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 worse 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.

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.

 

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.”

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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.

Bill Stone places trust in David Grissom’s leadership at UofL

One of the faces I look forward to seeing is that of Bill Stone at announcements of major advancements at the University of Louisville. Always seems to be there, as he was when UofL announced the hiring of Howard Schnellenberger in 1985, for the groundbreaking of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in 1994, for the Tom Jurich intro in 1997, for the Big East announcement in 2005, the Charlie Strong hiring in 2009, the ACC in 2014 and many 0ther milestones along the way.

Bill Stone was an early believer in vast potential for University of Louisville athletics, challenging business and civic leadership to take advantage of one of the community’s greatest assets.

Stone always with a quiet smile at those events knowing how far the UofL has come over several decades. Proud of the school, aware of how far the institution still has to go, but having played a significant role in many of the milestones, savoring and relishing each of them.

I first became aware of Stone’s affection for UofL in the early Seventies through his Louisville Plate Glass newsletter. I was editor of the Jefferson Reporter, a weekly newspaper at the time. I looked forward to his latest epistles with those insightful comments on UofL sports. A busy executive who followed the Cardinals closely. One who tailgated frequently with the late Owsley B. Frazier at home football games, sometimes taking him to road games.

I met Bill personally a few years later as a member of the UofL Associates, a booster group, admiring his advocacy for the program. He was just as forceful as a member of the Board of Directors of the Louisville Area Chamber of Commerce. He has served on the UofL Board of Trustees and the UofL Board of Overseers, and he is currently a director of the UofL Athletic Association and the UofL Cardiovascular Institute — as well as involved in a wide range of other community leadership roles.

No one in the community cares more deeply for UofL or has been more active in promoting the University than Bill Stone. He’s the one I go to for insights on UofL issues because of his dedication and aspirations for the school.

Some recent speculation, largely on sports radio talk shows and fan message boards, has raised questions about the relationship between the current leadership of the Trustees and the Athletic Department. Some suggesting there is a rift between the two segments, that the current Board of Trustees under Chairman David Grissom may be displeased with UofL athletics for some reason.

“I can’t speak for the board but I know that there is great appreciation for what the Athletic Department has accomplished under Tom Jurich,” said Stone. “Some tension between the two groups is not necessarily a negative thing, occurring naturally within any organization. I believe Interim President Greg Postel is supportive of the Athletic Department and I would be disappointed otherwise.”

Stone said he was seated at the same table with Postel at the 50-Yard Line Dinner when the Adidas deal was unveiled. “He stood and applauded when Tom Jurich was announced, just like everybody else,” he said. “He was genuinely excited about the deal.”

As for his thoughts on whether Postel would be a serious candidate for the position of University President, Stone said the University “could do a lot worse. He’s a fine person, a quick learner who brings dignity and credibility to his job. He’s a very good man.”

David Grissom assumed the chairmanship of the Board of Trustees in 2016 when the previous board was dissolved.

He also believes J. David Grissom was an excellent choice to chair the Board of Trustees. “David is a person of great integrity, outstanding ability and he has been highly successful in everything he undertakes,” said Stone. “I have no doubt that he seeks excellence for UofL.

“David is never going to be seen at UofL game wearing all red, screaming, yelling, jumping up and down, shouting at a referee over a bad call. That’s just not who he is. He is a first-class, world-class executive, and we are fortunate to have someone like him on our team.”

Stone added that Grissom admires success, and was extremely pleased with the $160 million deal Jurich negotiated with Adidas. “Extremely pleased,” he added for emphasis. “He respects success and Tom is very successful. Anyone who thinks Grissom has ulterior motives or other than the best for UofL is way off base. Just plain wrong.”

Stone would not speculate on why Papa John’s executive John Schnatter had made some critical comments about the Athletic Department. “The bottom line is he has done a lot of good things for UofL athletics,” he said. “His name is on the stadium for good reason.”

As for UofL supporters worried about a possible UK tilt on the board, Stone wanted to alleviate that concern. “Many of the issues we are dealing with now are self-inflicted,” he said. “We’re talking about successful business people and educators. They didn’t get to where they are by being petty. I don’t think UK enters into their thinking at all.”

Stone says his only criticism of the current board is that there are few members who are emotionally involved with and passionate about the University. “That may come with time. They have the power, the resources and abilities to make some incredible things happen.”

For all the issues hanging over the campus, Stone remains confident that things are again headed in the right direction. He’s been through a lot for the University over the years, seen more than his share of ups and downs, and is emotionally invested.

“Despite all the problems, UofL remains the most attractive school in the commonwealth right now, with improving SAT scores and higher grade point averages. So much going for UofL, we can relax on building facilities for a while and focus on academics and research. I feel good about the future.”