Louisville needed football to be good this season

Sad, the depths to which University of Louisville football has descended.

For a brief period there, UofL was considered one of the up-and-coming programs in college football. A program generating win after win, consistently setting new attendance records, taking large, enthusiastic crowds to BCS bowls and entertaining legitimate college playoff hopes.

Football having raised the profile of UofL to levels not possible with any other sport. The king of college sports, integral to achieving and maintaining national respectability. Especially at a school where the basketball program is faced with an uncertain future. UofL needed football to be good. 

Any hope of football filling any voids for the University or achieving much of anything this season was greatly diminished with Saturday’s 38-20 drubbing at the hands of Boston College. Were it not for a couple of turnovers during the early going, it would have been much uglier.

Pretty apparent to a fan base with a legacy of great quarterbacks that Louisville has missed the mark this season. Granted the offensive line has some challenges, but the quarterback should be able to overcome some of those deficiencies once in a while.

What fans are seeing is a lack of leadership at the position and little evidence of any of the right instincts. Taking too long to make decisions, spending half the game in panic mode, showing little sense of timing, and missing badly on wide open receivers. Not knowing when to throw the ball away, not playing with emotion, standing way behind the curve on the development scale.

The offensive line, expected to be one of the strongest team’s strongest units, often resembles a flimsy barrier of yellow tape, inviting defensive linemen to have their way with Louisville’s quarterback. A recurring scene from Saturday’s game was of linemen standing straight up, ignoring, avoiding incoming defensive lineman.

Credit the Cardinal defense for keeping Boston College from keeping the game from being a complete rout. Little help from the offense, which had only five offensive series in the second half. Way too much pressure on a defense already struggling to contain the edge and runs up the middle.

Sadly there are probably more beatings to come for a team that has stumbled out of the gate with 2-5 won-lost record. Finding any reason for optimism will become increasingly difficult.

Dark cloud over Cardinal Stadium keeps getting bigger

The symbolism was just too obvious to ignore. That dark cloud over Cardinal Stadium appearing just before kickoff. Growing larger and larger by the minute, eventually engulfing the entire complex. Something bad was coming.

 And it would not be good for the University of Louisville football program. A team looking to recover from a down-to-the-wire loss to Florida State, with a coach desperately needing something to build on. The vibes unmistakably ominous, but there is no turning back.

Coach Bobby Petrino, true to form, choosing to go on offense again at kickoff. A nice 22-yard pass play from Puma Pass to Mickey Crum on the opening play. The last sign of life for a while, though, the Cardinals wasting the next three downs, then throwing an incomplete pass on fourth down.

Giving up the ball to Georgia Tech on the 50-yard line, the Yellow Jackets needing only five plays to get on the scoreboard. The route was on, and an uncontested Georgia Tech would roll to a 21-0 lead after the first quarter.  Everyone in the crowd of 51,658 knew the game was over.  

By the time it was really over, Georgia Tech had outscored 66-31 in one of the worst losses for Louisville in Cardinal Stadium.  The Cardinals were never in it, and the outlook for the rest of the season is bleak. 

The UofL defense was totally unprepared for Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense, leaking yards by the dozen play after play. The Yellow Jackets would rack up 542 yards while allowing the Cardinals only 113.  Georgia Tech had so much confidence in its ground game that it threw only two passes all night long, completing one for 12 yards.

If there was anything encouraging for UofL, it was Puma Pass completing 23 of 35 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns. No interceptions in this game. Signs of progress, yes.  No indications of significant leadership abilities quite yet.

One almost has to feel sorry for Coach Bobby Petrino. His reputation as an offensive genius diminishing with every game in recent memory. He is going through a coach’s nightmare right now and there seems to be no way to break through the gloom. Somewhere along the way the offensive juggernaut that was Louisville football has gone off the track. Petrino has lost the golden ticket and it’s going to be very difficult to get it punched again.

A long-time fan, who will have attended almost every game this season, at home and on the road, said this year’s team reminds him of Ron Cooper’s final team in 1997, a team that finished 2-10 and got him fired. “That team had a lot of good players but it also had several coaches with no idea of what they were doing,” he said. “I can’t see this team winning another game.”

That enormous black cloud at kickoff was not a coincidence. 

No way is UofL’s Bendapudi your typical liberal university president

New University of Louisville President Neeli Bendapudi was flanked by Board Chairman David Grissom (left) and former Interim President Greg Postel (right) during her inauguration..
An estimated 2,500 people were on hand for the inauguration of the university’s 18th President.

The University of Louisville appears to have made an exceptional hire in securing Neeli Bendapudi as the 18th President of the school. She doesn’t seem to be the typical liberal educator, having the ability to communicate well with all segments of the university and the community 

While Bendapudi talks a great deal about inclusion and diversity, it is obvious that her goals for UofL go far beyond issues in which the school has already received national recognition. It is becoming obvious that she doesn’t fit the liberal stereotype so dominant in the leadership of American universities.

