2011 Louisville Preview
Louisville RB Victor Anderson
Louisville RB Victor Anderson
Posted Jun 24, 2011

Charlie Strong took over and all of a sudden Louisville became relevant again. But that was a veteran team, and now it's rebuilding time with several major question marks across the board. Can the defense reload? Can RB Victor Anderson keep the production going after the team led the Big East in rushing? Check out the CFN 2011 Louisville Preview.

Louisville Cardinals

Preview 2011

- 2011 Louisville Preview | 2011 Louisville Offense
- 2011 Louisville Defense | 2011 Louisville Depth Chart
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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Charlie Strong
2nd Year: 7-6
Returning Lettermen
Off. 15, Def. 17, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 21
Ten Best Louisville Players
1. SS Hakeem Smith, Soph.
2. C Mario Benavides, Jr.
3. LB Daniel Brown, Jr.
4. FS Shenard Holton, Jr.
5. RB Victor Anderson, Sr.
6. WR Josh Bellamy, Sr.
7. DE B.J. Butler, Soph.
8. DE Greg Scruggs, Sr.
9. TE Josh Chichester, Sr.
10. LB Dexter Heyman, Sr.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 1 Murray State
Sep. 9 FIU
Sep. 17 at Kentucky
Oct. 1 Marshall
Oct. 8 at North Carolina
Oct. 15 at Cincinnati
Oct. 21 Rutgers
Oct. 29 Syracuse
Nov. 5 at West Virginia
Nov. 12 Pitt
Nov. 19 at Connecticut
Nov. 25 at USF

Oh, what a difference one man can make.

Last year's talent at Louisville was virtually the same as it was when Steve Kragthorpe was still at Louisville in 2009. The results, however, were markedly different. The one key addition was head coach Charlie Strong. Under his watch, the team practiced harder, played with fewer mistakes, and make an improbable postseason return for the first time in five years. Even better, the momentum spilled over to Signing Day, scene of the Cardinals' best haul of high school recruits in years.

With only modest talent, Louisville gutted out the necessary victories to qualify for a bonus game. It then built a head of steam for 2011 by defeating Southern Miss in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl. Go ahead and call it the ground floor of Strong's rebuilding plan. It's a good thing the Cardinals are learning how to do more with less because the overall talent level won't improve overnight. There are still plenty of question marks on offense, mainly at quarterback and along the depleted line.

The defense, too, needs to figure out a few things, especially at cornerback. Yet, the Cards appeared overmatched on paper last summer as well, yet were able to exceed expectations. Again, good coaching and the right attitude have a way of offsetting certain personnel issues.

Louisville is under new management. And the change in culture is evident in every crevasse of the program. Still, the process is going to take time and a little more patience from the fan base. Strong and his staff are good, but the deck was stacked against them when they took almost two years ago. Plus, all of their hard work on the recruiting trail won't truly begin paying dividends until 2012. If the Cards can build on last season's success, while allowing the rookies to gain valuable reps, it'll go down as another important step as Strong puts the Kragthorpe debacle deeper into the past.

What to watch for on offense: The development of the offensive line. Up front, there's going to be C Mario Benavides and everyone else. The Cardinals must replace four of last season's starter, a process that began in earnest during the spring. The tackles, Ryan Kessling and Hector Hernandez, are seniors, but projected starting guards Kamran Joyer and Jake Scott are going to be green. If this unit can mesh during the summer, the ramifications will be felt most in the running game. Victor Anderson and Jeremy Wright can move the chains on the ground when they get the proper support from their blockers.

What to watch for on defense: The ends to be mean. Charlie Strong has three quality options with which to attack opposing quarterbacks this fall. The veterans are William Savoy and Greg Scruggs who has a shot to play on Sundays now that he's shifting back to his natural position. The rising star, though, is sophomore B.J. Butler, an SEC-caliber player set to shake up the Big East. A terrific athlete, who decommitted from Georgia to play for Strong, he has the right skill set to be the Cardinals' best pass rusher in just his second year on campus.

The team will be far better if… it can play as well after halftime as it does before it. Whether the reason pertained to conditioning or the lack of head coaching experience of Charlie Strong, Louisville was not a good second-half team in 2010. The numbers paint a lopsided picture, especially pertaining to the offense. For the season, the Cardinals scored 236 points during the first 30 minutes of games. Over the final two quarters, though, they produced only 107 points, a key factor in the .500 record during the regular season.

The Schedule: The Cardinals might need time to rebuild and figure out what they're doing, and they'll get it with Murray State and FIU up before dealing with the rivalry date at Kentucky. That starts a run of three road games in four weeks including the Big East opener at Cincinnati. Closing out with three of the final four games away from home with West Virginia, Connecticut, and South Florida all key November dates to deal with. At least the Pitt battle is in Papa John's.

 Best offensive player: Junior C Mario Benavides. One of two Big East centers on the Rimington Award watch list, Benavides will anchor the Louisville line this season. Despite playing with incessant knee pain, which required surgery in February, he's started all but one game over the past two seasons. The all-conference candidate is a physical run blocker who'll occupy his man long enough for the Cardinal backs to scoot beyond the first line of defense.

Best defensive player: Sophomore SS Hakeem Smith. While just a sophomore, Smith has already risen to the top of the Cardinals' pecking order on defender. The Freshman All-American and Big East Rookie of the Year rung up a team-high 88 tackles and six stops behind the line in an auspicious debut. Beyond his ideal size and obvious athletic ability, he displayed uncanny fundamentals and maturity for such a young player. The Louisville secondary will be built around No. 29 for the next three seasons.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Will Stein. Stein is a bit of a riddle at this stage of his career. The 5-10, 185-pound former walk-on doesn't exactly fit the prototype of an FBS starting quarterback. However, the coaches continue to insist that they're comfortable with him at the controls. He held off touted recruit Teddy Bridgewater in the spring, impressing the staff with his smarts and ability to manage the offense. While no one is asking for the second-coming of Brian Brohm, it'll be a win if he can distribute the ball with as few mistakes as possible.

The season will be a success if ... the program keeps building with another bowl appearance. Keeping in mind the modest veteran talent on the roster, a second straight postseason game would set the Cardinals up nicely for 2012. At this stage of the process, a positive vibe and those 15 additional practices are crucial for Charlie Strong. While missing bowl-eligibility won't derail the coach's plans, qualifying will certainly validate that the school continues to head in the right direction.

Key game: Sept. 17 at Kentucky. For Louisville, the first road game of the season will be in Lexington, home of long-time rival Kentucky. The Cardinals have dropped the last four in this series, including last year's opener at Papa John's Stadium. Revenge will be a factor, particularly for the seniors who've yet to win one of these battles. A victory here could mean a 3-0 start, just what Louisville needs to propel it into October.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Rushing yards per game: Louisville 175.0 – Opponents 144.3
- Time of possession: Louisville 31:01 – Opponents 28:59
- Sacks: Louisville 39 – Opponents 17

- 2011 Louisville Preview | 2011 Louisville Offense
- 2011 Louisville Defense | 2011 Louisville Depth Chart
- Louisville Previews 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006