Louisville football reaches first-ever ACC Championship under first-year head coach Jeff Brohm

The sun sets over L&N stadium, home of the Louisville Cardinals.
The sun sets over L&N stadium, home of the Louisville Cardinals.
Morgan Schmidt

On December 5, 2022, Louisville football head coach Scott Satterfield announced his decision to resign and become the Cincinnati Bearcats head coach. The Cardinals finished the 2022 season 8-5, a record considered mediocre and not up to expectations, considering the potential on the roster.

After a brief coaching search, the university was ecstatic to announce the hire of the new head coach, Jeff Brohm. Brohm grew up in Louisville, attending Trinity High School and then became the star quarterback for the Cardinals from 1989-1993. Before returning to Louisville, he coached at Western Kentucky University and Purdue University. At Purdue, he exceeded expectations, bringing the program their first Big Ten West title ever. Needless to say, the city of Louisville felt that there could not be a more perfect fit for the job.

Outside of Louisville, however, critics were loud. Many questioned Brohm’s ability to lead a transfer-heavy team, featuring nearly 30 newcomers via the transfer portal and even more straight out of high school. With 23 players departing to other schools, Louisville had one of the largest turnovers in the country and many questioned the roster’s ability to come together smoothly. They were picked to finish eighth in the ACC preseason poll and the 2023 season was considered by many to be a “rebuild year” with some new faces on the coaching staff- including Brian Brohm, quarterbacks coach and also a previous Louisville player- and major roster turnover.

A few transfers stood out among the chaos. One of these was new starting quarterback Jack Plummer, a sixth-year senior who played under Brohm at Purdue from 2019-2021. The pickup was vital to the Cards’ season hopes as a reliable veteran quarterback had been missing from the roster. Analysts worried about the young player’s maturity level and agreed that a tested veteran was just what Brohm’s squad needed. Other notable transfers included Jamari Thrash, a standout receiver from Georgia State University, and all-conference edge rusher Stephen Herron from Stanford.

Louisville fans were excited for the opening game of the season, as thousands made the trip to Atlanta, Georgia, where the Cardinals faced the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. On September 1, 2023, the Jeff Brohm era officially began with a 39-34 victory over a conference foe. After an overall shaky first half, the Cards rallied with a come-from-behind win. They were led by Plummer, who threw for 247 yards and 3 touchdowns.

The win was shaky, and the media was still not sold on the Cards. Plummer’s first-half play was criticized and many doubted his ability to lead the team. After a 56-0 shutout against Murray State, more concerns were drawn when Louisville traveled to Indianapolis to play the Indiana Hoosiers on September 16th. After heading into halftime with a 21-0 lead, the Hoosiers scored 14 unanswered points, and the Cardinals scraped by with a 21-14 victory thanks to a goal-line stop by their defense. While outsiders may have been concerned, the team itself kept a level head and persevered, bouncing back with a 56-28 victory over Boston College in week 4.

Through the first quarter of the season, stars emerged for Louisville, with the greatest among them being Heisman hopeful and star running back Jawhar Jordan. He amassed 478 yards and six touchdowns in the first four games, leading the ACC in rushing yards and helping Louisville shape its identity as an offensive juggernaut. 

While the offense picked up speed, the defense also began to emerge as a top unit in the nation. They held NC State to one touchdown in a 10-13 victory heading into a vital home matchup against the ranked and formidable Notre Dame.

The Notre Dame matchup was the most anticipated game in Louisville since the Lamar Jackson era. The stars were out, with Jack Harlow, Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland and more in attendance. The Cardinals put on a show and delivered a dominant 33-20 victory. They did it in front of a record-breaking crowd of 59,081, the highest attendance ever at L&N Stadium. The city had bought into what Brohm and his team had to offer. The Cards were 6-0 for the first time since 2013 and with the city behind them, and the sky was the limit. Across the college football world, fans and analysts began citing Louisville as a dark horse ACC Championship and even a College Football Playoff team.

However, many of those whispers quickly died when Louisville fell to Pitt, one of the bottom teams in the ACC, 38-21 in week 7. Many questioned the Cards’ ability to bounce back from a game they should have won, and concerns reignited from Jeff Brohm’s career at Purdue where he was often criticized for winning the tough games but dropping contests the team should have won. 

Following the bye week, Louisville welcomed a ranked Duke team, led by star quarterback Riley Leonard, to L&N Stadium. It seemed like a must-win to keep Louisville’s championship hopes alive, and they delivered. The defense had an outstanding performance, shutting out a ranked opponent for the first time in program history. The Cards defeated the Blue Devils 23-0.

By this point in the season, Louisville’s defense was emerging as a top unit in the country. The defense was led by Ashton Gillotte, a junior defensive lineman and member of the Defensive Player of the Year award watchlist. Gillotte has 10 solo sacks this season and has quickly emerged as one of the top-edge rushers in the country. 

The offense was clicking, the defense was clicking and the Cards were rolling as they headed into the home stretch of the season. After a dominant win over Virginia Tech and a last-second victory over Virginia, Louisville faced a challenge as they headed to Florida to face the University of Miami Hurricanes. A win would send them to the conference championship, a feat that many had considered impossible 10 weeks ago.

The game was back and forth with the teams trading touchdowns. Nearing the end of the fourth quarter, Louisville was up by seven and needed one more stop. Miami fired a hail mary down the field, but Louisville’s defense delivered one more crucial stop, a goal-line tackle, to defeat the Hurricanes 38-31. The Cardinals had reached 10 wins for the first time since 2013 and earned a place in the ACC Championship for the first time in program history. 

Louisville ended their regular season with a disappointing 38-31 loss to Kentucky and will face Florida State on Saturday, December 2nd in Charlotte, North Carolina. 14 Cardinals earned All-ACC Honors with Ashton Gillotte (def. end), Jawhar Jordan (running back), and Bryan Hudson (def. center) being named First Team All-ACC. Bryan Hudson was also announced as the recipient of the 2023 Jacobs Blocking Trophy, an award given to the best blocker in the conference. The latest College Football Playoff rankings put the Cardinals at number 14. They head into ACC Championship week as 2.5-point underdogs against number four Florida State. 

The 2023 football season has been one to remember for the Louisville Cardinals and their fanbase. The program has reached unprecedented success, and hometown Brohm has taken the team to new heights. To many in the Louisville community, it feels like the sky is the limit for the future of the Louisville Cardinals football team. 

About the Contributors
Lydia Adams, Staffer
Lydia Adams is a sports staffer on RedEye. In her free time, she likes to run, read, and watch a lot of sports. Her favorite teams and Louisville and the Cincinnati Bengals. You can contact her at [email protected].
Morgan Schmidt, Social Media Director
Morgan Schmidt is the Social Media Director for Manual RedEye. You can contact her at [email protected].
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