National stage for Louisville and Lamar Jackson

Bowl Art

Nothing like a bowl game to bring out the best in University of Louisville fans, thousands of them flocking to Nissan Stadium for the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl Nashville. The venue provides a ideal platform for helping the program return to being a national contender.

Saddled with one of the toughest starts in the recent history, UofL lost its first three games. A rugged first three games that included Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Classic in Atlanta, a Houston team that finished 14th with an 11-1 record, and Clemson, which was ranked No. 1 in all the national polls.

One of the most frustrating beginnings ever for Bobby Petrino, attempting to compete with inexperienced quarterbacks, the loss of seven NFL draft picks and a patched-together offensive line. Winning seven of the last nine games a reflection of his competence.

“It’s not something that we ever want to do again,” said Petrino this week. “We did not enjoy the experience at all. But we fought through it. What I tell them is, it’s all going to happen to them sometime in their life where things are not going to go good for a few weeks or three weeks or a month, and hopefully this experience helps them understand what you have to do to get by it.”

One of the keys for Louisville will be a sustained effort from start to finish.  Are you listening, defense? Can’t afford to take any time off, any mediocrity as occurred during some ugly halves against Florida State, Pittsburgh and Kentucky. Texas A&M has a deep and talented offensive lines that will be highly motivated in protecting third-string quarterback Jake Hubenak.

The Aggies also have a powerful running back in Tra Carson, a 6-foot-1, 240-pound senior with 4.4 speed, who rushed for 1,049 yards and six touchdowns this season.  His last game at Texas A&M ever, hoping to leave a lasting impression, the prototype of running backs who punished UofL during those regrettable defensive lapses.

The biggest question, however, is how effective Lamar Jackson, UofL’s freshman quarterback, will be against quality competition. He’s had a lot of ups and downs this season. His most impressive performance was against a mediocre Kentucky defense that allowed him to rush for 186 yards while passing for 130 yards. Texas A&M has had a month to get ready for Jackson and will be prepared for him. If Petrino is forced to fall back on Kyle Bolin, things will not have been going well for the Cards.

Lots at stake for both teams, Kevin Sumlin’s job at Texas A&M possibly on the line, Bobby Petrino needing this one to get his team in the national discussion again. After one challenging season, Louisville fans deserve a happy ending.

Petrino searching for way out of Never Land

If being humble and hungry is a prerequisite to winning, the University of Louisville football team is there.

Strange feeling, one UofL football fans haven’t experienced for quite a while, winless after the first three games of the 2015 season. Actually it’s worse, Louisville has lost four games in row now, including that humiliating 37-14 loss to Georgia in the Belk Bowl last season. That was supposed to be a better UofL team than the current version.

Bobby Petrino
Bobby Petrino

Reminds one of the bad old days in the Seventies when Louisville was expected to lose, the opposition racking up the points. Days that was supposed to be way behind us. Fans who endured those years have never taken winning for granted.

The timing couldn’t be worse, just three weeks after Tom Jurich kicked off a $50 million fund drive for a 10,000-seat expansion of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, hoping to build on the program’s success over the past decade. The losses are no doubt a concern for the development staff, in all likelihood prompting a little hesitancy on fundraising calls.

Much of the optimism for UofL football going into season was largely based on Bobby Petrino being the Louisville coach. How else to explain it with the loss of nine players to the National Football League, practically all of the wide receivers, the continuing uncertainty at quarterback, and all the untested offensive linemen.

All that confidence quite a compliment to Petrino who has done more with less. His only response to all the optimism was that he really liked this group of players, citing factors like leadership, coachability and commitment. If the coach had major concerns before the season started, he hid them well.

Despite what Petrino may say or do during games, he has never been one to publicly criticize players. There are some glaring weaknesses that will have to be corrected or concealed if UofL is to be a contender in ACC play.

Not a good place to be at this point in the season. Every program has its ups and downs, and Louisville is no different. Right now this team badly needs a dose of confidence, a win over anybody, even Stamford, may be what it takes to get get it going again.

Petrino can’t keep changing quarterbacks

Two games into the 2015 college football season and the University of Louisville is winless. That’s going to change very soon or things could get crazy around here.

The last time UofL lost its first two games was in 1994 during Howard Schnellenberger’s 10th and final season in Louisville. No, not even Steve Kragthorpe stumbled out of the gate like this, believe it or not.

Kyle Bolin
Kyle Bolin

Too soon to know whether it’s the beginning of a trend. The two losses could just be coincidental and everything will turn out okay.  The time to panic will be if and when certain people around the program start talking about “righting the ship” and “doing things the right way,” or words to that effect.

Unless we have been completely delusional about Coach Bobby Petrino’s coaching abilities, that’s not going to happen. Petrino has no tolerance for losing. He’s pretty close to be backed into a corner. Don’t expect Mr. Nice Guy Lately to countenance anything short of total commitment. Back to the basics, expecting, demanding results.

Expect Petrino also has to settle this week on the quarterback he believes has the best chance of growing in his offense. The experimenting, the free lancing probably a thing of the past for now. He has to go with someone who understands his offensive philosophy and has the inherent skills and confidence to make it work. Right now that is probably Kyle Bolin, the redshirt sophomore.

We were thinking a week ago the answer was Lamar Jackson. He promptly went out and played like a typical freshman the next game, temporarily delaying what could turn out to be a brilliant career. Trying too hard, trying to do everything, losing his way against Houston.

Whoever the starting quarterback turns out to be, Petrino needs to stick with him through the good and bad times. Constantly changing quarterbacks suggests that he doesn’t have complete trust in any of them, and the other players recognize that, not knowing what to expect and needing confidence in their leadership.