The 2016 Louisville football regular season has come and gone. There were highs and lows, good times and bad. There were unbelievable times and unbelievably frustrating times. So where are we as a football program? Neither the 63-20 win against Florida St. nor the loss to UK at home give an accurate representation. They are, in fact, outliers. It’s never quite as good or as bad as it seems at the time and realistically, the Louisville football program has positioned itself quite well.
In 2015, Louisville’s offense started 3 different quarterbacks, a mixed bag of offensive lineman who were inexperienced, and a slew of freshman wide receivers. Bobby Petrino relied on true freshman to execute an offense that demands perfection. Geron Christian, Lamar Jackson, Kenny Thomas, Kiola Mahoni, Khalil Hunter, Jaylen Smith, Devante Peete, Emonee Spence, Traveon Samuel, Dee Smith, Jeremy Smith, Jaire Alexander, Drew Bailey, Devonte Fields, Josh Harvey-Clemons, Shaq Wiggins, Micky Crum and Cole Hikutini. What did they all have in common? They all contributed in 2015 as FIRST YEAR PLAYERS.
Fast forward a year.
In 2016 the script flipped. The majority of the 2016 recruiting class was able to redshirt including guys such as Jawon Pass, Dez Fitzpatrick, Chris Taylor-Yamanoha, PJ Blue, Lamarques Thomas, Caleb Tillman, Keion Wakefield, and Robbie Bell, just to name a few.
What a difference 1 year can make.
The significance of this speaks for itself. Not only in 2017 do you get an incoming recruiting class in which a select few who are ready can contribute, but you also get a majority of the 2016 recruiting class who have become bigger stronger, faster, and more familiar with a complex offensive and defensive playbook.
Was the end of the 2016 season disappointing? Absolutely, there is no other way around it. Louisville lost to 2 teams that they should have beaten, and done so very easily as Louisville was the better, more talented team. Conversely, the Cardinals also destroyed two talented teams in Florida St. and NC St. Can you imagine the 2015 Louisville team doing this? This is exactly where the improvement lies. Louisville IS one of the most dangerous teams in the country. They boast the nation’s most dynamic player and loads of talent on both sides of the ball. What they are lacking is talented and experienced depth, something teams such as Clemson, Alabama, Ohio St. etc. have. Developing this sort of depth takes time. It takes several recruiting cycles and the ability to redshirt for several years before it can be established.
There has been a lot of talk recently about the coaches, particularly Coach Klenakis and Coach Grantham, and disappointments on both the offensive line and defense respectively. I can completely understand this sentiment and frankly I am not sure exactly to what extent they can be blamed. Sure, both units have had times where they have struggled but look at the details. An offensive line is most effective with juniors and seniors who have been in the program, redshirted, and developed. In 2016 the line consisted of a RS So, a former walk-on, a true sophomore, and 2 JUCO’s that were only in their second year in the system. When looking at the defensive side of the ball, like I mentioned above, the depth just isn’t there yet to match teams that will compete in the CFP. I’m not saying there is absolutely nothing to see here. I too have concerns that the defense was very confused at times and the offensive line committed too many penalties. Bottom line? I trust Coach Petrino and Tom Jurich will make the right decision for the team.
Building a program takes time and there will be hiccups along the way. The emotions the end of the season brought will linger longer than we would like, but hopefully a good bowl win will reverse this sentiment. Throughout the ups and downs it is important to note the areas of progress that have been made, not only over the past year but also the past decade and more. And while it is perfectly acceptable to be frustrated with setbacks like the Kentucky loss, we have to do our best to look past it and see that the Louisville football program truly is on a collision course with the national championship.
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