Tis season of second guessing for Louisville football

Dae Williams scores the second of two touchdowns, this one putting Louisville the lead over Western Kentucky. Top Photo: Malik Cunningham was UofL’s leading ground gainer with 135 yards on 21 carries. (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

Going to be a long week for the University of Louisville football program, the coaches, the players and the fans who closely follow the team. Lots of second guessing, hind sight expertise, and unbridled bashing of the coaching staff.

The most questionable issue was Coach Bobby Petrino’s decision early in the second quarter to go for it on fourth-and-three on his team’s 32-yard line. Quarterback Malik Cunningham would be tagged for no gain and Western Kentucky would score three plays later and go ahead 14-0.

Coach Bobby Petrino more than a little disappointed after eking out a three-point win over Western Kentucky. UofL was a 24-point favorite (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Petrino obviously frustrated with the lack of a running game at that point. Stubborn, not believing what he was seeing, gambling and losing, putting his team in a hole. Disbelief among many UofL fans in the crowd of 54,923, what was going on down there?

The coach was already being second-guessed for his decision to start Jawan Pass at quarterback and another lackluster performance. No pass completions in three attempts, one of them an interception. His team would have only one yard rushing before Pass was jerked after the first quarter.

Questions about the ineffectiveness of the offensive line, a line averaging 315 pounds, the unit with the most experience, expected to provide a major advantage this season. A sieve at times, the Cardinals struggling for yardage, managing only 292 offensive yards compared to 428 for WKU.

The defense, missing stalwart linebackers Jonathan Greenard and Dorian Etheridge, repeatedly unable to stop Western Kentucky, especially on numerous third down plays. Miraculously blocking a field goal attempt that would enable Louisville to eventually claim the 20-17 victory.

Alex Kupper, a WHAS radio color commentator and former UofL tackle, bemoaning a lack of sense of urgency, intensity or accountability, suggesting the season ahead could be a long one for Louisville football. Fortunately for him that he wasn’t in Petrino’s presence.

Then there are the questions about the youth and inexperienced coaches on the UofL staff, at least three of them related to the head coach. Plus a rising tide of criticism about the inability of some coaches to work with Petrino. And, finally, questions about Bobby 1.0 and Bobby 2.0, a lack of discipline, and disorganization. Concern that things are going south quick, even though the Cardinals have won two of their first three games.

Petrino has been here before, three years ago Louisville having lost the first three games before winning seven of the last eight and a bowl appearance. “No question about it, we’re not a very good football team right now,” he said afterwards. “We’ve got to get a lot better.” He’s not one for wishful thinking so his team can expect some challenging practice sessions this week.

The future always always seems to be the most bleak after a loss, but in this case UofL is coming off two consecutive wins. Some ominous signs sending the Monday morning quarterbacks into disarray early in the season.

Basketball just can’t wait for college football season

The unveiling of a new University of Louisville basketball schedule inevitably brings mixed feelings for this observer. The schedule release always occurs early in September, diverting attention away from the college football season only three weeks into the schedule.

When Rick Pitino was here, the schedule always seemed to be announced just a couple of days before the opening football game. Seemingly intentional timing, like someone wanting to remind local fans of the most worshipped sport in Louisville, football be damned.

 Probably has something to do with the fact that the city and the state have never enjoyed sustained success in football, the sports fanatics having little choice but basketball for any notoriety. And why state schools, including UofL, despite some notable achievements in football, are still considered “basketball schools.”

Not necessarily a bad thing, despite the taint swirling around college basketball these days, FBI investigations and such. But lack of overall success in football can detract from a school’s overall national reputation. UofL football was close to breaking through the perceived barrier a couple of years ago before its offensive line collapsed, knocking the program out of contention for the college football playoffs. 

It has always taken this observer three or four weeks into the schedule to get over football and get excited about basketball.  The transition could take even longer this year with the opening exhibition game against Bellarmine coming three days before Halloween.  The earlier part of the schedule also will include no names like Nicholls State, Southern, Central Arkansas, Kent State and Robert Morris.

For some reason, someone at the NCAA believes the college basketball season should start earlier and earlier every year. The Cardinals will already be playing teams like Tennessee, Michigan State, and Kansas or Marquette by the end of November. The NCAA as an organization does not own college football like it does basketball, and apparently wants to milk the sport for every possible dollar.

Among the good things on the UofL basketball schedule is the fact that the Cardinals aren’t playing Kentucky on New Year’s Eve this year, with that game set for Saturday, Dec. 29th. Also nice that slackers like Pittsburgh and Boston College are each on the schedule twice this year. Louisville will also play two games against North Carolina.

The bad news is UofL also plays Virginia twice again this season, with games at home and on the road. Never good to see the Cavaliers as the final game of the regular season, especially at Charlottesville. By then, however, college basketball will have captured our full attention, having gradually worked it way back to becoming the center of the sports universe. 

2018-19 University of Louisville basketball schedule

UofL fans fight the weather, drowning out the football game

Cindy Rice Shelton photos

The weather was never going to cooperate with University of Louisville football program for the home opener of the 2018 season. The local forecasters finally getting one right, with the last breath of Hurricane Gordon dumping its massive leftovers on Cardinal Stadium.

