SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  Louisville Cardinals

 
The Lowdown
Coach: Bobby Petrino (1st year)
2002 record: 7-6 (Lost to Marshall 38-15 in GMAC Bowl)
C-USA finish: T-3rd
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 106.9 ypg
(10th in C-USA, 104th in nation)
Pass: 226.5 ypg (3rd, 54th)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 113.0 ypg (2nd, 17th)
Pass: 206.9 ypg (7th, 49th)
Projected Starters
Offense (4 returning starters in bold)
WR  82  J.R. Russell  Jr. 
WR  Joshua Tinch  Jr. 
WT   78   Travis Leffew   So.  
WG   59   Jason Spitz   So.  
C   68   Dan Koons   Sr.  
SG   66   Jerry Spencer   Sr.  
ST  69  Jason Hilliard  Sr. 
TE  86  Ronnie Ghent  Sr. 
QB  17  Stefan LeFors  Jr. 
TB  32  Eric Shelton  So. 
FB  41  D.J. Kamer  Sr. 
Defense (4)
DE  56  Marcus Jones  Jr. 
DT   93   Tyrone Saterfield   Jr.  
DT   90   Scott Lopez   Sr.  
DE  79  Renardo Foster  Fr. 
SLB  52  Jonathon Jackson  Jr. 
MLB  54  Robert McCune  Jr. 
WLB   40   Rod Day   Sr.  
CB  31  J.T. Haskins  Sr. 
CB   5   Josh Minkins   Sr.  
SS  30  Brent Johnson  So. 
ROV  19  Kerry Rhodes  Jr. 
Special Teams
14  Nate Smith  Sr. 
36  Wade Tydlacka  Sr. 
KR  Broderick Clark  So. 
PR  Broderick Clark  So. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 31  at Kentucky 
Sept. 13  at Syracuse 
Sept. 20  UTEP 
Sept. 27  Temple 
Oct. 4  at South Florida 
Oct. 11  Army 
Oct. 18  Tulane 
Oct. 25  at East Carolina 
Nov. 8  at TCU 
Nov. 15  Memphis 
Nov. 22  Houston 
Nov. 29  at Cincinnati 
Last season Louisville lost its chokehold on the Conference USA championship, in-state bragging rights to Kentucky and the GMAC Bowl to Marshall.

And in the most damaging blow of all, head coach John L. Smith jumped to Michigan State ... and then lobbed a few shots at Cardinal fans' lack of understanding of the school's place in the college football food chain.

So what's stopping the Cardinals from a significant fall this season? Because athletics director Tom Jurich moved quickly to replace Smith with former Auburn offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino. Folks in Louisville remember the good work Petrino did with Chris Redman and the Cardinals offense in 1998. And they were dazzled when Petrino signed high school All-American Michael Bush, who would not have signed with Louisville if Smith had remained the coach.

"I'm pleased and excited," Petrino says. "We've got some work to do, but there are a lot of nice pieces to build with."

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

If Cardinals fans have one reason to forgive Smith, it is this: Former assistant Petrino has taken the job, and he may possess a more imaginative offensive mind.

The new coach must pick a quarterback. Stefan LeFors is the only player with game experience. He will be pushed by Justin Rascati, a former Florida all-stater who excelled on the scout team last season. But Bush, from Male High School in Louisville, didn't turn down scholarships at Ohio State, Tennessee and other programs to carry a clipboard.

The running game will be more powerful. Bruising Eric Shelton, a transfer from Florida State, gives Louisville the between-the-tackles strength it was missing last season. Lionel Gates and T.J. Patterson will have another chance to fulfill their potential.

Petrino believes the receiving corps will become the team's strength. Ronnie Ghent was leading the nation's tight ends in receptions when he went down with a knee injury. J.R. Russell is a deep threat, and Joshua Tinch loves to take on defensive backs over the middle.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

There's even more work to do here. The Cardinals lose sack-master Dewayne White as they shift to a more traditional 4-3 alignment. The new playmakers up front will be Bobby Leffew, Montavious Stanley and Tyrone Saterfield. Leffew, a former Freshman All-American, will line up at end and tackle.

Linebacker Robert McCune is a ferocious hitter and sure tackler. Rod Day and James Greene can also run.

What Louisville really needs is a playmaker in the defensive backfield. Three years ago the Cardinals were among the national leaders in turnover margin. Last season this team intercepted just nine passes, two by its starting cornerbacks. Josh Minkins returns to play the corners, but two-year starter Laroni Gallishaw was dismissed by Petrino during the summer.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Placekicker Nate Smith has a powerful but inconsistent leg. He's dependable inside the 30, but a mystery beyond that point. Smith and Wade Tydlacka also must improve the punting game.

The Cards excel on returning kicks. Broderick Clark, who averaged nearly 29 yards per kick return, is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

Petrino is respected as one of the game's best offensive innovators. He should eliminate the silly penalties that hurt the Cards last season. Shelton's arrival should solidify the running game, but the coach will have to make a quick decision at quarterback, where the Cards have little experience. Defensively, Louisville also has several holes to fix.

Defense was supposed to be a strength last season, but the Cards gave up more than 30 points four times and held just one team (Duke) to single digits. They must improve against the run and the pass.

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