It’s rarely fair to sum up a team’s football season with one thing that went right or wrong. For 2020 Louisville, it really might be that simple.
“We played good enough in all three phases to win a lot more games than we won,” coach Scott Satterfield said. “It’s hard to look at one stat, but last year? You probably could look at one stat: turnover margin. And crap, you clean that up and you’ve got a great opportunity, a great chance, to be successful in a lot of games and get back to where we need to get to.”
No one stat can account for everything a football team dealt with leading up to and during a season in a pandemic. But Satterfield is not wrong. Louisville played six close games, and turnovers were unquestionably the fatal flaw. Tossing 12 interceptions, losing 12 of 18 fumbles and forcing just 12 takeaways over 11 games adds up to a minus-12 turnover margin that ranked second-worst in the FBS.
And that made Year 2 of Satterfield’s tenure a disappointing one. He inherited a disaster from Bobby Petrino and pulled off a mighty encouraging 8-5 run in his debut year. Then came a big step back, at least in terms of the 4-7 record. Were the Cardinals actually that bad? They did finish No. 35 in SP+ with a top-15 offense. You can easily point to five games that swung on untimely turnovers. This team couldn’t win close games like it did in 2019.
They’re doing whatever they can to fix that this offseason. Turnovers were a constant theme every single day of spring practice and will continue to be this summer. They embraced new drills and circuits borrowed from the New England Patriots in practice and are being more intentional about both ball security and getting more strips and picks.
“It’s like anything else: Anything you emphasize, I think you get better at,” Satterfield said.
The head coach is loving the response he has seen from his team throughout this offseason. He does feel like, inside the program, it’s starting to feel more and more like it did at Appalachian State. They built up a culture in Boone, he said, where the players could basically run the program themselves. His Louisville players are starting to figure out what that means. Satterfield loves how the leadership group is embracing extreme ownership, how many guys embrace putting in extra work, how they’re not having to hold as many accountable. He calls camaraderie the secret sauce of his program, and that really showed up this spring.