Cardinal fans….. I get it. It’s been rough to be fans of the University of Louisville lately. Sports is usually reserved as an escape so it’s been tough to learn about the Board of Trustees, worrying about the banner, investigations, sanctions, inquiries, probes, audits……. Even on the field we’ve been disappointed: an early exit from the NCAA Tournament vs. Michigan in hoops, Baseball finally won the 1st in Omaha but dropped the next two and we had a Heisman winning QB in contention for the College Football Playoff in Mid-November and fumbled away the next 3 games….. Oh and we lost to Kentucky…… in football.
But there’s a lot on campus to be happy about. Swimming has been rolling, Soccer is loaded, Jeff Walz has a squad…. so does Rick Pitino & others for 2017-18. But what we’re talking about today is football.
There is a cautious optimism about Louisville Football among the fans, but it seems like Cardinal fans have been conditioned to brace themselves lately. It’s totally different from 2012-14 when almost everything seemed to go UofL’s way. Now when things are “looking good” fans seem to be “looking out”. What bad news is coming next?
Well let’s throw that out of the Houston press box window.
2017-18 is a clean slate. And that Heisman winner mentioned in the 1st paragraph? Yeah he’s coming back and the mad genius Bobby Petrino is his coach. Bobby has that same understated smile this year as he did last year: He’s got something special. But Petrino isn’t one to oversell it, he knows he has work to do. Petrino went from 2003 to 2013 as a head coach running a pocket passing system to within 3 seasons at UofL coaching a Heisman winning Quarterback after changing philsophies entirely to a dual-threat system. Lamar Jackson & Petrino will come together perhaps for the final season (though Lamar insists he has two years remaining) and it’s impossible to imagine them both not learning an awful lot on how UofL Football finished last season. Louisville Football, Lamar & Bobby put up unprecendented numbers in the first 10 games…… and then left us scratching our heads for the final 3. So we’ll watch and see how the Cards come out of the gate in 2017…but perhaps more importantly how they finish in November.
Mike Summers is back. We’ll find out more about the offensive line and how its coming together during Fall Camp…. but Mike Summers is back. Geron Christian will start his 3rd year at Weakside Tackle. Lukayus McNeil will start for the 3rd consecutive year on the line. Kenny Thomas will start for the 3rd consecutive year on the line. And Mike Summers is back. Robbie Bell looks set to be the first scholarship Center to start for UofL since Mario Benavides & Jake Smith departed. Louisville recruited 6 Offensive Lineman to compete and shake up things and Cole Bentley looks like he’ll crack the line up, Mekhi Becton is huge, Ronald Rudd is a JUCO who will fight for early time…. And Mike Summers is BACK!!!!!!
There’s been a lot of talk about getting Lamar under center (myself included) but that’s only for two reasons: Power Running Game and Bringing in More Play Action. Bobby Petrino isn’t going to take the lightning out of Lamar Jackson, he’s still going to be in shotgun, he’s still going to run read option plays, he’s still going to throw beyond the zone (because it’s suicide to play Man Coverage). But getting under center will add a few wrinkles, get his teammates involved more and take some pressure off Lamar….and give the Cards more options when they need to produce a long drive.
James Quick, Jamari Staples, Cole Hikutini have departed. So we just started the Jaylen Smith, Seth Dawkins, Dez Fitpatrick, Devante Peete, Traveon Samuel, Kemari Averett, Micky Crum, Jordan Davis era (there are some seniors too… ssshhhh). Louisville may be more loaded than ever at receiver and tight end.
The Running Backs were depleted at the end of last season & during Spring. Malik Williams broke his hand and had a knee injury, Jeremy Smith had to go into the lab, Dae Williams went down during Spring. So enter Reggie Bonnafon, let me introduce a healthy Malik Williams and Jeremy Smith and a Trey Smith that is ready to make an impact. Oh and 4-star signee Colin Wilson…. don’t forget about him. He might have something to say by the time the Cards kick off versus Purdue.
