UofL fans have to prioritize with overlapping, packed schedules

More than a few future Cardinals turning out for University of Louisville men’s and women’s basketball games over the weekend (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

College basketball is back en masse for University of Louisville fans even though November has yet to reach the halfway point.  Competing head on with college and pro football  just weeks into their seasons.

Some complaints about attendance following the UofL men’s 78-55 win over Youngstown State on Sunday, a game that attracted 14,761 people at the KFC Yum! Center.  Not to worry, still the best attended game among more than half a dozen games in college basketball on Sunday.

Lamar Jackson was the main attraction at the Baltimore Ravens game at Cincinnati on Sunday (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

What the belly-achers weren’t taking into consideration was the fact that former UofL quarterback Lamar Jackson was leading the Baltimore Ravens to a 49-13 win over the Bengals in Cincinnati. The NFL game started an hour before the basketball game, and attracted hundreds if not thousands of UofL fans, with many more watching on TV at home.

Jackson expressing his appreciation to all of the Louisville people making the trek, many of them decked out in red UofL football jerseys or purple Ravens’ jerseys. Like a homecoming for Jackson, coming to Cincinnati and seeing all those Cardinal fans.

“I think we had half a city of Louisville in the stadium,” said Ravens Coach John Harbaugh.

An unforgettable day on the field, too, with Lamar Jackson throwing for three touchdowns in a near-perfect passing performance and adding a legendary 47-yard scoring run that will be added to the all-time NFL highlights reel.

The UofL women improving their record to 2-0 start with a 76-40 win over Murray State before 7,992 fans for a 76-40 win over Murray State. Jeff Walz still looking for the right combinations, getting 14 point and 13 point performances from Jazmine Jones and Kylee Shook, respectively.

Meanwhile, the Louisville football team getting its ass handed to it in a 52-27 loss at Miami. The Cardinals gaining the Hurricanes offensively 496 to 449 yards but unable to defend a freshman quarterback. Getting burned on a school-record six touchdown passes.

Louisville athletics demanding our attention with a crowded schedule, only so much of us to go around.  Men’s and women’s games overlapping at times. Enough with the attendance gripes, please.

Gallery courtesy of Cindy Rice Shelton

Fear for Lamar Jackson’s running game catching up with him

The real fun of watching Lamar Jackson play football comes when he takes off running, finding that crease in the offensive line, leaving defenders reaching for open air.  He brings a new dimension to the concept of a running game.

So fast, so elusive, a joy to watch.

There are numerous NFL football observers, however, expressing concern that Jackson may be running the ball too often.  In 16 games last season, he ran the ball a record 147 times for 695 yards and five rushing touchdowns. The pundits that provide the NFL betting tips would not be shocked if he runs the ball at an even higher clip this season. Basically, he’s one of the best runners in the NFL.

In contrast, Green Bay Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers ran the ball only 43 times during the 2018 season. Following a recent exhibition game,  Rodgers expressed concern about Jackson’s proclivity for running the ball, stating, ““I love watching you play, man. That was spectacular. Have a great season. Slide a little bit.”

That’s what he does best, that’s why the fans buy tickets, why TV ratings for the Baltimore Ravens are soaring, and it’s what the opposition dreads.

Lamar Jackson ran for 50 touchdowns and passed for 69 more at the University of Louisville (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Jackson completely rewrote the record books at the University of Louisville. In three seasons, he ran for 4,132 yards and 50 touchdowns. Not a shrinking violet as a passer either, compiling 3,660 yards and 69 more touchdowns. Did it with notoriously weak offensive line units during his last two seasons, disguising numerous team deficiencies at UofL.

Count Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti is among the nervous , “Lamar is not going to be running 20 times a game,” he says. “That’s not what this offense is about.” Head Coach John Harbaugh doesn’t disagree, but, “It’s not like he’s trying to run, but sometimes … What are you going to do? You can’t hold him back forever. He looked good on the play. He looked good on a lot of plays.”

Jackson is aware of the concerns, knowing that injuries are an integral part of the game. The more involved a player is, the greater the possibility. But he’s going to enjoy the game, taking advantage of his God-given abilities, wanting to make the Ravens a title contender.

