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).
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Heisman, Smeisman, Lamar Jackson will be much improved

Lots of different feelings tumbling around, ranging from unbridled confidence, cautious optimism to some outright trepidation, as the 2017 college football season begins Saturday for the University of Louisville.

For the first time ever, UofL will have a Heisman Trophy winner calling signals, one of the fast and most elusive quarterbacks to ever play the game, crazy quick feet and a shotgun arm. He’s also bigger, has another year of maturity, hopefully learning from the season-ending adversity.

For much of the national sports media to overlook him is an indictment of the same people who made him the Heisman winner last season. Jackson is inevitably going to be much better, folks, with the sophomoritis behind him. He’s got it all now — speed, experience and, most of all, with extra motivation, thanks to the second guessers.

For Lamar Jackson, a Heisman Trophy is secondary to winning games (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Jackson may not come close to the touchdown production he had last season — 20 rushing, 30 passing. He’s going to be depending more heavily on some of his talent teammates, at least according to Coach Bobby Petrino, noting that Jackson doesn’t have to do it all himself.

With a new offensive line coach in Mike Summers and more beef, talent and experience on that line, Jackson should have more time to read opposing defenses, go through the progressions, find open receivers and provide more opportunities for his running backs.

Oh, he will continue to be a major scoring threat. He’s still going to do more than his share of scoring. But Louisville has a chance to have much more balance on offense this time around. The offense will be anything but predictable, no more zeroing in on Lamar Jackson on every snap.

Reggie Bonnafon may finally be where he needs to be, having played quarterback, running back and wide receiver during his first three seasons at UofL. He’s the featured running back as the season begins, with a chance to finally live up to four-star billing coming to UofL. This is his senior year, and we think he gets it, it is now or never.

The stable of running backs also includes Jeremy Smith and Malik Williams. All three of them are capable of going the distance on any play or broken tackle. The fact that they are lining up with Lamar Jackson makes even more unpredictable.

Jaylen Smith and Seth Dawkins appear ready to pace the wide receiver corps, having impressed Petrino during the pre-season. “Both of them are catching the ball and getting open, and we’re able to do different things with them,” said Petrino.

Over on defense, there’s Jaire Alexander, a pre-season first team All America selection at cornerback, capable of breakout games on defense and kick returns. Linebackers James Hearns and Trevon Young will terrorize opposing quarterbacks. And there are four seniors on the defensive line.

Much to be enthused about on the eve of the 2017 season. Anything and everything is possible, ranging from a possible breakthrough for a conference championship to another collapse. An experienced team returning, having had  nine months to think about those three consecutive losses at the end of the last season. We don’t believe this team is going to allow that to happen again.

Whether Lamar Jackson wins another Heisman Trophy is the last thing on any of their minds.

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Ties that bound Petrino and Brohms at loose ends now

No stepping on the brakes, it’s a freight train now, the season opener only six days away for the University of Louisville football team. Against Purdue University, the Brohm brothers and company.

Bobby Petrino wishes Jeff Brohm lots of luck, just not next Saturday (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Jeff, Brian and Greg Brohm all former UofL players, good ones, ambitious people, wanting to prove themselves on the sidelines, eager to make names for themselves, starting at the expense of their alma mater, possibly even envisioning a return to UofL some day.

Current UofL Coach Bobby Petrino noting in his press conference on Monday that all three of them, including Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm, were guests at the wedding of his daughter Katie over the summer. Along with Poppa and Momma Brohm. Strong between the Petrinos and the Brohms, almost two decades now.

Jeff Brohm is a Purude Boilermaker for now.

Jeff, of course, was an assistant to Petrino at at Western Kentucky before becoming head coach at WKU. Making his mark there, earning a Big 10 opportunity. He knows the Petrino system as well as anyone, having lived it at least 20 hours a day, 12 months a year.

“I’m excited for Jeff … but now he’s the enemy,” said Petrino smiling. adding that Brohm went through a rigorous process of contemplating a coaching career after his NFL career was over, the long days, all the travel, the ups and downs of recruiting, and all the other responsibilities. “He called me when I went to Western Kentucky and said he had decided he wanted to be a head coach,” he said. “I know he put a lot of thought into it, and I believe he will be successful.”

Jeff is one of four family members to be a football letterwinner at Louisville, along with his father, Oscar (quarterback 1966-69), and brothers, Greg (wide receiver 1989-92) and Brian (quarterback 2004-07).

