University of Louisville Head Football Coach Bobby Petrino spoke Monday to the media to preview Friday night’s game vs. Syracuse and also recap Saturday’s loss to Clemson.
COACH PETRINO: “Watching the video, our defense didn’t play well. We didn’t tackle well. There were a number of times where we had guys in position, sometimes two and three, and didn’t tackle well. They are very good. What they do with their offensive line and their running backs, they’re very good, and we obviously couldn’t slow them down. Offensively, I thought we did some good things. I thought, early in the game, the drive that we had in the first quarter where we ended up with a field goal was something that we were trying to do, which was control the football, keep their offense on the sideline, mix run, convert some third downs. And actually, in the first half, we did a good job of converting third downs. We just couldn’t get the ball in the end zone, and their defensive front…there’s a few plays where their defensive front was back there before (redshirt sophomore quarterback Jawon) Puma (Pass) got to set up. I did think (redshirt freshman quarterback) Malik (Cunningham) came in and gave us some energy and some fire. We wanted to make sure that the second series he was in, that we threw the ball, not just ran the option stuff. I’ve been seeing him throw better in practice, and snapping his wrist, and being more accurate, so it was good to see that show up on the game.
As far as special teams go, (freshman kick returner) Hassan Hall had a great game for us, obviously. The kickoff return was very well blocked, as was the previous one. He was one cut away from the previous one to getting a touchdown. I think he may have cut the wrong way, but he corrected it the second time and beat the kicker and did a really nice job. Very special player, very talented guy that’s going to continue to get better and help us.
Short week, so we’re getting ready for Friday night to go to Syracuse. Their offense is very explosive. They score a lot of points up there in the dome inside. Quarterback that we know really well—he can do a lot: run the ball, throw the ball, get the ball out of his hand quick, so that’s a great challenge for us. Offensively, we’re going to have to execute and score points, keep up with them. But, we are looking forward to it. Our guys came out and practiced hard—had good attitude and good effort at practice. It was nice out there being in the stadium, change of temperature and everything made it good for us to get out and practice.”
How do you get better this week on defense?
“We’ve got to be able to tackle, so we’re working really hard on that. Some of it was just not bringing our feet with us and being in good positions. We’ve got to take better angles. Sometimes, when you’re going against a guy like number nine (Clemson sophomore running back Travis Etienne) who’s that fast, the angles changed quick. He’s a very dynamic running back, he can do a lot of things. But, that’s one thing that we’ve got to do. We’ve got to keep the ball in front of us. That’s really important that we keep the ball in front of us. One of the challenges this week is how fast they play. They’re going to play as fast as anyone that we’ve went against. (Syracuse senior quarterback) Eric Dungey knows how to execute that offense and work it, so we’ve got to be able to keep it in front of us and not give up the great big explosive plays. You’ve got to be able to stop the big plays, and get to third-and-long. That’s been killing us that we haven’t been able to get them into third-and-long. I don’t think they had anything higher than third-and-eight the other day. Most of them were all third-and-short, third-and-medium, and you need to get them into third-and-long, so you can get some pressure.”
As you watch the video of Clemson, are you comfortable with the level of effort your defense gave?
“There’s some plays that you’d like to see better effort. Obviously, there was some frustration that set in there in the second half. It wasn’t something where I felt like they just gave in. I think they got frustrated at times and we got out of position at times. I didn’t feel like they just gave in. The defensive front was working hard to try and get their hands and get in the right position. The linebackers got covered up by their guards and tackles, and we weren’t able to get the right angles by our safeties to get the plays. But certainly, it’s hard when you’re giving up that many points. That’s something that you’re not used to doing.”
Were you pleased with what Puma did? And after that, talk about Malik’s progression. He seems like he came a long way from the last time we saw him.
“Puma did some good things, but he missed a few, too. There was a few where after he got hit and they rushed him, he didn’t set a few times where he could’ve completed the ball, even though there was some pressure. That’s another learning thing that you have to do is be able to set and transfer. But, their defensive front wore him down a little bit. They hit him, and they sacked him. And, I felt like I wanted to keep him in there to make him get that experience, but at the same time, we were talking the whole third quarter about, ‘Should we give him one more series? Should we get Malik in? What should we do?’ But, I did think he did some good things on third down, and he did understand what was going on, but the pressure was a lot. When they had their starters in on the defensive front, there was pressure on the quarterback a lot.”
I know you spend most of your time with the offense calling the plays. When the defense is struggling like it is, what direction have you given Coach (Brian) VanGorder in conversations?