“I can’t talk about it,” Jackson said recently. “Each and every day we’re looking better and better in what we’re doing, whether … running the ball with our backs, or the pass game, it’s all looking incredible right now.”

All the talk about all the running game may be typical NFL bluster. Jackson’s running abilities make him dangerous, giving Baltimore an unpredictable offense. His ability to make the most of a collapsing play makes Jackson one of the most challenging to contain and among the entertaining runners ever.

New life for Louisville offense after Lamar Jackson

Cindy Rice Shelton photo

Expect the University of Louisville football team to have a better offense this season without Lamar Jackson, winner of the Heisman Trophy and the player who rewrote the record books in three seasons at UofL.

That’s coming from Coach Bobby Petrino who, while he would never acknowledge it, had limited options on offense, especially the past two years.  It was no secret that the offense revolved heavily around the abilities of one player. 

It was Lamar Jackson this, Lamar Jackson that, this way, that way, through the air, on the ground. Not much imagination on offense, not much guesswork on defense. Everybody knew what was coming. Lamar Jackson all the time.

The UofL offense bore little resemblance to Bobby Petrino’s offenses  prior to the Lamar Jackson era.  Probably for a couple of reasons. Jackson may have never really mastered Petrino’s playbook. Jackson even admitted he didn’t know the plays after his freshman year. He was still setting offensive records at a sizzling pace so Petrino had little option but to turn Jackson loose.

Jackson was far from perfect at crunch time. As good as he was, Jackson often had trouble maintaining  possession, fumbling an inordinate number of times and giving up interceptions. Between the turnovers, though, he was extraordinarily gifted.

“I expect us to be better,” said Petrino, during the ACC gathering in Charlotte this week. “I expect us to be more balanced, the ability to get more guys involved, particularly in the running game. I really like our receiving corps. I really think it’s one of the strongest corps coming back.”

Petrino also believes the running backs will be more of a factor again. “The running backs are a good group” he said. “Tre Smith had a great spring. He really showed his ability to run between the tackles and get yards after contact and protect the quarterback.

“Dae Williams and Colin Wilson are two big physical guys, and Colin has some special skills as far as his movement in and out of holes. Tobias Little is a guy that played fullback for us last year, and then we started giving him the football, and he’s a 245-pound guy that can play tailback and catch the ball out of the backfield.”

Jawon Pass

Watch for UofL to look more like the typical Petrino team during the upcoming season, with a more traditional quarterback in Jawon Pass. The 6-foot-4 sophomore was a consensus four-star prospect out of Carver High School in Columbus, Georgia.

A player who will rely as much on the system as his own talents to manage the offense. “He’s a natural leader,” said Petrino. “When he stepped on campus, you could see that. He’s very, very competitive.”

More talent all around is what Petrino is saying. More of a multi-dimensional approach with more of the right people involved at all the key positions.

Lamar Jackson was an incredible athlete, entertaining and fun to watch, and he will be missed. Back to the basics now, spreading the wealth around, with more of a team approach, hopefully making Louisville more competitive in the immediate future.

Time for next stage in Lamar Jackson’s career

Fortunately the loss to Mississippi State will not be the game people remember about Lamar Jackson’s college career

Over-reliance on any one player, however, is never a good thing. Probably the best thing for Jackson and the University of Louisville football program if he decides soon to pursue a career in the National Football League.

Almost impossible for Jackson to live up to massive expectations. Every sensational play, every pass completion, every dazzling run, every touchdown making him indispensable to his team. If Jackson wasn’t involved, it wasn’t going to happen.

Coach Bobby Petrino, getting away from the offensive strategies that have worked well for him in the past, was overly dependent on the instincts of one player. UofL’s success, or lack of it, may have suffered as a result, with little evidence of progress in the team’s overall development.

When Jackson was having a off day or not getting enough protection, he was prone to making major mistakes as he was Saturday when he threw four interceptions in the 31-27 loss to Mississippi State in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville.

