John Clay

Scott Satterfield gave Louisville fans everything they wanted in opener, except a win


That’s all they wanted. Never mind the five fumbles (three of them lost), or the inadequate passing game or the final score that showed their beloved Louisville Cardinals had fallen 35-17 to No. 9-ranked Notre Dame. When the U of L fans among the record crowd at Cardinal Stadium filed out of the stands and into the parking lot on Labor Day night, most surely had smiles on their faces.

Hope thy name is Scott Satterfield.

He’s the new Cardinals coach. Monday night was his Louisville debut. And to the delight of Cardinal Nation, he confirmed that Bobby Petrino he is not. Bad Bobby, anyway. Satterfield’s team played hard. It played fast. It didn’t have a head coach on the sideline chewing out everyone in sight. And it fought right down to the bitter end.

“I’m proud of our guys,” the former Appalachian State coach said afterward. “I’m extremely proud of the way they fought, but we want to win.”

Louisville will win some games this year. Not a lot probably. The front-line talent is not what it once was off Central Avenue. The Good Bobby may have been a top-notch offensive schemer and play-caller, but Petrino’s recruiting has always been a question mark. His programs don’t seem built to last. And by last season, Petrino’s recruiting failures combined with his less than congenial personality to drive the Cardinals into a 2-10 ditch and get the head coach axed.

Notre Dame cornerback Shaun Crawford (20) grabbed Louisville wide receiver Tutu Atwell (1) during the first half Monday night. Atwell led U of L with five catches for 47 yards. Timothy D. Easley AP

Enter Satterfield, the 46-year-old Hillsborough, North Carolina, native who was 51-24 in six seasons at App State. Three times his Mountaineers won 10-or-more games in a season. Satterfield is forthright, a joy to work with say U of L staff members (though Petrino set the bar ridiculously low), and upbeat. He opened his postgame press conference by praising Notre Dame, then quickly switched into praising his own club.

Including Jawon “Puma” Pass. Yes, the junior quarterback lost three fumbles and completed just 12 of 27 passes for 134 yards without a touchdown. But under Petrino’s hot glare last year, Pass was an indecisive mess behind center. He rarely appeared to know what to do and what he did do usually brought a chewing out from Petrino. Following in Lamar Jackson’s footsteps would be tough for any quarterback. Pass was overwhelmed.

Monday night, in Satterfield’s well-designed offensive scheme, Pass looked like a different player. Take away his negative yards, and Pass gained 99 yards on 16 carries. He was a major part of a U of L rushing attack that gained 249 yards on the Irish, a defense previously believed stout. Running backs Javian Hawkins (122 yards on 19 carries) and Hassan Hall (69 yards on 11) hit the holes hard and fast. They keep that up, defenses must take notice.

“I’m fired up about the guys up front,” Satterfield said of his offensive line.

Meanwhile, Louisville’s defense, a full-blown dumpster fire a year ago — Brian VanGorder’s unit allowed 50-or-more points in seven games — held its own, giving up 425 total yards, but also limiting Notre Dame to just 5-of-12 on third down. You could almost feel Coach Brian Kelly’s stack being blown when his Irish failed to convert a pair of third-and-1s and a third-and-2. Context: Last year, Louisville allowed 483.4 yards (122nd nationally) and 44.1 points per game. Monday night’s showing was a step forward.

How much of all this was the emotions of opening night? We shall see. After the embarrassment that was 2018, the Cards appeared pumped to prove all will be different in 2019. And from the looks of things, they may be right. Reason No. 1: There is a new coach. And he is a new coach that (a) isn’t Bobby Petrino and better still (b) appears to know what he’s doing. That’s progress.

And for Louisville fans, a reason for hope.

Next game

Eastern Kentucky at Louisville

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Live video broadcast: ACC Network Extra (online only)

Records: Eastern Kentucky 1-0, Louisville 0-1

Louisville 2019 football schedule

Sept. 2 Notre Dame L 35-17

Sept. 7 Eastern Kentucky

Sept. 14 Western Kentucky

Sept. 21 @Florida State

Oct. 5 Boston College

Oct. 12 @Wake Forest

Oct. 19 Clemson

Oct. 26 Virginia

Nov. 9 @Miami

Nov. 16 @NC State

Nov. 23 Syracuse

Nov. 30 @Kentucky

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John Clay is a sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A native of Central Kentucky, he covered UK football from 1987 until being named sports columnist in 2000. He has covered 20 Final Fours and 37 consecutive Kentucky Derbys.
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