No stopping Boston College for UofL’s leaky defense

Louisville’s defensive line needed lots of help from linebacker Dorian Etheridge (17). He would make nine solo tackles and get five assists (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

Wide receiver Jaylen Smith finally back in action, with 118 yards on six catches.

Wide receiver Dez Fitzpatrick as good as ever, turning seven catches into 127 yards, including a touchdown.

Running back Reggie Bonnafon actually breaking loose for a 64-yard touchdown.

Lamar Jackson tossed for three touchdowns and ran for two others (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

Quarterback Lamar Jackson living up to his reputation, with more amazing stats, including 181 yards and three touchdowns rushing, 323 yards and two touchdowns passing.

Some nice offensive stats, just not enough of them.

The University of Louisville’s offense could still be putting up points but there would never be enough. The defense was incapable of stopping Boston College, the Cardinals losing 45-42 in a three-ring offensive circus before 44,679 at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

UofL’s defense remained as porous as always, seemingly unable to stop anyone on the first tackle attempt, usually on the second or third attempt. Not a pretty picture, foreshadowing visions of even more dismal performances in the weeks ahead against stronger opponents.

The exception was UofL linebacker Dorian Etheridge, the 6-foot-3 freshman winding up with nine solo tackles and five assists.

Jaylen Smith’s joyous return would be spoiled by a fumble following a catch with less than two minutes remaining at UofL’s 30-yard line. Just a matter of time, Boston College wasn’t going to be denied, converting a 27-yard field goal for the win in the closing seconds.

Boston College’s first Atlantic Coast Conference win since 2014, Louisville’s third ACC loss in four games this season. More than likely, it’s going to get uglier before it gets better for UofL football. Prepare yourself.

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).

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.

Focus on getting back on track at UofL kickoff luncheon

Consensus among UofL football players is to make fans forget about the end of the season collapse last year (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

The Summer of 2017 is winding down, finally coming to an end, and the end can’t get here soon enough if the enthusiasm of University of Louisville football fans is any indication. Approximately 1,600 of them packing the grand ballroom of the Louisville Marriott for the annual Kickoff Luncheon.

Lamar Jackson and Reggie Bonnafon are among the team’s seven captains (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The annual luncheon always a welcome relief for fans, cut off from UofL sports for almost three months, finally getting back together again with their fellow fans. Eager to celebrate UofL again, much in common, enjoying a refuge from the constant attacks, ready to start winning again.

Coach Bobby Petrino saying the Marriott management told him it was the largest crowd for any event ever held at the downtown hotel.

Nobody any happier than Tom Jurich, vice president of athletics, noting, “It’s a great time of year, having all the athletes and teams back. It’s very vibrant around campus, seeing all the students again, the athletes and all the new construction.”

Bobby Petrino wants Lamar Jackson to take advantage of the talent around him this season (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Jurich announced the beginning of a “We The Future” marketing campaign. “You will see that everywhere around campus,” he said. “We as Card Nation have built and built and built, and now we really want to build for the future and look to the future. You’re going to be hearing much more about it.”

The immediate focus, of course, is the future of UofL  football, and the opening game against Purdue at Indianapolis Sept. 2. Quarterback Lamar Jackson recalls how the 2016 season ended and indicated that he’s eager to get UofL football going in the right direction again.

“We have a little chip on our shoulders after losing the last three games last year,” said Quarterback Lamar Jackson. “We’re going to come hard. I’m telling you that right now.”

Coach Petrino said he really likes this team and believes Jackson will have another great year. “The respect that Lamar has from his teammates because of how hard he works makes us all better,” he said.

“He’s going to focus and really concentrate on utilizing the talent around him … His knowledge of the game is unbelievably improving and his ability to read defenses and make checks at the line of scrimmage is something I’m really excited about right now.”

Jackson needs Louisville teammates to share spotlight

Experience has taught long-time University of Louisville diehards that it’s best to keep those expectations in check. This one still hasn’t recovered from the disappointing end of the 2016 football season.

Lamar Jackson can’t do it all by himself (Charlie Springer photo).

Three humiliating defeats, including a loss to the University of Kentucky and two games (Houston and LSU) in which the Cardinals were never competitive. The loss to UK occurring after UofL’s Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson coughed up the ball on Wildcats’ 10-yard line.

The worst possible way to end a season. Demoralizing, plunging from sight after being  considered a serious college playoff contender most of the season. A large dose of humble pie for those who dared to envision the ultimate for UofL football.

But that was last year. Here we go again, with UofL kicking off fall camp on Monday in preparation for a new season. Time to put the past behind, look to the future, trusting that Bobby Petrino figured out what happened to his team. Not allow it to happen again. The coach having shuffled his coaching staff during the off season, bringing in some new faces and fresh approaches.

If 2016 taught us anything, it was that having college football’s most elusive quarterback  is no guarantee of success. Jackson was the first player in Football Bowl Series (FBS) history with 3,300 passing yards and 1,500 rushing yards in a season, running for 21 touchdowns and passing for 30 more TDs. Incredible numbers.

Never doubt, however, that someone on the Florida State coaching staff hasn’t spent the last year reviewing game film from UofL’s 63-10 win over the Seminoles last season. Jackson ran for four touchdowns and passed for a fifth in that one. That won’t happen again against FSU.

Good that the game was early. While Jackson was putting all those points on the board, his offensive line was regressing, making it more difficult for him at the end of the season. Some argue that he had already clinched the Heisman Trophy before the collapse. He was lucky to find the line of scrimmage as the curtain closed on the season.

Maybe opposing coaches had just figured out how to manage Jackson, knowing that if they could contain him they could stop Louisville. He definitely was not the threat at the end of the season that he was during the first half of the year.

No one, certainly not this observer, doubts that Jackson is a team player. He was always more critical of himself than his coaches were, even when he was accumulating all those touchdowns. Needing to work within the system perhaps, instead of so much freelancing, knowing how to take advantage of his teammates instead of taking it all upon himself.

One suspects that Lamar Jackson would be okay with not repeating as the Heisman Trophy winner if, in the process, he can make his teammates better players. Even if that means fewer touchdowns, accolades and personal highlight reels.

Jackson has been there, done the Heisman thing, but it was not quite what it was could have been, not with that disappointing end for his team last season.