Sidelines with John Clay

Three takeaways from Scott Satterfield’s debut as Louisville loses to Notre Dame

Three takeaways from Louisville’s 35-17 loss to Notre Dame at Cardinal Stadium on Monday night:

1. Louisville has a ways to go, but it may have the guy to get there

Can an 18-point loss be impressive? Yes, it can. It can if you are the dumpster fire that was U of L football a year ago. A 2-10 record. A team that quit on its coach, Bobby Petrino, who was let go before the end of the season. It can if you’re looking for rays of hope and light under a new coach.

Enter Scott Satterfield. Monday night under the lights was the first game at U of L for the former Appalachian State coach. The task was tough, facing the No. 9-ranked Irish, but the Cardinals acquitted themselves. They played hard. They bounced back from adversity. They didn’t have enough to pull off the upset over a team that was a 19-point favorite, but they showed enough to make you think they can surprise some people.

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

That will come soon enough. Monday, the fact that Louisville ran the football for 249 yards against an excellent defensive line was undercut by putting the football on the ground five times. The Cards lost three fumbles. One just before halftime — the third lost fumble in three successive plays — set up a TD that put the Irish ahead 21-14. Another, at the Notre Dame 24-yard line, killed an impressive U of L drive to start the second half.

“We’ll get better,” said Satterfield, and given the energy and intensity his team showed, the coach is probably right.

2. Jawon Pass has trouble with the pass

The Louisville quarterback can run, though, when he holds on to the football. He rushed for 99 yards on 16 carries, though 32 yards in losses sliced his net down to 67. Still, Pass was a threat with his legs all game long, at least when his butterfingers did not betray his efforts. Louisville’s three lost fumbles all belonged to the junior.

Plus, Pass had trouble completing passes. He ended up 12-of-27 on the night for 134 yards without a touchdown or an interception. With 8:42 left in the third quarter, he was 5-of-16 through the air for 63 yards.

“The way he ran the football gives us a chance as we move forward,” Satterfield said. “We’ve got to get better in the passing game. We know that.”

As for the three fumbles, the new coach said ball security had not been a problem in fall camp. In fact, Satterfield said he could not remember Pass losing one fumble during preseason.

Still, if Louisville is to have continued success running the football — “I’m fired up about the guys up front,” said Satterfield — then the Cardinals are going to have to become more of a threat through the air.

3. A beaten-down defense (and program) shows signs of life

A year ago, Louisville’s defense was beyond putrid. The Cards allowed an average of 44.1 points and 483.4 yards per game. Under defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, they ranked 122nd nationally out of 130 teams in total defense. Seven times they allowed 50-or-more points.

Monday, against a top-10 team, a team that reached the College Football Playoff a year ago, Louisville gave up 35 points and 425 yards. That should be considered progress. The Cardinals did allow 232 yards rushing, but sacked Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book three times. And the Irish converted just five of 12 third downs.

Three of those conversions came on Notre Dame’s final touchdown drive, the one that put the game away. The Irish converted a third-and-4, a third-and-6 and a third-and-4 during a 12-play, 75-yard drive that extended the lead to 35-17 with 8:15 left.

Before that, however, Notre Dame had failed on a third-and-2 (followed by a fourth-and-4 failure), a third-and-1 and another third-and-1. “Until that one drive, our third-down defense was really good,” Satterfield said.

He also said this: “We’ll get better.” It’s a long season, but a short week. Eastern Kentucky visits Cardinal Stadium on Saturday, then Western Kentucky on Sept. 14. After that, the ACC grind begins with a road trip to Florida State. Louisville did not win a single conference game last year. This year, given the way the Cards played Saturday, the guess here is that won’t be the case this year.

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

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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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