Louisville football defense for dummies

Louisville football defense for dummies is a comprehensive guide for the average Louisville football fan looking to gain more knowledge and insight on what to expect for the 2019 season and beyond.

2018 was a trainwreck for Louisville football, particularly on defense. It doesn’t take a football savant to realize that. However, it is important to note that Louisville returns some key players from a season ago, and a new coaching staff will be implementing a completely new system for your beloved Cardinals.

If you’re a die-hard Louisville football fan, this article is for you. If you quit watching halfway through last season and gave up all hope, this article is for you. If you fall anywhere in between, or simply want to know more about the 2019 Cardinals defense, this article is for you.

Like you, Big Red Louie and its writers never played a down of division one football, so trying to understand complex schemes and formation, let alone where our favorite players fit in to those plans can be a bit overwhelming.

But, like anything in life, with a little preparation and repetition, you can gain an in-depth understanding of a myriad of topics. Today, we hone in on the Louisville football defense.

And, luckily for you, we are here to break down the basics. We studied hours of old Appalachian State football tape, broke down what the new coaches like to do, and spoke to some knowledgable experts about how that translates to Louisville’s current roster.

Getting started

Louisville enters the 2019 season under new leadership. Let’s meet the defensive staff:

Scott Satterfield– Head coach | Previously: HC, App State

Bryan Brown– Co-defensive coordinator/ cornerbacks | Previously: DC, App State

Cort Dennison– Co-defensive coordinator/ outside linebackers | Previously: LBs, Oregon

ShaDon Brown– Safeties | Previously: Secondary, Colorado

Mark Ivey– Defensive Line | Previously: OLB/ DL, App State

Dale Jones– Inside Linebackers | Previously: ILBs/ co-DC, App State

As you can see, the continuity on Louisville’s staff is what gives some hope for a smoother transition. Many of these coaches were already on Satterfield’s staff at Appalachian State and followed the “family atmosphere” to Louisville.

Along with the change in coaching staff comes a change in strategy and scheme. Louisville will be under their fourth defensive coordinator in as many years, but the change in scheme is perhaps the most drastic under Satterfield, Brown, and Dennison.

Here is some optional viewing to help you gain a better understanding if you’re a visual learner. The first game is Appalachian State’s 2018 season opener in a near-upset of No. 10 Penn State. This game featured Satterfield, Brown, Ivey, and Jones at their same perspective positions that they hold now with Louisville.

The second game is the Appalachian State season opener from 2016 where the Mountaineers led No. 9 Tennessee, who featured a bro bowl running back and a slew of other current NFL players on offense, for 55 minutes of regulation.

The coaching staff is quite similar in this game and the play-calling and scheming is still very close to what we saw in 2018.

Understanding the defensive changes

This season, Louisville is going to be switching from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 scheme. To oversimplify this a bit, for the most part, Louisville will feature only three down linemen and have four linebackers on the field at any given time.

This change in scheme obviously led to some position changes in the offseason. Under the previous regime, Louisville wanted a lot of muscle in the front seven and valued a traditional bully ball strategy. In the new defense, speed is king.

Louisville has moved players like Russ Yeast, a safety/ corner tweener, to one of the starting safety spots, and Rodjay Burns is moving from the secondary to a valuable role as an outside linebacker.

The Cards’ most promising young linebacker talent from 2018, Robert Hicks, played on the defensive line during spring ball and was only moved back to the linebacking unit when he put his name in the transfer portal in the offseason.

The bottom line is that Louisville values team speed and flying to the ball above all else, and everything from scheming to position changes to the way the team works out is designed to place value on that team speed.

Going in-depth

As an average viewer that is still learning the inner workings of this defense, I’ve taken away three key staples of every Scott Satterfield defense that I think will translate to Louisville’s defense:

1. They will be aggressive

Though the Cards will only have three down linemen at a time, that doesn’t mean that this version of a 3-4 defense is going to feature four linebackers dropping back in the backfield. Watching the tape from Satterfield’s defenses over the years, linebackers spend a lot of time standing up at the line of scrimmage.

At App State, Brown and Satterfield’s defenses were predicated on getting pressure on the quarterback, and it is unlikely to be any different in Louisville.

The onus is placed on the linebackers to make the correct reads and create confusion and chaos for the opponent. With pass rushers who are adept to absorbing blocks, linebackers are freed up to make their way into the backfield oftentimes untouched.

