Saturday, Louisville held its annual spring football game at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. It was the third spring game under head coach Charlie Strong. While there are limitations on what you can learn from watching any team play a game against itself, and there's always a tendency to try and read too much into what you see, there were still some meaningful things to take away from watching Louisville finish up spring practice. Here are just a handful of observations from yesterday's game.
1. The Defense Looks Like A Charlie Strong Defense - When I say "looks", I mean the way that the players actually look out on the field. This year's Cardinals look more like the defenses Strong put on the field in Gainesville than either of the first two editions he's had at Louisville. In 2010, Louisville's defensive line featured a barely 270 pound Greg Scruggs at defensive tackle and had four defensive ends that were all under 250 pounds.
This year, Scruggs wouldn't even be the biggest defensive end. Louisville's front seven is as big and athletic as there has been around here in a very long time. The The starting defensive line averages around 275 pounds without sacrificing athleticism or quickness and there's also some experienced depth for the first time under Strong. Louisville has BJ Dubose, BJ Butler, Lorenzo Mauldin, and Marcus Smith that are all much closer to the kinds of defensive ends Strong had at Florida than the ends he inherited two years ago. When Strong was hired, he said he worried that teams would line up and simply run Louisville over. I don't think he's as worried about that this year.
2. There's Nothing Of Mike Sanford Left In The Offense - After taking over as offensive coordinator in the middle of the season with a very young team, Shawn Watson has put his stamp (and I imagine Charlie Strong's stamp, too) on the Louisville offense. Whereas Louisville started out looking more like Utah under Urban Meyer on offense, this year, the Cardinals don't look like they'll have anything close to the spread option looks that they have had the past two years.
Yesterday, Teddy Bridgewater was under center and in the pistol much more than he was last year. The offense went with two tight ends or even a fullback and now the emphasis is much more on running the ball downhill and play-action passing, something Charlie Strong has said he wants in his offense. The offense will look different than it has previously, but it matches the personnel and the coach's personality more.
3. Teddy Is The Star, But Running Back Is The Strength Of The Offense - Teddy Bridgewater looked significantly more confident and composed in this spring game than he did a year ago. Yesterday, he completed 19 of 21 passes and had a command of the offense that he didn't have early in the season last year. He's going to be the guy people point to as the next star on offense, but, the running back position is what will make the Louisville offense effective in 2012. The Cardinals appear to have four very talented backs (Corvin Lamb, Senorise Perry, Jeremy Wright, and Dominique Brown). Each does something a little better than the other, so don't expect Strong to settle on a single back like he did in 2010 with Bilal Powell. Instead, expect Wright and Perry to be more of a breakaway threat while Lamb and Brown to be between-the-tackles and short yardage guys.
4. Louisville Will Get a Significant Boost From Transfers Sitting Out The 2012 Season - Tight end Gerald Christian, who transferred from Florida, and wide receiver Matt Milton, who transferred from Tennessee, looked very good running routes and catching the ball yesterday and both should be key pieces in Louisville's offense in 2013. Christian, Milton, and receiver Robert Clark all have to sit out the 2012 season per the NCAA's rules on transfers. Once they're a part of the Louisville offense, they should all see significant playing time.
5. There Won't Be Much Playing Time For True Freshmen This Year - True freshmen have been forced into playing time, or even starting roles, in each of Strong's first two seasons. That probably won't be the case in 2012. Early enrollee linebackers Keith Brown and James Burgess might be the only true freshmen that will play meaningful snaps in 2012. The depth chart is full of second and third year players that seem to have their positions locked down, so in 2012, many freshmen will likely redshirt and others will see the majority of their playing time come in special teams.