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.

Lamar Jackson, 6 times 6, Louisville downs North Carolina

Lamar Jackson (top photo) scores his first rushing touchdown of the season with a 53-yard jaunt early in the third quarter. Jackson (above) gets a pat on the head and congrats from from teammate Jaylen Smith (Cindy Rice Shelton photos)

Opposing teams almost know what to expect from Lamar Jackson.Read the scouting reports, Watch the film. Read and re-read the scouting reports, Watch the film. Plot and scheme for him all week long. Tailor their entire defensive plans to slow him down.

Their problem is catching him. Jackson is unpredictable. Not even he knows what he’s going to do next. Relying on his quickness, his instincts, his confidence, his fear of failure, his not wanting to go down, and his love of the game.

Cindy Rice Shelton photo.

His special talents on full display Saturday in the University of Louisville’s 47-35 win over North Carolina before a crowd of 47,635 at Chapel Hill.

“Lamar Jackson is every bit as good as everybody says he is and thinks he is,” said UNC coach Larry Fedora after witnessing Jackson’s special talents for himself..

Jackson threw for 393 yards and three touchdown while also running for 132 yards and three more TDs. The last one running through a gauntlet of would-be tacklers on an 11-yard run with 3:06 remaining. Capping a dominant fourth quarter for the Cardinals, improving their season to 2-0 overall and 1-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

His favorite targets, junior Jaylen Smith and freshman Dez Fitzpatrick, making themselves available to him early and often. Smith had nine catches for a career-high 183 yards and a touchdown for Louisville, while Fitzpatrick was turning in two TDs.

UofL racking up a total of 705 offensive yards, compared to 401 for North Carolina. The good news was that UNC gained only 17 yards rushing. The bad news was at times they looked almost unstoppable in the passing game with 384 yards.

More great news coming with no fumbles, no interceptions, and only one false start. But still the Cardinals had their hands full, trailing 28-17 going into the fourth quarter. Jackson would put finish the Tar Heels off with a couple of touchdowns in the final 15 minutes.

The best news of all was UofL finding someone who can carry the ball besides Jackson. That would be freshman Malik Williams racking up 149 yards on 13 carries at a pace of 11.5 yards per carry.  Help has arrived.

Louisville football needs to get better quickly

Stacy Thomas turned momentum in Louisville’s favor with a 61-yard touchdown after an intercepted pass in the third quarter (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

Football is supposed to be an entertaining game but the University of Louisville’s 35-28 win over Purdue was everything but fun. Hard to watch when so many things are going wrong, afraid of what’s going to happen next.

The false starts by the offensive line, becoming almost predictable by the third quarter, backing UofL up much of the night. This from what was expected to be a much-improved, albeit inexperienced at key positions.  Ten false starts, surely a record for edginess, almost obscuring any progress on this front.

“That’s so disappointing to me, to have all those false starts,” said Coach Bobby Petrino. “That’s something we really worked hard on. There were a couple of freshmen starting but we’ve obviously got to play better than that.”

Video replay confirmed that Reggie Bonnafon scored on a 10-yard jaunt in the third quarter (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

On the other hand, the young offensive line would not allow Purdue a single sack, a positive sign compared to late last season when the sack count sometimes approached double digits.

If visions of past fumbles came to mind on the opening drive, it was good reason. Quarterback Lamar Jackson lined up on the Purdue 3-yard line, coughing up the ball on his very first series of the season.  No quick touchdown on the opening drive, fumble-itis was back, UofL turning the ball three times in the game.

Jackson still needing to provide the bulk of the offense, getting little help in the running game from Reggie Bonnafon and Jeremy Smith who managed only 33 yards between them. He would rush for 111 yards and complete 33 of 46 passes for 378 yards and two aerial touchdowns.

The offense struggling to keep Louisville in the game. Opposing coaches possibly figuring out how to contain Jackson much of the time. Or was it because Purdue Coach Jeff Brohm knows Petrino’s offense almost as well as the UofL coach? Probably a combination of both.

UofL’s other All-American candidate, cornerback Jaire Alexander, would be injured early in the second quarter and would not return to the game. His teammate Stacy Thomas would come through with a 61-yard touchdown on an intercepted pass in the third quarter. Chucky Williams would pick off another Purdue pass in the end zone.

Painful game overall, however, irritating until the end. A painful reminder that 27-point underdogs are never as bad as they should be, especially in the first game of the season. Especially against a bunch of Brohm boys from Louisville.

The Cardinals need to make significant progress between their first and second games to be taken seriously this season. No getting off to a great start, no big first impressions. No early thoughts about college playoffs.

UofL tailgaters were out in force at Lucas Oil Stadium (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).