Unfortunate, perhaps, that Brohm’s first game at Purdue has to come against Louisville. Or maybe not, since he knows Petrino’s system so well. Petrino is well aware of Brohm’s proclivity for unorthodox or trick plays, relying heavily on them for his success at Western Kentucky. Petrino expects more of the same Saturday at Indianapolis.

No more of this buddy, buddy stuff, however.

*   *   *

Lamar Jackson confidence grows with maturity and stronger offensive line (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Lamar Jackson is ready to put the off season behind him. He’s done with all the awards banquets, and the monotony of fall football camp . Ready for some football he is.  “I was ready after the first week of practice. I’m always ready to play football,” he said.

As for being left off pre-season Heisman Trophy candidate lists, “I don’t know. They don’t come to me and talk about it. I don’t really care. I just care about my teammates and winning games.”

As for his much maligned offensive line, “They’re eager to play. They were eager to play last year but I can see a difference now. They’re much more mature now, they’re stronger and can push defensive lines back.”

As for whether he himself is more mature, “Last year they would be bringing a blitz, I would try to use my arm and try to beat the blitz. Now I can change the play and go in a whole different direction.”

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Adidas in good times and bad times for University of Louisville

One of the first big deals Tom Jurich made after becoming the new Athletic Director at the University of Louisville in 1997 was an agreement with Adidas. He was looking to cut costs while providing quality tennis shoes for UofL athletes.

“The deal was earth-shattering,”joked Jurich on Friday. “We would get two pair of shoes for retail, and the third pair was 20% off. Our first order was for 300 shoes, 200 at retail price, and a discount on the next 100. With that we were able to brand our partnership.”

Tom Jurich says UofL and Adidas have remained strong partners through good times and bad times.

UofL and Adidas have been together ever since, with Jurich having lost track of the number of times they have renegotiated new deals. The big difference, of course, is that UofL no longer buys the shoes, any uniforms or any other Adidas equipment or apparel. The company pays Louisville for the exposure.

On Friday, UofL and Adidas announced a 10-year extension of the partnership through 2027-28 valued at a phenomenal 160 million dollars.  The deal includes footwear, apparel, accessories and marketing support for all 23 of the University’s athletic programs.

“When we began our relationship with Adidas nearly 20 years ago, we weren’t in the same shape we are now,” said Jurich. “The impact they have had has been phenomenal. We’ve have great times and we’ve had down times, but they’ve already been there with us, standing shoulder to shoulder with UofL.

“I don’t necessarily care so about the finish as I am about how we got there and who’s with you when times are tough. Adidas has never wavered, they’re always been strong with us. And that’s the kind of company with which I want to be associated.”

Chris McGuire says Adidas employees around the world have become Louisville fans.

Chris McGuire, senior director of sports marketing at Adidas, confirmed that the deal with UofL was among the company’s biggest investments in sports in America.  “We love the success of all the programs here, and it’s something in which we take great pride,” he said. “When Louisville wins, the Adidas brand wins as well. We have become Louisville fans, and that includes our employees all around the world.”

Adidas’ involvement with UofL also includes support for the latest expansion of Cardinal Stadium. The company will have a significant presence in the end zone, with the Adidas Three Stripe Zone and branding in the tunnel from which the team will enter the field, starting in 2018.

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Mark Hebert a persuasive voice for University of Louisville

“Giving students the tools to explore, to discover and create …”

That line from a recent University of Louisville video, delivered in a way that only Mark Hebert can convey, puts the University in perspective amidst all the challenges, per this YouTube take:

Mark Hebert was a UofL fan before he joined the University staff in 2009.

A former investigative reporter at WHAS-TV for 22 years, Hebert is director of media programming and production at UofL. Hebert was, in fact, one of the best investigative reporters in the region.  He was respected for his research skills and objectivity, and for allowing viewers to reach conclusions based on facts.

A graduate of Western Kentucky University where he majored in mass communications, Hebert was often seen at many UofL sports events before joining the staff. He made no secret of being a Louisville partisan, passing up media press credentials to sit with fellow Cardinals’ fans.

Hebert, who joined the University’s staff in 2009, produces a continuing flow of UofL videos on YouTube, updating the community on major developments. He also hosts a 30-minute news radio program, “U of L Today with Mark Hebert” airs on  “93.9 The Ville,” a member of the ESPN family of radio stations in Louisville.

The station also airs 90-second segments from U of L throughout the day, showcasing faculty and students alongside U of L commercials.

UofL is fortunate to have Mark Hebert as a spokesman, along with his high levels of credibility, talent and professionalism.

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