Squirrel steals spotlight, but Louisville football pummels Kent State

This touchdown reception from Lamar Jackson to Javonte Bagley moved Jackson past Chris Redman on the all-time scoring list with 88 touchdowns.  In the top photo, Malik Williams scores the first of his touchdowns in the first quarter (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

The lasting memory for most fans who attended the University of Louisville-Kent State football game will be of the squirrel showing up around the 50 yard line late in the second quarter. With nobody bothering to challenge it, the rodent would scamper 50 yards to the end zone.

Stopping to catch its breath or bask in the admiration, the creature draws the only roar of the day from the crowd of 47,812 at Cardinal Stadium. It then wanders over to the Kent State sideline where it is cornered and bagged by the grounds’ crew for second loudest cheer of the day.

Trumaine Washington has been picked on a lot by opposing quarterbacks this season. Not on Saturday, however, intercepting a Kent State pass for a 39-yard touchdown (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Coming on a day when Lamar Jackson would be out-gained on the ground for the first time in his college career in a 42-3 win over Kent State. Not by the squirrel but by senior teammate Malik Williams who had 51 yards rushing while Jackson chalked up only 41 on the ground.

Remains to be seen, however, whether Williams’ performance on Saturday moves him past Reggie Bonnafon in the pecking order. Williams would be good for two touchdowns, on runs of 3 and 33 yards while pulling down four passes for 43 yards. Bonnafon, meanwhile, had 18 yards rushing and 30 yards on two receptions.

Lamar Jackson getting UofL in the end zone for the 88th time, setting an all-time record and bypassing Chris Redman in the record books (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

One of Jackson’s better days throwing the football, completing 18 of 22 attempt for 299 yards. Think maybe that’s what his Coach Bobby Petrino demanded on him, stand in the pocket, do those progressions, and be accurate. Best percentage ever but one of those misses was an interception.

Hard to draw any conclusions about improvements against one of the most challenged teams in college football, but Kent State’s 11 passing yards were fewest allowed by Louisville since Western Kentucky University was held to 10 yards in 1989. The Cardinals allowed Kent State only 10 yards rushing and recorded 14 tackles for loss Saturday.

The face Kent State will see in their nightmares for a few days will be that of UofL freshman linebacker Dorian Etheridge, who was in on nine tackles, including nine solo hits.

As for the squirrel, it was not available for comment after the game, having been escorted to Belknap Campus to join his many buddies there.

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Louisville football’s resurrection begins against lowly Kent State

The pain is still almost as acute today as it was immediately following  the University of Louisville football team’s humiliating loss to Clemson. The worst possible outcome for witnessed by a national TV audience. Thankfully most of the viewers probably switched channels before the fourth quarter.

The quest to regain credibility begins anew this weekend with a noon game against Kent State, one of the worse teams in college football. Under Paul Haines, who was out with an illness until last week, the Golden Flash is 1-2 this year and 13-35 over the last five seasons. They lost their starting quarterback with an ACL knee injury in the last game.

Not exactly the kind of opponent that commands respect for a UofL team that has provided more questions than answers.

UofL's running game has been disappointing because it largely consists of Jackson, Jackson and Jackson. No secret about what it takes to stop Louisville, just stop Jackson.

Even if UofL’s defense were to hold Kent State scoreless, it would be still suspect after giving up 110 points in the first three games. Opposing quarterbacks have moved the ball with ease with their passing, finding little resistance, keeping the Cardinals grabbing for air. Watch for Kent State to test the UofL corner backs and safeties early and often.

UofL’s running game has been disappointing because it largely consists of Jackson, Jackson and Jackson. No secret about what it takes to stop Louisville, just stop Jackson. He badly needs some help in the backfield and he’s not getting any from Reggie Bonnafon who has gained only 79 yards in 20 carries.

Until Coach Bobby Petrino gets past Bonnafon, there will be little assistance. Malik Williams provides Petrino with an excellent option if he chooses to take advantage, with the athleticism and escapability so badly needed. Possibly the worst thing that could happen would be for Bonnafon to have a field day against Kent State, delaying the inevitable move to Williams.

In a lot of ways UofL is almost starting all over again against Kent State, playing in one of those valleys that follow peak opportunities like the game against Clemson. That beating took a toll on the program and will be reflected in a light turnout, largely consisting of diehard fans and hard core tailgaters  this week.