Martin Kaelin broke out the snorkleing gear to help cope with the sappy weather conditions (Charlie Springer photo).

The day getting off to a decent start, with the rain waiting until UofL fans were finding their parking spots.  But the clouds would begin to leak as fans were setting up their tailgating canopies, soaking the fans and their food, determined to make life miserable for the Cardinal faithful. The rain would continue well into the night and long after the football game had finally ended.

The inclement weather interruptions long ago having ceased to be fun or novel for Louisville fans. This day among the most irritable ever, interrupting the football game four different times, sending fans to the concourses and the players back to the dressing room.

No cooperation, admiration or respect from Mother Nature for what should have been a glorious unveiling of the North end zone expansion.

No cooperation, admiration or respect from Mother Nature for what should have been a glorious unveiling of the North end zone expansion. The game would start at 7 p.m. and end five hours and 35 minutes later. 

As for the football, what could one expect from a game that had been interrupted so often, with delays lasting from 30 to 45-minute increments. Halftime finally arriving a couple of hours later, the team mired in a 7-7 tie. Some welcome signs of life for the UofL offense with the entrance of backup quarterback Malik Cunningham late in their third quarter. 

Cunningham would quickly unveil some amazing speed with a 19-yard run on his first play from scrimmage. The first real sign of a running game this season. Making it look relatively easy, with his team chewing up 85 yards in 11 plays and Cunningham making the go-ahead touchdown.

Mekhi Beckton providing another welcome highlight a few minutes later as the 350-pound offensive tackle lept over and through the offensive line for a one-yard touchdown. Wide receiver Jaylen Smith would make the final score 31-7 on a 34-yard touchdown pass from Cunningham.

By then, however, most of the people in the crowd of 44,420 had given up on seeing any highlights, weary of the seemingly unnecessary interruptions, wanting to get dry, wanting to get out of there. Their introduction to the 2018 football season the equivalent of serving as a volunteer in the dunking booth. 

An extra treat was in store for drivers as they exited onto Floyd Street, where all the the ditches beside the road were overflowing and water pooling at least 10 inches deep in spots. Once drivers had committed to Floyd Street, they were own their own, desperately hoping they could make it to the distant intersection. Not much help from the cops or the blinding blue lights, the occupants of the police cars seemingly only concerned about staying dry.

UofL fans saw more of the concourses and each other than the football game during the five-and-a-half hour marathon (Charlie Springer photo).

Wow factors all in place for expanded Cardinal Stadium

Cindy Rice Shelton photos  No one could have imagined how grand the $63 million addition would be to the north end of Cardinal Stadium. The end result is nothing short of spectacular — a striking tribute to what has occurred at the University of Louisville over the past two decades and a monumental commitment to the school’s football program.

Vince Tyra is placing a heavy emphasis on a positive fan experience in his role as UofL Athletic Directory (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

One could only marvel at all the changes that will be on display Saturday for UofL’s opening game against Indiana State. Approximately 5,400 new seats have been added, raising the stadium’s seating capacity to more than 60,000. Three mammoth new video boards have been installed, including two in the north end  zone and still another on the other end.

New, larger ribbon video bands have replaced existing bands throughout the stadium. The newly enclosed facility is also going to be louder than ever and vibrant, with the possibility of some unprecedented lighting effects. The upper level of the north end features the Adidas logo, in gray stripes among the predominant red seats.

Athletic Director Vince Tyra says the school is going all out to enhance the fan experience this season, having lowered prices on numerous concession items and offering specials to get fans into the stadium for kickoff. That includes opening the parking lots two hours earlier for tailgating, and opening the stadium gates 30 minutes earlier. And for the beer lovers, those  arriving early can purchase a draft beer for $2 on the Norton Terrace and $3 on the concourses throughout the stadium two hours before kickoff.

At long last, 20 years after the opening of Cardinal Stadium, a genuine tunnel for University of Louisville football players.

Tomorrow, tomorrow is always a day away, even for UofL football

By Keith Thomerson

The Louisville Cardinals lost. Way too many mistakes to beat a good Alabama football team, or any other football team.

The sun came up on Sunday and as I look out my home-office window, the sun is shining again. We must remember the game is played by 18 to 22-year-old young men. They make mistakes just like we all did and continue to do. They, as we have, will learn from those mistakes. The coaching staff will help them solve those mistakes and go on to the next game.

As a teenager, I tore an important three-paragraph piece out of a church bulletin. It has meant so much to me over the years and every time someone wants to criticize anything, I read it. The author is unknown.

“The galleries are full of critics. They play no ball. They fight no fights. They make no mistakes because they attempt nothing. Down in the arena are the doers. They make mistakes because they attempt many things.

“The person who makes no mistakes lacks boldness and the spirit of adventure. They are the ones who never tries anything. They are the brake on the wheel of progress.

“And yet it cannot be truly said, they make no mistakes because the biggest mistake they make is the very fact that they try nothing, do nothing, except criticize those who do things.”

The Louisville football team will get to play another game on Saturday. Hopefully, the mistakes will have been fixed.