A potential solution to Louisville football’s quarterback quandary

LOUISVILLE, KY - NOVEMBER 24: Malik Cunningham #3 of the Louisville Cardinals throws a pass against the Kentucky Wildcats on November 24, 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KY - NOVEMBER 24: Malik Cunningham #3 of the Louisville Cardinals throws a pass against the Kentucky Wildcats on November 24, 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Louisville football continues to search for answers in the passing game, but perhaps the solution is right in front of the coaching staff.

The start to the 2019 season has been a surprising one for Louisville football under first-year head coach Scott Satterfield.

The Cardinals, coming off of one of the worst seasons in school history, have impressed, holding a top 10 Notre Dame squad at bay, and shutting out Eastern Kentucky.

On almost every level, Louisville has far exceeded expectations. They are aggressive in the trenches, electric in the running game, and have completely transformed their defense.

The one missing link for the Cards has been in the passing game with starting quarterback Jawon Pass. Though his receivers have hardly done him any favors, the redshirt junior Pass has been the one missing link for Louisville. He has had flashes of brilliance, managing the game with a sense of calm and poise, and really turning up the heat in the running game, running for 52 yards per game.

However, Pass has been lacking a connection with his receivers that is needed to get the Cardinals to a point where they can compete consistently in a tough Atlantic Coast Conference.

Pass completed 63 percent of his attempts on Saturday with 4 of his 12 completions being touchdowns. But Cards fans want to see more from Pass in downfield situations. His first touchdown pass was a one-yard shovel that turned into a 50-yard Tutu Atwell race to the endzone. His last three were on rollouts that found wide-open receivers rolling to the goal line or standing in the back of the endzone.

The point is, regardless of who the quarterback was, there’s a very high chance of Louisville scoring on those plays.

Louisville was forced off the field early and often in the first half by a pedestrian Colonels secondary, despite the Cards getting what they wanted in the run game. Louisville’s coaching staff was trying to force the issue and get Pass comfortable in the pocket, but their starter consistently overthrew receivers or missed on timing with receivers.

The Louisville coaching staff is in a bit of a pickle. Pass clearly has the intangibles to be a successful leader of this team, but his inability to be a consistent downfield passer is one of the team’s biggest concerns at this point.

Meanwhile, backup Malik Cunningham, who suffered a mild setback in training camp, waits in the wings, prompting a lot of Cards fans to wonder if there is another solution.

Perhaps play both quarterbacks? After all, Cunningham came in for the fourth quarter in relief of Pass, and went 1-1 in the passing game and reeled off four runs for 73 yards and a touchdown.

But what about the old saying “if you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks?”

Satterfield is here to dispell the notion that Louisville can’t run with two.

"“I don’t fully buy into that. Malik and Puma (Pass) are two totally different guys,” Satterfield said in his postgame presser. “If I’m a defensive coordinator and I have to defend both of these guys, then that puts a lot more pressure on the defensive coordinator I think.”"

Maybe Satterfield is right. We saw in 2018 how removing one quarterback mid-game and replacing him with another can be an extremely divisive decision. By the end of last season, Pass’s confidence was crushed and Louisville was a worse team because of it.

But, what if it’s possible to play both Pass and Cunningham and make Louisville’s offense that much more dangerous?

A Louisville football team of the past may have laid the blueprint for playing two quarterbacks every game. In 2004, Louisville freshman Brian Brohm played at least one drive every game, spelling senior quarterback Stefan LeFors, pushing the Cardinals to an 11-1 season and a No. 6 ranking to finish the year and earning Brohm Conference USA freshman of the year honors as a back-up.

Just like Brohm and LeFors, Cunningham and Pass each possess a unique skill set. They can both run, they can both pass effectively, but they do it in two completely different ways.

Teams would have to prepare for two different quarterbacks, but unlike a predictable 2018 season where both players led sputtering offenses, teams would have to prepare for two successful lineups.

It’s been done before, and it could be done again in 2019. Pass and Cunningham are close friends and competitors. It’s clear that they feed off of each other, and the end goal is to bring Louisville football back to its winning ways.

It’s a potential solution for the Louisville football coaching staff, and maybe it’s one that could propel the Cards to a season that no one expected.

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