Who will replace Javian Hawkins in Louisville's running back rotation?

Cameron Teague Robinson
Louisville Courier Journal

Javian Hawkins' career at Louisville is over.  

The Cardinals’ standout running back announced Monday he was opting out of the 2020 season with just three games remaining and plans to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft. That leaves Louisville without one of the most explosive running backs in the country at their disposal.  

In his two years as a starter for Louisville, Hawkins ran for 2,355 yards, highlighted by a 1,535-yard performance last year when he received All-ACC honors. But now the Cardinals must move on — and abruptly. 

Backup running back Hassan Hall, who was expected to be the starter last year before Hawkins took over, is returning to the starting lineup after missing the last three games. He missed the Virginia game because of a death in his family.  

Behind Hall, Louisville has Maurice Burkley, a former walk-on, and redshirt freshmen Aidan Robbins and Jalen Mitchel.  

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Satterfield’s teams have always worked to establish the run to open up the offense. That won’t change at Louisville just because Hawkins is gone, as Satterfield believes he has a good crop of backs behind him to carry the load going forward.  

“These are the guys who will finish out as running backs for us and hopefully will have good games here as we finish out this season," Satterfield said. 

Satterfield has been a head coach for seven years, and he’s had a 1,000-yard rusher in each of those seasons.  

That streak will likely end this year with Hawkins opting out, but Hall’s return is key. The Atlanta native was injured against Notre Dame, which forced him to miss two games plus another for a death in his family.  

But with him back, Louisville has a running back with starting experience. Hawkins and Hall were always considered a strong one-two combo. Though Hall isn’t as explosive as Hawkins, he was considered a player that could rush for 1,000 yards if given the chance.  

In the last two years as a backup, Hall has 645 total rushing yards. He’s battled injuries the last two years and has only carried the ball 134 times, but is averaging 4.8 yards per carry.  

“He's kind of had one of these crazy years. Kind of like 2020's gone, but it's gone that way for Hall as well,” Satterfield said. “He's had some injuries this year, he's had some time he's missed, last week he had to deal with the family issue. We'll see where it's at this week at practice.”  

Louisville won’t put all the rushing responsibility on Hall’s back, though.  

Louisville Cardinals running back Jalen Mitchell (15) carries the ball past Virginia Cavaliers linebacker Nick Jackson (6) in the first quarter at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020.

In his time at Louisville, Satterfield has usually run a two-running back system but said he may use three on Saturday against Syracuse. With Hall and Hawkins out last week, Burkley got the start, with 44 yards on 12 carries. Redshirt freshman Jalen Mitchell had 76 yards on seven carries, highlighted by a 50-yard run in the first quarter.  

"I thought Burkley had some good strong runs. Not the big-time explosive runs, Mitchell had a great run there down the sideline. That was a big play for us,” Satterfield said. “Also in protection, I thought Burkley did a great job. Virginia blitzed, I don't have the percentage, but most of the time they brought a linebacker where our running backs had to step up and take care of the blocking. Burkley did a really nice job with that. He's very cerebral.

"We saw what Mitchell can do. I think Mitchell is a guy who's a big strong running back. You guys have not seen much of him on gameday. And I think he showed that. He had a good run against Florida State. A couple good runs. And then of course Saturday, he had the big run. Broke some tackles, got some positive yards. So, he's a kind of back I think will get better and better the more opportunities he gets.” 

Though Robbins, a Louisville native and redshirt freshman, didn’t play against Virginia, Satterfield said he remains in the mix for playing time.  

The challenge with trying to find the right running back to fill the rotation for Hawkins is allowing players to get into a groove, but also keeping them fresh.  

"Whether that be pass protection or running, you get a feel for blocks, you get a feel for how a defense is playing that particular day. If you’re doing a lot of rotation in running backs, you might not get that same kind of feel,” Satterfield said. 

Louisville was going to be without Hawkins sooner or later, it just so happens that time came before many expected. Now the Cardinals must prepare for the future now but still do so with a starting-caliber running back in Hall.  

Cameron Teague Robinson CTeagueRob@gannett.com; Twitter: @cj_teague.