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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Technology in American football — the state of play

Though it seems like a new-fangled part of what makes the NFL stand out as a modern, globalized sport, the methods of data collection go back longer than most believe.  The question for the long term seems to be the discerning power of technology versus the guys in the striped shirts.

Prior to the introduction of computer chips, it was down to the home team’s statistician to pay close attention to the action. There would, of course, then be the painstaking process of video replays. In any case, there was always a risk of stats being skewed. However, the advent of computer chips and wireless technology enables accuracy like never before.

Last year, the latest major step forward was made, when Zebra Technologies collaborated with the NFL to provide RFID chips that could be placed inside balls. Data is now collected by radio frequency signals, with the chip primarily designed to measure how fast the football moves for kicking scenarios. So too does it track the rotation of the ball in mid-air, as in how much and how quickly it spins, and what impact this has on pass accuracy.

A world of possibilities

The use of a similar technology has been active in NFL since 2014, with chips also found in the shoulder pads of players to measure acceleration, speed, distance and tackling as the primary focal areas. Fulfilling the primary aim of measuring impact is vital towards developing the plans of coaches and the training regimes of players.

With this set to work in tandem alongside the newer ball chips, there is optimism that the overall quality of NFL games can improve, thereby increasing the marketability of the franchises within.

Greater marketability will also precipitate other events, which ensure that the NFL’s popularity does not wane. Such eventualities may include the potential for more investment into youth and college football, an expansion of markets in sports wagering and – of course – even more investment into data retrieval technology.

The second of those potential areas for growth is, naturally, not without its opponents. Yet, with data now more accurate than ever before, it is expected by the American Football Alliancethat live telemetry will also be used sooner than many believe, to facilitate a wider range of im-play betting markets.

The trends within the potential new markets – assuming that they become reality in the short term – will also give a more accurate portrayal of what is expected from certain players. Thus, in a circular way, this could potentially influence coaching, playbook considerations and gameplay decisions for the better, from grassroots level all the way up to the Super Bowl.

Human judgement still with role to play

Other stats like forced fumbles, passing frequency, passing speed vs distance vs accuracy, and – of course – the number of yards gained by players on the offensive also make up a major part of the telemetry. This will also help teams at grassroots level, such as the Louisville Cardinals, who went an indifferent 2-2 in the first four matches of September 2018, leaving the coaching staff with many a key decision to make.

Though there is clear confidence in the chips now used, they are still in a state of evolution at present and will be largely restricted to player metricsfor the time being. While they may play a role in regulation changes over a longer period of time, their role in making crucial decisions in the immediacy is still nonexistent. Touchdown calls, for instance, still rely largely on human judgement but there is every indication that this could change in the future as video technology evolves concurrently.

Though most believe that technological developments are moving in the right direction, the chip’s primary weakness is measuring first downs, given that there is a six-inch margin of error in all directions that is currently in the process of being worked on by those involved in developing the chip. Chips cannot yet account for whether or not limbs are on the ground, thus keeping this type of potentially game-changing call subject to human judgement for the time being.

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.

Wherefore art thou, Bobby Petrino

Where is he, the football coach who demanded perfection, the bully who ruled by intimidation, the browbeater no one wanted in their face? The one some misinformed analysts still describe as an offensive genius? The arrogant rowdy whose teams ran roughshod over lesser opponents?

Where is the tactician who would draw up the first 10 plays of the game, quickly getting his team in the opposing end zone? The one knew how good he was in the profession, always looking around for another job, wanting move up in the profession? 

Nowhere to be found on the University of Louisville sideline this season, at least not after the first four games. Bobby Petrino, the one who used to have all the answers, seemingly replaced by a shadow of himself.

Players needing some good things to happen, but lacking the confidence to get there.

The current version of Petrino reduced to almost apologizing after a demoralizing 27-3 loss to Virginia on Saturday. The coach in the same fog as he was following struggles against Indiana State and Western Kentucky, all but apologizing, repeating familiar assertions about needing to get better.

Questionable whether Petrino is confident that can happen, sounding like he wasn’t sure where to begin. Not when he doesn’t know who his quarterback will be next week. Pulling starting quarterback Malik Cunningham after an unproductive first half in which UofL was unable to amount any offensive threats. His replacement Jawon Pass unable to capitalize on three opportunities inside the five-yard line, at other times short-arming numerous passes to receivers in wide open spaces.

Uncertain about his running backs as well, his starter Dae Williams picking up only six yards, the replacement Jeremy Smith only 10 yards, and Trey Smith somehow managing 27 of them. None of them in long enough to get a good feel for the game. 

In the first four games this season, Louisville has scored only 10 points in the first half. Players needing some good things to happen, but lacking in the necessary confidence or leadership to get there.

Petrino just wanting to get back on the practice field, wanting to put another lackluster performance behind him. Wanting to get out of the line of fire, wanting the doubters to go away, wanting something to right for a change.

Forced to try some new approaches maybe. No longer having the luxury of a scrambling Lamar Jackson to overcome questionable play calling and offensive inefficiencies. One of the top paid football coaches in the nation, knowing things are heading south, needing to turn things around.

Get on the bandwagon, support UofL through Amazon Smile

May want to get on board. 

For a couple of years now, I have been participating in the Amazon Smile program, in which a portion of the proceeds go a consumer’s favorite charity. My choice, of course, was the University of Louisville Foundation. 

I hadn’t paid much attention to the details, just pleased to see more money going to UofL. You know, wanting to help the alma mater in any way possible, especially during the turmoil of the past couple of years.

An Open Records Request to the University of Louisville was somewhat disappointing, indicating that UofL had only received $73.96 from the program over the last three academic years. Resulting from $14,792 in sales to UofL supporters.

The percentage of Amazon’s gift is .05% of each sale. For example, .05% is only half a penny, a nickel for ever $100 in purchase, or fifty cents from a purchase of $1,000. Even so UofL should be getting much more from the program.

Go to your Amazon account and make the UofL Foundation your charity. When you’re ready to buy, just sign into smile.amazon.com, make your purchase, and Amazon will come through with a donation. What could be easier?