Hard for even the diehards to get up early on a Saturday morning, start tailgating early, and get there in time for a Noon kickoff. Couldn’t be that much fun for the players, largely playing to get the coaches off their backs. But the fans have been there before many times, over several decades, knowing that progress for UofL football takes time. Lots and lots of time and patience. Enormous amounts actually.

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Outlook suddenly not so brilliant for Louisville football

Bobby Petrino and Lamar Jackson lead Card March into Cardinal Stadium on a day that began as early as 4:30 a.m. for some fans, especially those who wanted to participate in ESPN’s Game Day programming at Belknap Campus (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

Sunday was supposed to be a day following the University of Louisville’s first win over Clemson, a time to celebrate another milestone, breaking into the nation’s top 10, and igniting talk of college playoff possibilities all over again.

Seems like some disillusion and wishful thinking now following a 47-21 beating in which Clemson dominated Louisville in all phases of the game before a crowd of 55,582 fans at Cardinal Stadium, the second largest attended game in UofL football history.

Lamar Jackson finds some rare running room in the third quarter (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Quarterback Lamar Jackson scrambling and hemmed in most of the night, unable to connect with his favorite receivers when it counted. Throws to Jaylen Smith bouncing off his fingers or his chest much of the night. Des Fitzpatrick covered up, hard to find. Both would eventually score but not before the game was well out of reach.

None of those exciting way-down-the-field passes for Jackson in this game. The only thing that seemed to work, and dismally at that, were numerous sideline passes, resulting in only three or four yards at best. One is in trouble when that is the best available option.

The crowd of 55,580 was the second largest in UofL football history (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Reggie Bonnafon still struggling to gain any traction at running back, seemingly running in slow motion. Forget about reckless abandon for Bonnafon, and he’s not a point of emphasis for opposing coaches. Managing only 17 yards in his four carries. Malik Williams clearly the better option, picking up 39 yards in six run and 36 more on three pass receptions. But Bobby Petrino is sticking with Bonnafon until he is forced to make a change.

Reminiscent of days of old, Clemson making it look so easy. Louisville’s passing defense has been abused since the opening game against Purdue, and it’s only getting worse. Mindful of the Kragthorpian days with opposing quarterbacks getting all the time they need to find open receivers all over the field.

The one-sided loss capable of robbing fans of much of the optimism for the season. The immediate outlook ho-hum with noon kickoffs against Kent State and Murray State over the next two weeks. No disrespect but it’s pretty hard to get excited for the no-names, whether one is a fan or a player.

Making UofL football fun again has to begin sometime. There are five weeks before the Cardinals line up against Florida State in Tallahassee. Lots of time to get better, make the season meaningful again.

 

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Johnny U returns to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium

He’s back.

The Johnny Unitas statue has returned to its rightful home following a 10-month hiatus from Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, moving from the north end zone to a perch on the party deck atop the south end zone.

The base of the Johnny Unitas statue will soon be encased in granite and will include the names of original donors to the statue project.

A temporary base is currently in place for the statue, displaying the original four base plaques.  A new granite base for the statue is still in production and will be added later. The new base will contain the fan names and inscriptions that were engraved on the brick pavers that surrounded the statue in its former position.

“We asked our fans for input into options on where we would relocate this wonderful representation of one of the greatest football players in history,” said Tom Jurich, UofL vice president and director of athletics.  “This placement overlooking the field will continue to celebrate Johnny Unitas’ legacy and will also grant our fans better viewing options.”

Continue reading “Johnny U returns to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium”

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Train may have finally arrived for Louisville football

The ESPN hype train arrives in Louisville on Friday, making Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium the center of the college football universe, at least for the weekend. A major intersection, a crossroads for UofL football program. Maybe still another milestone.

A game pitting the No. 13 University of Louisville football against third-ranked Clemson, featuring Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson against the defending national champion. Against a team and a coach that believed former CU quarterback Deshaun Watson was more deserving on the Heisman award.

UofL badly needs to get its first win over Clemson in four tries, after falling short, knocking on the door at the end, losing all three games by six points or less over the past three seasons. Leaving the field with their offense in the shadow of the goalposts each time, knowing they could have, probably should have won each of those games.

Former UofL assistant Vance Bedford once urged Louisville fans to get on board the train. And they will be Saturday night, upwards of 55,000 fans or so, probably setting another all-time attendance record for Cardinals’ football.

Make no mistake, much at stake here for Louisville football. Win and the program will take a monumental leap in national respect. Lose and the journey just gets harder and longer, postponing the inevitable into an uncertain future.

Blow the horn, stoke those coals, fan the flames, darken the skies with black smoke. Louisville football, time to go.

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