For example, during her inauguration ceremony Thursday, one of the people she wanted to speak was General Robert Brown, commander of the U.S. Army Pacific, who had worked with her in developing educational programs for veterans and active military at the University of Kansas.

Brown described her involvement as phenomenal, going far beyond the promises of previous administrators. “She was invested in making the program life-changing for the participants,” he said. “It is a model program for military and educational cooperation.

“She’s the right leader at the right time for this institution, if I can be so bold to say that. But it’s so obvious,” Brown said.

Bendapudi, who formerly served Provost and Dean of the Kansas School of Business, also has considerable experience in and appreciation for the business community. She has served as a consultant to dozens of the world’s largest companies, including Procter & Gamble, Deloitte & Touche and Cessna. 

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Petrino chooses not to play safe, and the slide continues

A great day for a game, a 3:30 p.m. kickoff, temperatures in the low seventies, a kettle of shrimp boil on the burner, tailgaters all in, stuffing themselves, taking turns downing shots, celebrating football, friendships  and the beginning of the fall season.

Harry Douglas, former University of Louisville star and Atlanta Falcon great, showing up for the tailgate, having such a good time, deciding to hang out for quite a while. Clearly enjoying the adulation of UofL fans, entertaining them with his exuberance and outgoing personality.

What could go wrong?

Harry Douglas, former UofL and Atlanta Falcon great, and The Observer team up during tailgating prior to the Florida State game.

The Louisville football team on the verge of defeating Florida State for an unprecedented third straight time in three seasons. Having discovered an offense, with an actual ground game, quarterback Puma Pass his throwing eye, passing for more than 300 yards. UofL leading by 10 points going into the fourth quarter.

Late fourth quarter, marching the ball down the field, the clock winding down to 1:56, the Cardinals with a first down on the Seminoles’ 21 yard line. Easy does it, keep the ball inbounds, grind it out on the ground, run the clock out, protect that fragile three-point lead. Just run out the clock.

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Bobby Petrino not leaving Louisville anytime soon

The hounds are nipping at Bobby Petrino’s heels after an unimpressive start to the season (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Anybody want to start all over again in football at the University of Louisville? Not that that’s going to happen anytime soon, not with eight more games remaining this season. Yet that seems to be what some people want, jumping on the coach after only four games.

One shouldn’t be surprised, not with all the short memories, not with the what have you done for me latelies, all the loud voices. Seems to be a lack of patience, impartiality and critical thinking these days. Hostiles ready to make accusations, innocents eager to believe them. A mob scenario, with actions based on emotion and feelings, little regard for evidence or past performance.

Bobby Petrino’s team has gotten off to a less-than-impressive performance this season, 2-2 after four games, getting demolished by Alabama, struggling against two mediocre teams, and losing to a bottom feeder in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

UofL football fans were giddy, their man was Bobby Petrino. All was right with the world.

How quickly some forget. Just three years ago, in 2015, the Cardinals got off to a disastrous start, losing their first three games. Petrino managed to turn his team around with a young quarterback named Lamar Jackson and UofL won eight of it last 10 games, including a Music City Bowl championship over Texas A&M.

A season later UofL won its first four games, including an ESPN Game Day appearance and a 63-20 romp over Florida State. The Cardinals were riding high, ranked in the top five in every college football poll in America later in the season, in contention for a college playoff spot and a possible shot at a national championship.

UofL football fans were giddy, their man was Bobby Petrino. All was right with the world. They were ready to believe former UofL Coach Howard Schnellenberger’s prediction about time being the only variable to a national championship. They had never been there before and weren’t quite sure how to act but Petrino was making it happen.

At least until James Quick ran out of bounds instead of into the end zone against Clemson, resulting in a six-point loss in the next game. The crushing blow that season was a humiliating 36-10 loss to Houston. The loss exposed a non-existent offensive line and squashed any further national championship hopes.

 Disappointing, yes. Shocking, no. Fans don’t like losing, or missing out on big time opportunities. Many have never gotten over UofL’s cathartic collapse against Houston. Believing, perhaps, that some other coach could achieve what Petrino has not accomplished, making UofL a perennial national contender.

Petrino remains, however, the winningest coach in Louisville football history, with a 79-31 won-lost record, including a 4-6 post-season bowl record. An estimated 35,000 fans made the trip to Miami in 2007 for UofL’s 24-13 BCS win over Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl.

Petrino deserves credit for what he has accomplished during seven seasons at Louisville, taking the program to new heights. Those who would condemn him so quickly after a slow start aren’t doing the program any favors.

He’s not going anywhere soon anyway, not with a $12.4 million buyout in his contract. These are the same fans, remember, who were angry because he was considering other programs during the coach’s first stay in Louisville. The buyout conditions are in there for a good reason, with fans having such short memories and those tar-and-feather mentalities.