Post-spring breakdown of Louisville: FSU's Game 3 opponent in 2022
With spring football wrapping up on campuses across the country, the Warchant staff will take time the next couple of weeks to check in on Florida State’s upcoming 2022 opponents and see how they fared during spring.
We'll look at each team's question marks, key departures, new arrivals and more.
Next up on FSU's schedule are the Louisville Cardinals. FSU battles Louisville in a key early season, Friday night road test on Sept. 16.
In case you missed it, here was our earlier post-spring breakdown of Game 2 opponent LSU.
Biggest post-spring question marks
One key question looming at Louisville is the overall state of the defense and whether enough improvement will be made to have a successful season in 2022.
Last year, the Cardinals' total defense ranked a lackluster No. 84 in the country, and they endured several embarrassing performances. They gave up 35 points or more several times, including a 52-point debacle against rival Kentucky. The defense was the main reason they finished 6-7 on the season.
Can that unit turn things around this fall? The good news for Louisville is they do bring back a lot of experience at all three levels of the defense, but several of those players missed time in the spring, so it's difficult to know whether they will be better ... or just older.
According to reports, the Cardinals expect to look for additional defensive pieces through the transfer portal this summer. So it wouldn't seem as if head coach Scott Satterfield is overly confident about that group.
On the other side of the ball, there aren't nearly as many questions.
Dynamic dual-threat quarterback Malik Cunningham is back to run the offense, the Cardinals bring back four of five starters on the offensive line, and they are pretty loaded at running back. One year ago, they ranked third in the ACC and No. 22 in the country in rushing offense, and they could be better this fall.
The only big question facing the offense is at receiver, as that wasn't a team strength one year ago and three key players (Justin Marshall, Jordan Watkins and Tyler Harrell) have moved on. But the Cardinals definitely took steps to address that, bringing in FCS All-America receiver Tyler Hudson from Central Arkansas; he racked up over 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns last season. The Cards also grabbed former Miami receiver Dee Wiggins out of the portal.
Coaching staff comings, goings
Head coach Scott Satterfield enters his fourth year at the helm for Louisville sporting a 2-1 record against FSU and an 18-19 overall record. He’s 69-43 in his career as a head coach.
Satterfield retained the majority of his staff, but he did lose two offensive assistants, including veteran offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. to North Carolina. That could be significant considering how well the Cardinals ran the ball a year ago.
Replacing Bicknell will be Nic Cardwell, who comes over from Appalachian State and has worked for Satterfield in the past. Cardwell played tight end in college and was thought to be coming in to coach that position, but Satterfield later clarfieid that Cardwell will coach the OL. This will be his first season as a Power 5 assistant coach.
Former Georgia State tight ends coach and offensive coordinator Josh Stepp will be the new tight ends coach. He had a connection to Satterfield through Georgia State head coach Shawn Elliott, who played with Satterfield in college at Appalachian State.
All five assistant coaches on defense return, including linebackers coach Derek Nicholson, a former Seminole starting linebacker in the mid-2000s.
Key roster returnees and additions
As noted above, Louisville brings back a fairly large chunk of its offensive production from a year ago.
On the offensive line, both tackles are returning starters from last year: Trevor Reid and Renato Brown. Caleb Chandler is a veteran starter at guard, and there is a good deal of depth at both tackle and guard. The only departure was a big one: center Cole Bentley, who played in 50-plus games and started 43.
Then at running back, the top two players from 2021 -- Jalen Mitchell and Trevion Cooley -- are back again taking handoffs. And Tennessee transfer Tiyon Evans adds even more talent to the backfield.
Starting tight end Marshon Ford (team-leading 49 receptions in 2021) is also back. But the Cardinals have been playing musical chairs at wide receiver. The additions of transfers Hudson and Wiggins were positive, but the speedy Harrell entered the portal after spring practice and is heading to Alabama.
On defense, the Cardinals have continuity at linebacker as seniors Yasir Abdullah and Monty Montgomery -- plus much of the second team -- are back. Abdullah has 10 sacks last year as an edge-rushing threat.
Cornerback Kei’Trel Clark is the best of the bunch in the secondary. And while the Cards lost starter Greedy Vance to a transfer to Florida State, they made up for it by picking up former FSU starter Jarvis Brownlee, who entered the portal during spring drills. They also picked up former Middle Tennessee State corner Quincy Riley, who committed a couple weeks ago.
Up front defensively, there is experience returning in the middle with senior Yaya Diaby, sophomore Ashton Gillotte and others behind them.
Big shoes to fill: Who is in line to replace top departures?
* Linebacker C.J. Avery is the biggest loss on defense. Avery spent the past four years as a key piece of the defense at linebacker, registering 349 career tackles. Avery was also captain of the defense. Florida native Dorrian Jones (sixth on the team in tackles last year) will be tasked with picking up the slack.
*Center Cole Bentley is a huge loss on offense. A starter going back to 2017, Bentley was a consistent center and quality run-blocker. As mentioned above, Bentley’s departure leaves the only hole on the offensive line. Junior Bryan Hudson (6-foot-4, 310 pounds) is the expected replacement.
One more name that could be tough to replace is the Cardinals’ second-leading tackler from a year ago, safety Qwynnterio Cole, who had 78 tackles and six pas breakups.
Cunningham returns to lead the offense
There’s no question who will be at quarterback for the Cardinals. Senior Malik Cunningham had an excellent season last year with 2,941 passing yards, 1,031 rushing yards and 39 total touchdowns.
The fifth-year senior has over 2,600 career rushing yards with 38 scores on the ground to go along with 8,000 career passing yards.
Last year, he scored three or more touchdowns in eight of 13 games. In three starts versus FSU, Cunningham has nine touchdowns against only one interception, sporting a 2-1 record.
Several Louisville media outlets were researched to contribute to this report, including GoCards.com, CardinalSports, and CardChronicle.com.