“We talked first thing on Sunday morning. We talked about what we needed to do to try to get the ball to stay in front of us, what we needed to do to tackle, trying to figure out how to get guys is different positions. Do we try to use new personnel, different personnel, put them in different positions? There’s all kinds of things that we discussed and talked about. It is one of those things that if you keep changing things, then you never get better. So, you do try to keep some understanding of what it is we do and try to work to get better at it. But we’re going to have to give some different looks, particularly this week because they’ve got four fast receivers that they’ll play out there, and they throw it around. So, we’re going to have to give some different defensive looks.”
You talked about what to do better, how to keep guys in front of you. What are the answers? What did you come up with?
“A lot of it is vision, a lot of it is an understanding of what’s going on out there and taking the right angles. We had some vision issues where we weren’t really looking at the offensive tackles, reading run and pass, and that hurt us.”
On the field goal drive, which was probably your best sustained drive of the game, you were really moving them off the ball during part of that time. Do you see that and say, ‘Look guys, we’re capable, this is what we can do. We just weren’t doing it?’
“We actually had some really well-blocked plays against good guys. I thought (redshirt freshman running back) Colin (Wilson) came in and made some really nice runs, was close to breaking them. That was a difference that showed up on video from them and us is when they got one-on-one, they scored. When we got one-on-one, they tackled us. That was something that really did jump out at us. But, we did block the front, we did some really good run plays. We read some really good things by the quarterback on handing it off and the back being in the right spot. That one drive we even got some power runs on him, and then of course, they adjust. They adjusted to it and saw some personnel groupings that we were in and just blitzed it. That’s hard to run, you’ve got to be able to make the checks, and that’s how their answer to stopping that first drive was.”
You said you saw some frustration on the field on Saturday, but none of that’s really carried over to practice. They had good attitudes today?
“They worked hard, and they had good attitudes. It’s hard losing games. It’s hard losing when you can’t stop them, and the score gets out of hand like it got out of hand. I do think the offense continued to play extremely hard, and I think Malik had a lot to do with that. He brought energy and he ran around, gave us some excitement. But guys went and made catches, contested catches and ran the routes full speed. Our offensive line kept working, but it’s hard losing games getting out of control. They’re a really good football team, there’s no question about that, but we’re not where we need to be.”
When you’re struggling like that, what do you do as a coach with your team to make sure that they’re still happy and engaged and not discouraged?
“I spend a lot of time in the offensive huddle on the sideline, and some of that is hard to do. I tried to make sure that we were talking to Puma all the time, receivers had some input going on. I thought there was good communication in the huddle, but then I get out of it and I’m still on the phones talking to the coaches, but you’re not right in there with them. And then, the defense, they’ve been a group that has been able to stick together. They’re young and they’ve built on that. We’re going to continue to grow and get better, but it was the first time I’ve seen our defense that I think the look in their eye wasn’t what you wanted to see from them. We’ve addressed that, and they came out and practiced hard today. They didn’t have the right look in their eye in the second half, and it’s hard.”
How did you address it?
“You have to tell them to keep playing, have a good attitude, focus, understand it. Most of the time, as an athlete what you have to be able to do is look at yourself in the mirror and be honest with yourself, and they all understand that, ‘Hey, I wasn’t exactly into it the way I wanted to be or the way I should be.’ (Sophomore defensive lineman) Mike Boykin got frustrated when (sophomore cornerback) Marlon (Character) got kicked out of the game and acted inappropriately, throwing his helmet and doing some things that you shouldn’t do. It had just to do with his buddy Marlon, it didn’t have to do with anything else, but that’s not how you act. You’re supposed to be able to handle situations, so we get a little learning experience there for him.”
Jordan Travis did an exit interview with a local fan site, and he was quoted saying that he wasn’t happy here and that he didn’t have a great relationship with (quarterbacks coach) Nick (Petrino). Did you know that any of that was going on, and what’s your response to that?
Jordan came into my office and sat and talked to me. We had a long, long discussion. He said a lot of things about not being happy here and friends, and certain things like that. But, obviously, he decided to transfer, and we wish him well. He gave great effort, he was always into the meetings and did a good job in the meeting room. I think sometimes you get away from home and it’s different than what you think. Hopefully, he has a good career and is successful.”
You mentioned last week that you would retain yourself if you could. If you have the chance, what would be your thoughts on how to fix the problems you’ve had this year?
“This is not the meeting to start talking about what we’ve to get done next year, but we certainly will address that.”
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