There is little question who will manage the University of Louisville football team’s offense this year.
Malik Cunningham has 33 games at the quarterback position under his belt, and last year he showed a high ceiling for potential as one of the ACC’s most effective duel-threat passers.
Throwing for 2,617 yards on a 64.1 percent clip in addition to running for 609 yards and seven touchdowns, Cunningham served as the lifeblood of the Cardinals’ offense in 2020.
His biggest weakness last season was turning the ball over, but the redshirt junior is a playmaker.
“We know what Malik Cunningham can do with his feet, and when he’s on the edge making plays,” said newly-promoted quarterbacks coach Paul Thomas. “I think just the next step is continuing to develop his footwork, which in turn is going to make him a better passer, and just continuing studying defenses. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of certain defenses so you can attack those weaknesses in the pass game. So that, combined with working on footwork, that is going to be really big for him continuing to develop as a passer.”
For Cunningham himself, he recognizes his biggest weakness last season as his turnover vulnerability. He threw 12 interceptions last season, more than double what he threw in 2019.
In part, this was due to nearly doubling the number of passes he threw in total (304), but he said he feels that if he can limit turnovers he can help the Cardinals become a more dominant team in the conference.”
“I’ve been waking up every day telling myself I can’t turn the ball over,” Cunningham said. “I can’t go out there scared, and play not to turn the ball over, that’s how turnovers happen. But just not force anything, just trust in my O-line and receivers that they’re going to be where I needed to be. It’s my job to deliver on the ball, and that’s what I’ve been doing up to this point.”
As for how to limit those turnovers, Cunningham added that it should be as easy as trusting the offensive scheme, of which he as become immensely comfortable running, and trusting his teammates, especially those who share the backfield with him.
“If the defense is giving me a certain look… like, every play is not going to be a home run play,” Cunningham said. “So it’s good to find the next man open, and I just don’t want receiver thinking he’s going to get open when he’s not. Just finding the running back. The running back’s going to be my best friend.”
Behind Cunningham on the depth chart and pushing him to make those improvements is sophomore Evan Conley.
Conley saw action three games last season, completing 4 of 5 passes for 48 yards. As a freshman he tallied 613 passing yards and four touchdowns in seven games played.
“First of all, Evan Conley is an awesome kid,” Thomas said. “He’s a phenomenal leader, one of the best leaders we got on the team. He does everything you want out of a leader and especially out of a quarterback.
“He’s pushing Malik every single day. It’s a great competition between the two. They have a great relationship. They’re both great leaders for us, and Evan Conley does everything you want. He’s a great quarterback, as you saw in 2019. He made some great plays in some big time games and crucial situations. So we feel great about Evan with where he’s at, and he’s gonna keep pushing Malik to be the best quarterback he can be.”
The importance of the quarterback position is rarely understated, and that definitely won’t be the case for Louisville this season.
But this spring, the Cardinals can remain comfortable knowing that they have experience, talent, leadership and depth at the position going into 2021.
“They know the offense really well, and I think they’re both getting better,” Thomas said. “Trying to work on different things with both of them, and they’re working real hard. Doing a lot of extra things, doing a little couple things a little bit different. But overall, I’m seeing some improvement. They’re making the plays that needed to be made.”
Photo and Story Courtesy of GoCards