Moving over to the defense. I’m bullish on Peter Sirmon. All of the evidence is that this is going to be REALLY GOOD. I don’t see this as being a mediocre middle type hire by Bobby Petrino. And if Petrino belives in Peter Sirmon…. I do too. He has EXCELLENT coaches around him like veteran Lorenzo Ward and young up and coming coaches in Cort Dennison and LD Scott. The Cards have some roster challenges upfront, specifically at Middle Linebacker (except for Stacy Thomas, let’s be serious the guy is a stud) and on the defensive line depth. Everywhere else, Louisville has options.
This won’t be a situation like last year when Louisville was gutted in the secondary by the time UofL lined up to play Houston & Kentucky. Jaire Alexander is THE BEST CORNER IN THE COUNTRY. Ronald Walker, Cornelius Sturghill, Trumaine Washington & Russ Yeast will hold it down. And when Louisville loses one to an injury they won’t be scrambling like they were a year ago. The safeties are sick and its Louisville’s deepest position by far: Chucky Williams, Zykiesis Cannon, and Dee Smith are the names you know but these guys will be joined by CJ Avery, PJ Blue, Lamarques Thomas, Tresean Smith, Rodney Owens, Lyn Strange, Khane Pass & Kaheem Roach. The secondary has the full personnel it needs maybe for the first time since 2014.
We already talked about Stacy Thomas, but he’s bigger than he was a year ago. More experienced than ever, more healthy than he’s ever been as a starter. He’s been a playmaker since he arrived and played exclusively on special teams his first two seasons. He played last year hurt as a result of testicular torsion suffered during training camp that visibly affected him throughout 2016…. that’s over. Now we get to see Stacy Thomas go off. Next to him London Iakopo has also gotten bigger and is ready to roll after rehabbing his knee injury suffered during the Marshall game last season. London has a natural feel for the game and linebacker really suits his instincts. But the coaches love young guys like Malik Staples, Kam Jones & Dorian Etheridge on the inside and Louisville also has experienced players waiting their turn in Amonte Caban & Isaac Stewart.
The outside linebackers are perhaps Louisville’s second most complete unit….. James Hearns, Trevon Young, Jonathan Greenard. You need me to go on? OK. How about guys who have been waiting like Gary McCrae, Tabarious Peterson & Malik Clark? Oh and Boosie Whitlow is waiting in the wings for 2018. Ridiculous passing rushing ability here.
Upfront UofL is set up well with De’Asian Richardson, Drew Bailey, Chris Williams, GG Robinson & Henry Famurewa. And young guys Caleb Tillman & Derek Dorsey will help but the Cards are going to have to get its playmakers on the field so those uber talented OLBs will factor upfront too.
Special teams returns the best net punter in Louisville Football history in Mason King and Blanton Creque survived the Derrius Guice train and lived to tell about it….. so there is no sense in wasting life beyond that. Creque’s kicking better than ever.
Bottom line……… LOUISVILLE FOOTBALL IS GOING TO BE REALLY GOOD IN 2017. It returns its MAD GENIUS FOOTBALL SAVANT COACH BOBBY PETRINO!! Petrino’s 4th season at UofL in 2004? 12-1 with an Orange Bowl win, final ranking #6 in AP. Petrino’s 4th season at Arkansas in 2011? 11-2 with a Cotton Bowl win, final ranking #5 in AP. Lamar Jackson returns and the two things that people really underestimate about Lamar Jackson: 1) His Drive 2) His Intelligence. Petrino has discussed Lamar’s coachability for 3 years and if you put a willingness to learn with the best coach in the country and that player has a photographic memory with the vision and physical ability of Lamar Jackson? Success. We saw that last season, we’ll see it again in 2017. Does Lamar need to fumble less & hit the check down more? Yes. But we’ll see that.
Peter Sirmon has more than enough to work with on defense to keep the Cards’ streak of SEVEN TOP 25 DEFENSES IN A ROW going and should have a Top 25 defense again in 2017 for the 8th consecutive season. Louisville has some ultra talented skill players…… and oh yeah….. Mike Summers is Back.
It’s OK for Louisville Football Fans to Be Excited in 2017. Get ready to go nuts. Practice #1 is at 4:00 p.m. today.