Saturday night at Cardinal Stadium fans started losing patience. The first one-third of the Louisville Football season hasn’t gone according to plan…… or has it? Everyone around the country expected the Cards to be 2-1, so here we are exactly as expected, but only in the record books. The eye test, the stats, and the manner in which the road to 2-1 isn’t at all like what was expected of UofL in 2018.
Monday morning on the Deener show fans called for Bobby’s job. Later in the day while I was on “The Drive” fans again called for Jeff Brohm to “come home”. And while everyone who wears the Red & Black loves the Brohm family Purdue is 0-3 staring down the barrel of 0-4 as Boston College comes to West Lafayette this week. Louisville is still 2-1 with an opportunity to get its first ACC win of 2018 vs. Virginia this week. Louisville has scored on 8 of 12 drives with Malik Cunningham at Quarterback.
We live in a ‘what have you done for me lately?’ kind of society. But it is important to remember that Louisville Football is only a 5th year Power 5 program after joining the ACC for the 2014 season. It’s also important to remember that Lamar Jackson isn’t here anymore…. and it’s important to realize that there has been to date just one player ever like Lamar Jackson. And it’s important to remember that Louisville is replacing 8 of 11 starters on Defense…. with a defensive coordinator.
And while we are remembering things. I remember when Cardinal Stadium was 42,000 seats. And I remember the 1st expansion. I remember 41-9 with two #6 finishes in the country in 2004 & 2006. I remember the way Louisville was able to grind to victories in 2014 & 2015 when Louisville was getting started again. And I remember the Orange Bowl. And I remember the Heisman Trophy. The numerous draft picks. Bobby Petrino has been a MAJOR part of the ascension of the Louisville Football program. So this hot seat stuff is pre-mature… at best.
Bobby could help himself though. Generally speaking fans can be mature when their expectations are managed. At ACC Media Days this July he said that he ‘expected the offense to be better than a year ago”. Well Louisville’s offense was #2 in the nation last year. Hard to really improve on that. So maybe the comment was misguided, but Bobby clarified his intent Monday “I expect a lot of things.” The man has high expectations and he’s done a lot of great things in football. But Louisville fans have high expectations too, especially when Petrino himself is touting this offense. As it sits the Cardinal offense is gaining 307 yards per game in 2018…. it’s 120th in the country. It’s not good enough. Bobby Petrino knows that.
Then Petrino followed up his confident speak by saying, “I believe we will beat Alabama… I believe it and we’re going to go and do it.” Bobby’s Wide Receivers followed suit. Fans & Petrino’s desired expectations for the offense & the program are in sync, but Louisville fans have been building since the 80s. Cardinal fans understand the process of climbing the ladder, so building up the offense (even to give them confidence) throws the expectations for 2018 out of alignment from the work that needs to be done to transition to life without Lamar.
For Louisville fans, having a Bobby Petrino coached team with a sub par offense shakes confidence. This should be the ONE THING you can count on with a Petrino coached team. So the panic Louisville fans are feeling right now is kind of like a run on a bank…… but there is still plenty of capital to back belief in Bobby.
It’s also interesting to watch how Lamar Jackson and his subsequent development is used against Bobby Petrino. Petrino had to foresight to play Lamar at Quarterback. Other top programs sought to change Lamar’s position. Only Florida came in late to offer Jackson that opportunity. So it’s very curious how the ‘best player in college football history’ is held against Petrino when he (almost all by himself) had the vision to keep him at the quarterback position.
There is a question on why Bobby would start & enthusiastically praise Jawon Pass given the on field results thus far in 2018. Malik Cunningham is clearly a fierce competitor that appears to have limitations. Jawon is a big bodied QB who has patience…. probably too much. It’s clear that Pass has a better arm with more patience. But Malik Cunningham makes decisions quickly and might make just one read and take off. It stands to reason that Petrino expected to run the ball better in 2018 (which would have covered up a great number of flaws) and hoped that routinely praising Jawon Pass publicly that any resulting confidence would raise Jawon’s level of play in his 3rd Fall Camp. But we’ll move forward with Pass hopefully able to learn from some errors and the program will have Malik Cunningham get the ball and hopefully he can continue to trend of scoring on 75% of his QB’d drives.
Some critics point to 3 defensive coordinators in 3 years. In a perfect world Bobby Petrino and Todd Grantham figure out a way to work together. But football is a people business and sometimes it’s best for everyone to just move on. Peter Sirmon was a disaster, but so far Brian Van Gorder looks to be up to the task. Louisville’s young defense grew up in the 2nd half versus Western Kentucky, there are far fewer bust plays and while there is work still to be done defensively fans should be able to note the improvement from a year prior despite massive injuries on Saturday.
There is also criticism of Bobby Petrino hiring family members. Should there come a time where Louisville needs to bring Paul Petrino back to Louisville……. is there anyone who would object to that? Nick Petrino coaches Quarterbacks where in his first two season his position that he coached won the Heisman Trophy and followed it up with the 2nd Heisman Runner-Up. LD Scott has been a major recruiter for Louisville and his defensive line didn’t look great in the 1st half vs. Western Kentucky, but his unit in the 2nd half dominated with a blocked field goal (Goldwire), tons of run stops (T. Peterson) and a game winning sack (J. Jackson). Ryan Beard’s linebacker crew came into the WKU game without Dorian Etheridge and saw CJ Avery make an INT and true freshman Robert Hicks grow before our eyes and lead Louisville in tackles. I certainly understand that when hiring family it makes it difficult to replacing under-performing family members….. but there are a lot of football coaching families out there, like the Brohms.
Louisville has to play better football. Bobby Petrino said as much on Monday. The Cards have to find a running game with the running backs. They need much more consistent play from the Quarterback position, they need to be much more physical overall but especially at the line of scrimmage and they need to come out and play with energy EARLY in the ball game. Get on the board early with the script that the team practices all week. They just need to IMPROVE week to week. The good news is that Bobby Petrino is this team’s head coach. He has built winners before and I am willing to watch him build a winner again.
I also wanted to take a moment to note an article written in the Lexington Herald Leader by Mark Story. Mark Story is a terrific writer who routinely creates thought provoking material over at the LHL….. he has my full respect. But we’re going to be on separate sides of his most recent article “In Stoops vs. Petrino, the worm sure has turned since 9/17/2016”
Story points out that two years ago Louisville was undefeated having shocked the college football landscape with a blistering win over Florida State and Kentucky was soft out of the gate….. again.
But listen, Louisville doesn’t ever compare itself to Kentucky without being sarcastic. The Cats are 3-0 having finally beaten Florida and Louisville is 2-1 with a loss over Alabama. It’s true that early in 2018 UofL doesn’t resemble itself and Kentucky has some juice early on……. but we’re 3 games into the season. The “worm” will mature and turn as the season draws nearer to completion. For now Louisville still hasn’t punted versus Kentucky since 2016 or 661 days. Louisville just had two 1st Round Draft Picks. Kentucky had ZERO selections in 7 rounds of the draft. Early season results might create excitement and anxiety between the two fan bases, but in Stoops vs. Petrino it’s been checkmate for Petrino for quite sometime.
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