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.

Louisville fans loving Friday night spring football

The north end zone expansion awaits the addition of 5,000 to 6,000 new red seats.

As fate would have it, the University of Louisville’s spring football game would be on a perfect Friday night, one of the few the city has experienced this year with temperatures hovering in the upper seventies. A steady light breeze as a bonus.

An enthusiastic crowd that was every bit of the estimated 17,200 on hand despite the short notice of the game being rescheduled from Saturday afternoon to a day earlier. Should be a lesson in that for the planners, UofL people loving their football on Friday nights. Definitely better than noon on Saturdays, eh?

The south of the Green Lot was one huge party with UofL fraternities and sororities out en masse, sound systems going full blast. Impressive display of Greek life on display.

Many fans also got their first look at the stadium expansion, towering heavenward in the north end. Cardinal Stadium is indeed coming full circle, and the addition is going to be magnificent when people are circulating in the new VIP lounges and all the extra red seats.

Continue reading “Louisville fans loving Friday night spring football”

Update on Louisville’s Cardinal Stadium expansion

No more need to close one’s eyes to visualize how the addition is going to impact the physical structure. The foundation is there, ready for all the extra touches to be added. 

The concrete vertex is now complete at the top of the end zone addition at Cardinal Stadium, which means that installation of the new video scoreboards and between 5,000 and 6,000 new seats can’t be far behind.

Except for a few people huddled at the tip of the addition, most of the construction workers were leaving when the observer checked out the expansion progress on Wednesday.

From all indications, the project is on schedule, within budget, and will be ready for the home opener against Indiana State on Sept. 8th. Capacity is expected to be 61,000-plus.

The expanded stadium will be a motivating force for University of Louisville football players who are preparing for the opening of spring football camp on Tuesday, March 20. The spring football game is scheduled Saturday, April 14th at 1 p.m.

Link to the entire interview.

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.

Lamar Jackson nears perfection as Louisville football rips Kentucky

Reggie Bonnafon and Lamar Jackson emerge from the tunnel for their final regular season game (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Lamar Jackson may be reaching his peak as the end of an unforgettable era draws near. Much better than the player who won the Heisman Trophy last season.

Lamar Jackson fields questions at press conference following UofL’s sixth win in the last seven games against UK (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Jackson has created a lot of magical memories during his career as the Louisville quarterback but he may have waited until the final regular season game for one of his best overall performances. Couldn’t have come at a better time than in a 44-17 win over Kentucky.

Jackson has had numerous games in which he has run or passed for three or more touchdowns, surpassing 100 yards rushing and over 300 through the air. He did it so frequently that it almost became routine, something football fans took for granted.

This was one of those rare games when he didn’t run for a single touchdown and he only passed for two touchdowns. But he never had a more complete game, with UofL scoring every time it got the ball before Jackson left late in the game.  UofL punter Mason King would not be needed in this one, thank you.

Coach Bobby Petrino would say afterward that “Lamar Jackson is the best player you’re ever going to see. There has never been a player like him and there won’t be for a long time.”

Haunted by costly fumbles and interceptions in last season’s loss to UK, Jackson said he had been looking forward to this game for a year. Nothing but pinpoint passing in this one, completing 15 of 21 passes to seven different players for 216 yards.

No hesitating, no panicking, no mistakes. Knowing what to do with the ball on every play. Getting lots of help again from Reggie Bonnafon with two touchdowns to go with nine carries for 64 yards and Dae Williams with six carries for 62 yards and a touchdown.

Getting plenty of protection from a greatly improved offensive line, yielding no sacks, paving the way for 32 UofL first downs, compared to only 20 for Kentucky.  The defense, while giving up 211 yards to Bennie Snell, allowed only eight passes to be completed, holding UK to 110 passing yards.

Petrino with plenty of accolades for a team that looked like it was going nowhere before winning the last three games. “The assistant coaches kept coming to work with a positive attitude and a great work ethic,” he said. “The defense kept bringing, they just kept coming. I’m really happy with the way we played. The execution was great.”

Petrino said it was so much fun to see how much Jackson has grown during over the past three seasons. “He’s the ultimate competitor. I don’t think I’ve ever been around someone who likes to compete as much as he does. He backs it up with confidence, and he’s so humble.

“He was on the sideline cheering and encouraging every guy on the field  after he came out of the game. He’s the greatest teammate and greatest kid in the world.”