Coming off a very controversial and agonizingly frustrating loss in Winston-Salem to Wake Forest the Louisville football team looks to stabilize a season that seems to be unsure of which way it is headed. There has been a ton of conversation about the poor officiating and questionable calls from last Saturday afternoon and those are all completely legit. Had things been called differently the outcome would almost definitely gone the Cards way. Yet at this point it is what it is and fans have begun to look forward rather than back. With that being the case the discussion of the week has moved towards the struggles of the UofL defense and while the numbers have not been great I am here to tell you things are not nearly as dire as they appear.
The numbers for the UofL defense don’t look particularly pretty. They currently sit ranked 91st in Scoring defense (28.2 ppg) and 107th in Total Defense surrendering more than 434 yards per game. Those are the type of numbers that likely keep Louisville Defensive Coordinator Bryan Brown waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. And those are numbers that are very reminiscent of those in year one of the Satterfield regime taking over one of the worst defenses in college football history. But if you look inside the numbers for the team as well as their opposition they tell a different story.
When you break down UofL’s 5 games so far you will find that one of be biggest factors impacting the Cardinal defensive numbers are who they have played to date. Three of the five opponents faced so far (Ole Miss 5th, UCF 8th, Wake 15th) all rank in the Top 15 in Scoring Offense in the NCAA FBS rankings. You will also notice that 2 of those teams rank in the top 15 in total offense (Ole Miss 3rd, UCF 14th) and the other is Top 30 (Wake 30th). Those is a huge factor impacting the bottom line defensive numbers to date and serve to skew a true representation of how far along the defense has come.
Evidence of where the UofL defense has improved is much more contextual in nature. The most compelling of which is that UofL has held all 5 opponents under their season scoring average.
Ole Miss 43 points (44.8 ppg)
EKU 3 points (22 ppg)
Central Florida 35 points (41 ppg)
Florida State 23 points (25 ppg)
Wake Forest 37 points (38.4 ppg)
While the Cards hold teams significantly under their average it is clear that the UofL defense has given every team they faced trouble so far. That is a clear sign of improvement that when teams play the UofL defense they are not hitting their average numbers. That a far cry from the final season under Bobby Petrino where every team looked like the Greatest Show on Turf St. Louis Rams teams.
The UofL defense has also been much improved in some specific defensive categories that directly result in wins. They have a much improved 3rd down conversion defense at 34.3% which is the same percentage as #1 Alabama and better than #3 Iowa, #5 Cincinnati, #6 Oklahoma, #9 Michigan and #17 Ole Miss. The Card D also checks in with a strong 2.6 Sacks per game tied with Iowa, Clemson, and Michigan as well as 5 total Interceptions tied with Clemson and Virginia Tech. All of these numbers have helped UofL to an even turnover margin which was a key factor to the downfall of their 2020 campaign.
Now the biggest question facing the UofL defense this coming weekend is the health of its young stud defensive end Ashton Gillotte as they prepare for UVA and their prolific passing attack. Gillotte was injured on the first series of the game at Wake and his presence was sorely missed. The hype around the freshman was considerable and he has lived up to it looking like one of the best young pass rushers in the ACC. Having him available Saturday afternoon would be a huge boost to the Cards chances. All in all I think that the defense has shown considerable improvement even if the numbers tell a different story. Sometimes the devil is in the details and that is where you can gain some appreciation for just how far this UofL defense has come. The loss of team and defensive captain Monty Montgomery was a huge blow but the Cards have shown amazing resiliency. Will they continue this upward trajectory vs. the Cavaliers this Saturday? If they do then UofL will be 4-2 heading into their bye week and looking like a lock to go bowling this year. That would be huge.
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Raashaan Myers is the long time Co-Host of the Main Event Sports Show and Anchor for the PGN News Network in Louisville. Member of the US Basketball Writers Association and former recruiting columnist for Insidetheville.com. Lover of all things UofL and basketball! Looking to bring truth to the masses. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Raashaan