throw it 40 times to win; the offense can be led by the ground game and one of the best backs in the country in Jawhar Jordan.
Other than Jawhar Jordan, who are some players to watch on offense?
At the start of the season, Jordan and Jamari Thrash (WR) were the ones getting the most press as it pertained to offensive production, and thus far, it’s held true. Thrash is a weapon in space as he has great speed and great elusiveness. Teams have been putting some over-the-top help on him recently to avoid the long ball, but he can still eat you up with crossing routes and out patterns if need be. While Louisville has leaned on the run as of late, I think Thrash and/or Kevin Coleman sees some early targets this week, and they try and get them going to create space up front. Thrash has only scored one touchdown in the last three weeks despite averaging about 90yd/g, so I’m sure Brohm would love to see him get some more red zone targets if possible.
Tell us about former Hokie Bryan Hudson. How is he doing with the Cardinals?
Absolute rock of the O-line. His versatility in seasons past has helped with depth, but having him at center is one of the more underrated pieces of this team, in my opinion. He’s consistent, he’s a leader, and he’s fully embraced the life of a Louisville athlete excelling in not only football but throwing the shot as well for the Track & field team. When he came over it was a nice addition to add to the group we already had, but it’s tough to see where they would be as a unit without his leadership over the last couple of years. Big fan.
How do you feel about the Louisville defense?
Exceeded my expectations so far, without question. The Cards lost some NFL talent up front last year and some depth in the middle. I fully expected the Top 10 scoring defense from 2022 to drop into that 35-40 range nationally, and although they still sit inside the Top 20 (#19), their PPG average so far is actually less than last season (18ppg). While not getting home as often as they did in 2022 (50 sacks/97TFL) it’s hard to replicate being #1 in the nation. They are still getting enough pressure to disrupt the play and force a quick decision by the QB or the RB behind the line, and it helps that Ashton Gillotte returned in peak performance mode and has been semi-unblockable all year up front, with help from Dez Tell, Mason Reiger, Ramon Puryear, and a few other friends. The pressure has allowed the secondary to avoid being put in a bad spot very often, although if time is given, they have shown some vulnerability at times with the midrange stuff. If throwing the ball is the goal, I’d say stick to the script of most other ACC teams and avoid Quincy Riley on the outside. He’s pretty dang good.
What are the overall strengths and weaknesses of this team?
They work too hard, and they care too much....oh, sorry, that was a copy/paste from my job application. I think eight games in, we are starting to see the identity of the team. Many of us guessed what a Jeff Brohm team would look like this summer, and while some of those concepts are there, they have shown the ability to adapt to the strengths of this team, which is an unappreciated skill by many of the best coaching staffs. While an outsider may expect Brohm to have his QB slinging it all over the field, he has done a great job with taking what opponents give them. If you let Jawhar and Issac Guerendo get 6-7 yards a pop, they’ll eat on that all day and beat you 17-7 or 23-0 (see Duke), but if you want to force Plummer to air it out and you don’t have the skill players in the secondary, they can beat you 56-28 as well (see Boston College).
If I had to point out areas of concern, I’d say Plummer’s consistency is near the top. If he is on, he can make about any throw necessary, but if he’s off, it makes it incredibly challenging to get anything going on offense. While college football fans are nuts in general, it’s not often you see the fanbase of a 7-1 team looking at backup QB options during that run, but in at least three games, the “mob mentality” has been to pull Plummer and let QB2 have a shot.. it’s been that rough to watch. While bad throws or sacks are frustrating, the major issue is ball security, as some of his turnovers have been backbreakers in the red zone or right outside of it, effectively taking points off the board. That just can’t happen with a sixth-year QB. On the other side of the ball, I’d say purposefully attempting to limit the Cards’ pressure by keeping an extra man in the backfield or doubling up on the tight end would create some concern as to how the second level would keep coverage. Teams have had success in the past when we only rush three or have difficulty getting home. Letting teams slash you for 8-10yd plays and put together 12 play drives to shorten the game is a recipe Louisville has no desire to taste. On paper, even with the resurgence of VT the last few weeks, it looks like this is a 10-15pt game for the Cards...BUT...something has been telling me all week we’re going to have a tight one late with these two teams.