It got to a point where some fans closed their eyes when he dropped back to pass. A fifth interception seemed inevitable. He completed 13 of 31 passing attempts for 171 yards with a passing efficiency mark of only 47.4% for the game.

Jackson gained 158 yards on the ground, including a touchdown, on 24 carries, not wanting to give up the ball to his running backs. Possibly for good reason with Malik Williams, Reggie Bonnafon, and Dae Williams combining for only 29 yards on 15 chances.

Bonnafon, a senior, was one of those teammates who never quite lived up to his potential. He finished the final game of his career with 13 yards rushing. He was never a real punt return threat, gaining nine yards on his only return Saturday.

“Lamar’s a great competitor and he has big shoulders,” said Petrino afterwards. “He competed extremely hard. We were in a position to win the game because of how hard he ran and the touchdowns he made …

“I would love to see him come back. Lamar needs to sit down with his parents and try to understand ‘What would better develop me?’ There have been guys who have come back for another year, playing the same system and do great. He’s really needs to do what is best him. He’s been an unbelievable player and a great person.”

Jackson has created some incredible memories for fans over the past three seasons. Time for him to move on, however, time to focus on the his future in the NFL.  UofL needs to move on as well, focusing on the team’s total development, getting everyone involved, and seriously competing again in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Stormy weather not that bad, Louisville football pummels Syracuse

Quarterback Lamar Jackson and Jaire Alexander embrace after hooking up on a 72-yard touchdown pass play in the second quarter (lead photo). Stormy weather (above) but not the terror the TV weather guys were forecasting (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).
Lamar Jackson prepares to enter Cardinal Stadium for what was what probably the final home game of his career at the University of Louisville (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Nothing could have come close to the scary weather predictions made by Louisville’s TV forecasters during the days leading up to the UofL-Syracuse football game.  A possible storm of the decade it seemed and it was going to be confined to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

The first thing to remember is that wind, rain and/or snow make for great football, creating great memories for the players and fans. The second is that the forecasts are going to be exaggerated, never matching the intensity of the people making them.

As a result lots of loyal UofL football fans were scared off Saturday, not venturing out of their comfort zones. Amazing that some 34,265 were there to enjoy one of Louisville’s most dominant games of the season, a 56-10 win over Syracuse.

Lamar Jackson is the first to congratulate Malik Williams on his 46-yard touchdown in the first quarter (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Nothing special, Cardinal fans have seen much, much worse. The most loyal, the ones who chose to endure the elements, were rewarded Saturday with the honor of seeing what may have been quarterback Lamar Jackson’s final home game at PJCS.

Just another in many big games for him — 230 yards and two touchdowns through the air and 120 yards and two more touchdowns on the ground. Lamar Jackson earned legendary status during his three seasons at UofL.

All the numbers, all the touchdowns, all the memorable moments, probably never to be repeated again by anyone anywhere. Absolutely impossible to exaggerate all that he has accomplished. 

Senior running back Malik Williams, happy to be taking the ball from Jackson, having his best game ever in his final home game — 180 yards rushing, including two touchdowns, including a 46-yard TD on the second play of the game, and a 56-yard run on another play.

Reggie Bonnafon getting a hug from Interim Athletic Director Vince Tyra during Senior Day ceremonies (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Senior Reggie Bonnafon, also playing in his last game at PJCS, continuing to play wherever he was needed, today as a running back and kick returner. He would score two touchdowns in the second quarter — his first on a 33-yard, the second on a 34-yard pass from Jackson.

What a performance from the UofL defense, holding Syracuse to 197 yards rushing and 138 yards passing. Freshman Dorian Etheridge in on 11 tackles, including five solo’s. Senior linebacker Stacy Thomas and freshman C.J. Avery in on seven tackles. Make a note and look ahead, two freshmen for 18 tackles, more to come.

Such an enjoyable game to watch, having learned over the years how to survive the elements at Louisville football games. Great to see the defense emerge from invisibility to becoming an effective force. Nice to once again pummel Syracuse, one of those schools that would have left UofL in a lesser conference.  

We’ve run out of football Saturdays again in Louisville, they always seem to go so quickly. Especially when the Cardinals are playing like they were the last two games.