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The Ledford Effect

By Jim Johnson
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Dwayne Ledford is one of the best offensive line coaches in the game right now, full stop.

Dwayne Ledford is one of the best offensive line coaches in the game right now, full stop.

The former East Carolina and NFL offensive lineman got his first coaching gig as an assistant strength and conditioning coach at UNC, in 2005, after retiring from professional football as a Cleveland Brown.

He then spent a couple of seasons with the Frankfurt Galaxy in NFL Europe, before the league disbanded in 2007, less than a week after his team lost in the title game to the Hamburg Sea Devils.

Back stateside, he found work at a high school in North Carolina, spent the two years after that at his alma mater, and then bounced around from Tennessee State to Gardner-Webb -- each one year stints -- prior to finally finding a home at App State, in 2012.

It was there, in Boone, that he and Scott Satterfield first collaborated. Satterfield, the offensive coordinator, with Ledford as the line coach, helped the Mountaineers toa SoCon Championship that season.

The next year, when Satterfield got the big job, Ledford was promoted to co-offensive coordinator, while maintaining his responsibilities over the offensive line.

The proceeding three years saw App State undergo one of the most impressive FCS-to-FBS transitions ever. In 2014, the team’s first year in the Sun Belt after moving up, Ledford’s O-Line group ranked in the national top ten in adjusted sack rate, and the top 40 in both percentage of 5+ yard carries, and short yardage rushing conversion rate.

A year later, the pass protection stayed in the upper echelon, 26th in adjusted sack rate, and made great strides in the run game, jumping from 65th in adjusted line yards per carry to 28th, and from 39th in percentage of 5+ yard carries to 10th.

Satterfield stayed with the Mountaineers, leading them to three consecutive conference titles from 2016-2018, including the first ever Sun Belt Conference Championship Game victory, but after just two seasons in the FBS, the P5 came calling for Ledford.

It was then that he took over as NC State’s offensive line coach. In 2015, pre-Ledford, the Wolfpack’s offensive line ranked 107th in adjusted sack rate, 119th on standard downs and 115th on passing downs.

The improvement was marked and immediate, leaping to 36th on standard downs, 8th on passing downs, and 10th in overall adjusted sack rate. When the following April rolled around, one of his star pupils, Will Richardson, became the first NC State offensive tackle drafted into the NFL since 2005.

Even without Richardson, not to mention All-ACC guard Tony Adams, 2018 was more of the same: 9th on standard downs and 6th on both passing downs and in overall adjusted sack rate.

Guard Terrone Prescod was selected as a first team All-American by Pro Football Focus, following that season, grading out as their top overall offensive lineman, while center Garrett Bradbury was a consensus All-American, was drafted in the first round, and won the Rimington Trophy, becoming the program’s first national award winner on offense since Jim Ritcher won the Outland Trophy in 1979.

Not long after App State won that aforementioned inaugural Sun Belt title game, Scott Satterfield took the head coaching job at Louisville. Ledford was one of his first calls, thereafter.

“Coach Led was at App for four years with me when I first got back as the Head Coach,” Satterfield explained at the ACC Kickoff, back in July. “Then he moved on, and he actually turned down about five jobs before he took the one in Raleigh. He did a great job there. He was one of the guys I reached out to early on and said, ‘Hey, listen. I’d love for you to come on and be my O-Line coach. He had some other opportunities,  but I’m glad he came on. We had a great working relationship and he does a phenomenal job with offensive linemen. He knows exactly want we want to do. What we want to do offensively is exactly what he wants to do and it meshes very well.”

Despite both of their proven track records, what they found at their new home was what, to many, could have appeared an insurmountable rebuild. Of course, by that same token, their respective and combined track records did point to a path forward… some years down the line.

For Louisville and their new coaching staff, this should have been as zero a year as year zeroes get. As far as anyone can tell, Louisville and their new coaching staff don’t care much about should.

According to OAYP, Louisville projected to have the #12 offensive line in the ACC, going into to 2019.

Last year, this unit ranked 86th in line yards per carry (87th on passing downs), 79th in percentage of 5+ yard carries, and 121st in sack rate on passing downs.

It’s easy to see where the formula was coming from.

Of course, the formula didn’t account for the Ledford effect.

The Cardinals’ front five is better in each of those metrics, thus far -- 70th in line yards per carry (15th on passing downs), 34th in percentage of 5+ yard carries, and 34th in passing down sack rate.

Correspondingly, they currently sit at #7 in the ACC, as a unit, in OAYP.  They got off to a good start a solid performance against and elite Notre Dame defensive front, in the opener, before taking a modest step back against Western Kentucky, followed by a more pronounced regression versus Florida State. However, apparently having found their footing, that group has been nothing short of fantastic the last two times out.

In fact, if you remove the Florida State game, Louisville would rank in the top three in the league in OL OAYP, and over each team’s past two FBS contests, the Cards jump to #2. In other words, while this hasn’t quite been one of the best offensive lines in the conference, it’s arguably the hottest.

And on a soaring upward trajectory, the future looks brighter with each passing week.

Granted, with the Clemson matchup looming on Saturday, their toughest test lies ahead. The Tigers’ defensive front certainly isn’t what it was in 2018, but it’s still among the nation’s best. Plus, no one in the country gets more out of his front seven than Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables.

Then again, it’s long past time that folks start saying the same thing about Dwayne Ledford and his offensive linemen.

Regardless of the outcome of that game, this season has already been a rousing success for Louisville. Having already exceeded pretty much any reasonable expectations, this program is at least one, maybe two years ahead of schedule.

Reunited with Dwayne Ledford, Scott Satterfield wasted no time in picking up where they left off.

Just as Ledford’s offensive line has paved the way for Javian Hawkins all season, he and Satterfield are paving the way for a consistent winner in Louisville.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP