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.