The Daily Tar Heel

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Sunday July 25th

ACC preview: Louisville lurks as dark-horse Atlantic threat

In preparation for the North Carolina football team's season opener on Sept. 3, we've broken down everything you need to know about each team in the ACC. Check out the rest of our previews here.

Coach: 

Bobby Petrino (third year at Louisville) 

Record last year: 

8-5 (5-3 ACC) 

When do they play UNC? 

N/A

Where are they projected? 

Third in Atlantic Division 

How do they play?:

Louisville's backbone is its ultra-aggressive defense. In 2015, the Cardinals ranked third in the ACC in total defense, allowing only 332.8 yards per game. 

The front seven wreaked havoc on opposing offensive lines, using their athleticism to bring down the quarterback and stuff the run while forcing the offense into mistakes. The unit finished second in the ACC in sacks (38) and first in forced turnovers (26). Look for the defense to be equally as effective in 2016, as eight starters return from a season ago. 

Petrino’s power spread offense operates in a similarly aggressive manner. The Cardinals wear out their opponents by combining a physical running game with long throws that spread the defense out. The result is an explosive offense capable of picking up huge chunks of yards at a time and putting points on the board in a hurry. 

Though he usually prefers a more pro-style offense, Petrino’s play-calling last season suggests he will be more open to using option and zone-read plays. Expect the offense to hit the ground running this season, as all starting pass catchers and running backs return. 

Who stands out?

Louisville's biggest standout this offseason has easily been dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jackson. The sophomore won the starting job after throwing for 1,840 yards and leading the team in rushing last season, despite not being the full-time starter. 

Jackson’s gaudy production and explosive playmaking have some pointing to him as a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate. If Jackson can improve his accuracy and cut down on mistakes this season, he could live up to the hype. The Cardinals will need him to do just that if they want to establish themselves among the nation's elite teams. 

On the other side of the ball, senior linebacker Devonte Fields hopes to improve on a strong junior season in which he lead the team with 22.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks. The Cardinals will look to the preseason All-American to serve as a sparkplug, bringing intensity and swagger to the defense. 

What is their biggest weakness?

Louisville's success this season will hinge on whether its offensive line can improve on a disastrous 2015 season.

Ten different players started on the offensive line for the Cardinals in 2015 as the unit gave up 44 sacks — the second-highest total in the country. 

The problem likely stemmed from a lack of experience, as four of the five regular starters were either first-years or sophomores. That figures to be less of a problem this year, as the group now has a season's worth of experience under its belt. 

Why could they win the ACC?

Though they find themselves in the same division as the two clear favorites to win the conference — Florida State and Clemson — it's not out of the question to think the Cardinals could make a surprise run at an ACC title. 

If Louisville can upset Florida State at home in Week 3 and enter its Week 5 matchup with Clemson undefeated, the possibility of a tie atop the Atlantic division becomes a possibility. 

Led by a dynamic quarterback and anchored by a veteran defense, the Cardinals are prime candidates to pull these upsets off and shake up the ACC this season.

@The_Belshe

sports@dailytarheel.com

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