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Behind Enemy Lines at the ACC Kickoff: Louisville Has Been a Big Problem for SU

2-9. That’s Syracuse’s record against Louisville since 2009. Since joining the ACC, the Orange are just 1-6 against the Cardinals. UL has had SU’s number in the past decade despite coaching changes on both sides of the equation. The crazy part is, Louisville knows why they’ve been so successful against Syracuse. 

Maybe last year was just an anomaly because of the situation of the matchup. If you recall, it was a late November meeting between the Orange and the Cardinals. By then, SU had been ravaged by the injury bug and had a true freshman quarterback making his just second career start. Still, UL was dealing with injuries in the contest themselves and still managed to dominate at Cardinal Stadium to the tune of a 30-0 win.  

The blanking marked Louisville’s first shutout against an FBS team since September of 2013 in a 72-0 win over Florida International. On the Syracuse side of things, it was the first time the Orange were blanked since a 54-0 loss to Clemson in 2016. Yes, you’re correct, that means it’s also the second time a Dino Babers led team has gone scoreless in a contest. 

UL linebacker CJ Avery was a member of that defense that kept SU off the scoreboard and allowed just 137 yards of total offense. Here’s what he had to say about his unit’s performance. 

“We played well collectively as a unit. Everybody did their job, there really wasn’t a lot of plays where somebody was out of their gap or didn’t do there job. We played well as a defense.” 

It was a head scratching performance and looking back at the stats you can’t help but be disgusted. Syracuse passed the ball 16 times…. In a 60 minute game. How is this even possible? The weather wasn’t great. It was a particularly cold and foggy day in Louisville, Kentucky but still, it’s 2021 and you passed the ball 16 times?  

Obviously with such few pass attempts, and just six completions, one went to the tight end. Aaron Hackett had one catch for zero yards – sounds about right. Avery said the lack of tight end utilization makes his job a whole lot easier and in turn makes it easier to defend the SU offense. 

“If he’s (the tight end) isn’t going out on a pass a lot, then you can blitz and get down hill quicker. If he’s coming out on passes then usually you want to make sure you cover the tight ends.” 

At the end of the day football is a team sport and the tight end involvement won’t win or lose you games alone. On top of that, it’s pretty hard to beat a team when you allow 42 points per game. That’s the average output from the UL offense in its last seven games against the ‘Cuse. 

Just look back at the scores: 41 points in 2015, 62 points in 2016, 56 points in 2017. Okay, you can just fire back and write those years off because it was the end of the Scott Shafer era and the beginning of the Babers era. You can also say, “well Lamar Jackson was at Louisville in those years so that explains that.”

Fine, fine. Those arguments are valid. This isn’t though, 86 points allowed in SU’s last two games against the Cards. There’s no excuse for that really, Scott Satterfield is relatively new at UL and Babers and established into his era at Syracuse. The defensive performance was surely better in 2020 under first year DC Tony White. The point that’s being made is that the Cardinals have a reputation for burying the Orange and it needs to change. 

Louisville racked up 413 yards of total offense on 279 passing and 134 rushing. Those numbers surely would have improved if the Syracuse offense moved the ball at all, the Orange had just seven first downs. The SU defense also forced three turnovers and recorded five sacks. That’s a performance that’s good enough to win a game. 

UL quarterback Malik Cunningham recalls the contest and was complimentary of the Orange defense. 

“Syracuse was a very well coached team… They had a good front, the pass rush and the defensive line was very good, very active. We knew some places that we could exploit them, which was the secondary and that’s what we tried to do.” 


Looking back at the depth chart, SU had four freshmen starting in the secondary. Garrett Williams at corner, Ja’Had Carter at safety, Rob Hanna at rover, and Aman Greenwood at safety. With youth comes inexperience and the Louisville coaching staff did a great job recognizing weaknesses and attacking them. In the future this weakness should be a strength as SU had a lot of young cats playing on defense but they gained valuable experience. 

The Cardinals offense isn’t as explosive as it was when Jackson was running the show, but under Coach Satterfield, UL has a dangerous offense that can score points in high volumes. Louisville scored at least 27 points in eight of its eleven games. It’s also very balanced as UL averaged 200 rush yards per game and about 244 passing. This keeps defenses guessing on what’s coming and as a result makes it very challenging to be successful. 

Cunningham believes Coach Satterfield’s offensive philosophy is tailor-made to beat a 3-3-5 defense like the one SU’s runs. 

“Our offensive approach is very good against those guys, they load the box against us. The running game helped a lot and we spread them out so we could get the running game going and we had a couple passes that we hit down the field.”  

It should be noted that Louisville was missing its top tailback in Javian Hawkins for the contest, but as a dual-threat quarterback Cunningham seemed to fill the void effortlessly. The Alabama native ran nine times for 39 yards and a score. The signal caller says a mobile quarterback can be deadly against an odd-man front defense.

“Being able to run against that kind of defense is always good for a quarterback and for the team because it opens up a lot of windows for other guys to make plays and that’s what we did.” 

Cunningham is back for another season in 2021 and he’ll look to make it three straight against the Orange when the teams meet in mid-November. Perhaps the fact that Syracuse has a bye ahead of the contest will provide a boost and who knows, the Orange may still have a chance at a bowl game at this point in the season. 

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