At Louisville, Satterfield and Brown’s defense will never have been more exciting due to the elite-level athleticism and quickness on the Cardinals’ front seven.

2. They will not be beaten over the top

If there’s something else that has become extremely apparent watching the tape, Satterfield and Brown’s defenses do NOT get beat over the top easily.

We talked about how the linebackers will line up close to or on the line of scrimmage in many instances, but Louisville will have a corner and free safety playing way off the line of scrimmage at all times. What this does is it invites opposing offenses to dink and dunk their way down the field. You can gain yards on this defense if you want to rely on quick, short, accurate passes, but taking shots downfield ultimately proves ineffective for the most part.

Still, Satterfield and Brown’s defenses are consistently among the best in the nation (35 in 2018) in the red zone. Once there’s nowhere to go over the top, the defense consistently collapses on the ball carrier and the linebacking units and secondary become suffocating, winning based on sheer numbers alone and shooting the gaps.

3. They will be fast

Lastly, Louisville’s defense will be extremely quick, and they will be effective by flying to the ball. At every given opportunity, there are three or more players in on tackles in Satterfield and Brown’s schemes.

Compared to most of the ACC, Louisville will appear undersized on defense at some spots, but they will make up for that lack of size with consistent team speed. Players like Yeast, Monty Montgomery, CJ Avery, and Yassir Abdullah are likely to thrive in this defense because they love to fly to the ball and finish plays with aggressive tackling.

This will be a direct contrast to the brand created by Louisville’s last two defensive coordinators. However, if you want a good comparison, think about the defenses in 2015 and 2016 under former DC Todd Grantham. Louisville’s defense this year may remind you of Grantham’s over-the-top aggressive blitzing defenses, except perhaps a little smaller and a lot faster.

What to expect from key players

G.G. Robinson – Defensive tackle

Most defensive linemen predicate themselves on how effectively they are able to get to the quarterback. For Louisville’s defense under Bryan Brown it’ll be a bit different for the defensive linemen, especially a guy like G.G. Robinson.

The job upfront for Louisville will be to clog holes, get into run gaps, and make it hard for offensive linemen to block blitzing linebackers. G.G. Robinson has bulked up to nearly 300 pounds and is ready for a breakout year. The defensive staff has supposedly “singled him out” and for him, now it’s all about responding.

Of course, he’ll be asked to make tackles and cause some havoc on third down, but for him primarily it will be all about getting off the line quickly and beating offensive linemen to their spot, allowing for the linebackers to be able to penetrate and make plays on the ball.


C.J. Avery / Dorian Etheridge – Outside/ Inside linebacker

Linebacker is one of the most important spots on the field for this Cardinals defense. As we mentioned, the job of the defensive line will be to open up opportunities for the linebacking unit to make plays.

Dorian Etheridge should be seen as the quarterback of this defense, while Avery will be a speedy playmaker. Avery has the perfect combination of size and speed for the new Louisville defense and was one of the few players in 2018 to showcase great instinct and field awareness.

Russ Yeast – Strong Safety

One of the more talked about players over the offseason, Yeast is primed for a breakout season. Though he was a highly coveted prospect out of high school, Yeast struggled early in his career after being thrown into the fire.

However, the new staff doesn’t think Yeast was the problem. Instead, a position change has reportedly freed him up to best utilize his skillset as a lightning-quick safety with a nose for the ball. He recorded two interceptions in the Cardinals’ spring showcase and has earned high praise from the coaching staff all offseason.

Chandler Jones/ Anthony Johnson – Corner

One of the lesser talked about parts of this Cardinals defense is the corner spot. Yet, it’s on the outside where UofL could really make its mark. That starts with the young corner tandem of Chandler Jones and Anthony Johnson.

Brash, confident, slightly over-the-top, even; Those are all characteristics most corners must possess. It could not be truer of the two sophomores-to-be who will be heavily relied upon in 2019.

In the new defensive scheme, if the defensive pressure doesn’t get to the quarterback consistently, that can leave the corners on an island. Brown, who oversees the corners directly, needs guys on the edge that he can trust, and Johnson and Jones could be two of the more electrifying players on this Louisville team.

Veteran Cornelius Sturghill may earn the starting nod on one side, but if the staff is looking towards sustained success in the future, the youngsters could find themselves spending a lot of time together on the field.