By Matt Bradshaw —
With September nearly upon us, football fanatics have reason to feel uncertain. The Cardinals have lost their final game of the season for the past two years and lack a bowl game victory since 2015. Who needs to step up for Louisville to make this season successful?
First off, this list will not include quarterback Jawon Pass. It’s no secret that the redshirt sophomore must adequately fill the shoes of Heisman Winner Lamar Jackson for the entire team to do well. The second obvious answer to avoid is the offensive line. If any team has a solid quarterback and offensive line, the chance for success is high.
Dae Williams, running back
Louisville needs a player to emerge as a successful running back this fall and for that athlete to stay healthy. The backfield last season was powered by 1,601 rushing yards from quarterback Jackson.
It was convenient to have Jackson powering the offense, but he was not the only one pulling the weight. Malik Williams and Reggie Bonnafon combined for nearly 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“Obviously we have some really good playmakers on offense, in the wide receivers and tight end groups” head coach Bobby Petrino said. “We still need to get the running backs to develop and come along, and see who’s gonna be the guy.”
Redshirt sophomore Williams has made a strong case for taking over the tailback position. He was third on the team last year in rushing with 235 yards, despite missing some time from injury.
The 6-foot-2, 232 pound Williams flashed his potential last year against FSU, rushing five times for a total of 41 yards. This included a 25-yard touchdown run, which contributed to the Cards’ 31-28 victory in Tallahassee.
Pass is capable of running the ball, but not as well as his predecessor. For the 2018 season, the Cards need a running back to produce a ground threat that compliments Pass’s aerial attack.
Dez Fitzpatrick, wide receiver
One of the most exciting positions to watch for the Cardinals is at wide receiver. Petrino returns last year’s top three receivers, each of whom averaged at least 9.1 yards per target and 50 percent success rates.
Redshirt sophomore Fitzpatrick sprung onto the scene in 2017 with eye-catching statistics. Senior Jaylen Smith topped the position group with 60 receptions for 980 yards, but Fitzpatrick bested his teammate with a freshman-record nine touchdowns.
The trio of Smith, Fitzpatrick and junior Seth Dawkins comprise one of the most talented position groups on the team. In particular, Fitzpatrick has the most potential to lead the squad to success with his youth and speed.
As long as he avoids the sophomore slump, Fitzpatrick can improve his game, own the field with quarterback Pass and post even better numbers than last season.
Dorian Etheridge, linebacker
Etheridge was a revelation at linebacker in 2017, leading the team with 83 tackles as a true freshman. He is also the only returning defender who started all 13 games last year.
As long as the sophomore can maintain his level of play, if not improve, then Etheridge holds the potential to create a better defense. Louisville has lacked an elite defense since the days of coach Charlie Strong, so the Cardinals need all the help they can get.
“[Etheridge] has done a really good job,” linebackers coach Ryan Beard said. “He’s developing more as a leader and has taken ownership in the entire defense.”
With only five starters returning, Etheridge is essentially a veteran despite only one year’s experience. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder will count on the 6-foot-3 linebacker to stop Alabama’s running attack, which averaged 250.6 yards last season.
Blanton Creque, kicker
As one of the nation’s most consistent place kickers, Creque can certainly give Louisville a boost on the offensive end with another stellar year.
The redshirt junior drilled 17-of-20 field goal attempts in 2017, including 14 in a row. His career success percentage of .846 is the best in program history.
Creque recorded the longest kick of his career (48 yards) at NC State last season.The left-footer has connected on 33-of-39 field goal attempts during his career and makes his position group one of the strongest areas on the team.
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Photo by Nancy Hanner / The Louisville Cardinal