Scott Satterfield's Cardinals entered the season with plenty of hype after leading one of the best single-year turnarounds in the country, finishing in solo second place in the ACC Atlantic Division behind Clemson with an 8-5 overall record. With three key pieces of a prolific offense back -- quarterback Malik Cunningham, running back Javian Hawkins and wide receiver Tutu Atwell -- the conversation going into 2020 included Louisville as a conference-championship contender. No one was suggesting that the gap with Clemson had been closed in just one season, but in this 10-game, one-division ACC format in place for 2020, it was definitely considered a possibility that the Cardinals could finish in one of the top two spots in the standings.
Georgia Tech, on the other hand, started the season as the No. 15 team in the media's preseason poll. Plenty was written about Geoff Collins and the work he was doing to rebrand the program on and off the field after more than a decade of commitment to the triple-option. Collins has an electric presence and the challenge is interesting enough to warrant the attention, but when it came time to make some predictions, the media didn't back up those words with confidence in their 2020 outlook.
After nearly a month of play, these two teams are meeting somewhere in the middle. Louisville is off to an 0-2 start in ACC play following losses to Miami and Pitt with an uphill climb to even sniff conference-title contention. Georgia Tech made its statement that it would be no doormat in the ACC in 2020 with a season-opening win at Florida State. Both teams had extra time to prepare for the game with last week off, so Friday night marks an undeniable pivot point in the season for both of these second-year coaches.
Louisville: Malik Cunningham is tied with Trevor Lawrence for the most passing touchdowns in the ACC (7). but he and the much-touted Cardinals offense are coming off their worst performance of the season in the loss to Pitt. Cunningham was sacked seven times and completed just 9 of 21 passes for 107 yards and threw three interceptions in the loss as the team totaled just 223 yards of offense. Running back Javian Hawkins, one of just three players in the ACC averaging more than 100 rushing yards per game, had an impressive 75-yard touchdown run in the first half but totaled just 3 yards on his other 12 carries in the loss. At every turn it seems like Louisville is both living up to the reputation of having one of the best offenses in the ACC yet have not been able to round it out against conference competition in a way that sparks a victory. Even the defense follows in this storyline of disjointed accolades, with linebacker Dorian Etheridge leading the nation with 8.5 tackles for loss on the season, but the defense as a whole ranks No. 11 among the 15 ACC teams in yards per play allowed. Louisville has the ingredients to be one of the best teams in the league -- it just needs to tighten up a little bit.
Georgia Tech: One of the early trademarks of this Yellow Jackets team has been improvements in some of the lesser-heralded aspects of the game that make the difference in winning and losing. Georgia Tech ranks in the top 10 nationally in net punting (No. 4), fumble recoveries (No. 7) and fewest sacks allowed per game (No. 8), while also checking in the top 25 nationally in rushing offense, total offense, red zone defense and takeaways. The freshmen duo of quarterback Jeff Sims and running back Jahmyr Gibbs are showing fans how Geoff Collins' work on the recruiting trail is making an immediate impact, helping turn an offense that ranked dead last in ACC in 2019 into one of the top four units in the conference through three games. At every turn it seems like we're seeing Georgia Tech starting to make a return to the ACC championship-contention that defined much of the Paul Johnson era, just with a new look on the field and a new face on the sideline.
Date: Friday, Oct. 9 | Time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: Bobby Dodd Stadium -- Atlanta
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Game prediction, pick
There were stretches of Louisville's loss to Pitt that suggested the Cards defense had turned a corner after getting picked apart by Miami and giving up some big plays in the first half to the Panthers. There was some bend-but-don't-break to their effort, with the defense standing tall and forcing field goals after Pitt got advantageous field position or entered scoring position with an explosive play. With a week off, maybe the defensive staff has been able to correct some of those issues and we see Louisville come up with some turnovers against a Georgia Tech team that ranks last in the ACC in turnover margin. Pick: Louisville (-4)
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