Squirrel steals spotlight, but Louisville football pummels Kent State

This touchdown reception from Lamar Jackson to Javonte Bagley moved Jackson past Chris Redman on the all-time scoring list with 88 touchdowns.  In the top photo, Malik Williams scores the first of his touchdowns in the first quarter (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

The lasting memory for most fans who attended the University of Louisville-Kent State football game will be of the squirrel showing up around the 50 yard line late in the second quarter. With nobody bothering to challenge it, the rodent would scamper 50 yards to the end zone.

Stopping to catch its breath or bask in the admiration, the creature draws the only roar of the day from the crowd of 47,812 at Cardinal Stadium. It then wanders over to the Kent State sideline where it is cornered and bagged by the grounds’ crew for second loudest cheer of the day.

Trumaine Washington has been picked on a lot by opposing quarterbacks this season. Not on Saturday, however, intercepting a Kent State pass for a 39-yard touchdown (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Coming on a day when Lamar Jackson would be out-gained on the ground for the first time in his college career in a 42-3 win over Kent State. Not by the squirrel but by senior teammate Malik Williams who had 51 yards rushing while Jackson chalked up only 41 on the ground.

Remains to be seen, however, whether Williams’ performance on Saturday moves him past Reggie Bonnafon in the pecking order. Williams would be good for two touchdowns, on runs of 3 and 33 yards while pulling down four passes for 43 yards. Bonnafon, meanwhile, had 18 yards rushing and 30 yards on two receptions.

Lamar Jackson getting UofL in the end zone for the 88th time, setting an all-time record and bypassing Chris Redman in the record books (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

One of Jackson’s better days throwing the football, completing 18 of 22 attempt for 299 yards. Think maybe that’s what his Coach Bobby Petrino demanded on him, stand in the pocket, do those progressions, and be accurate. Best percentage ever but one of those misses was an interception.

Hard to draw any conclusions about improvements against one of the most challenged teams in college football, but Kent State’s 11 passing yards were fewest allowed by Louisville since Western Kentucky University was held to 10 yards in 1989. The Cardinals allowed Kent State only 10 yards rushing and recorded 14 tackles for loss Saturday.

The face Kent State will see in their nightmares for a few days will be that of UofL freshman linebacker Dorian Etheridge, who was in on nine tackles, including nine solo hits.

As for the squirrel, it was not available for comment after the game, having been escorted to Belknap Campus to join his many buddies there.

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).

Brendan McKay delivers early, Louisville buries Purdue

Brendan McKay with that home run swing of his (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Brendan McKay is so methodical and so businesslike in his approach to baseball that he doesn’t attract much notice when he’s having a great day at the plate. So much is expected of him.

On the other hand, McKay probably gets more than his share of attention in games when he’s popping up or not getting the ball out of the infield. Or when he’s not driving in the lion’s share of his team’s runs.

Such is the life of a college super star, never quite able to live up to expectations. Baseball is like that, with even the best players having their share of challenging games. Two hits in eight at-bats making for a long weekend against a tough Wake Forest team. 

McKay found his hitting eye again Tuesday, leading the second-ranked University of Louisville baseball team to a 13-2 win over visiting Purdue before a crowd estimated at 1,569 at Jim Patterson Stadium.

Making his presence felt early in this one, following a walk to Colby Fitch and an error putting Devin Hairston on base in the first inning. McKay would drive a 2-and-1 pitch 340 feet over the right centerfield wall, his sixth home run of the season putting his team up 3-0.

McKay would follow that up with another drive to right centerfield in the third inning, sending Logan Taylor and Hairston across the plate. Louisville was up 8-0, and on its way to its 28th win in 32 games this season.

Nothing flashy, just two extra base hits, scoring twice and batting in five runs in two trips to the plate. Going about his business, getting the job done again.

Bench propels Louisville basketball past Purdue

Ray Spalding setting the tone in the first half (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).
Ray Spalding setting the tone in the first half (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Have to be a little more confident about the future for the University of Louisville basketball team with the bench playing an integral role in UofL’s 71-64 win over Purdue. That’s a luxury UofL hasn’t enjoyed in recent seasons.

— Sophomore Ray Spalding leading the reinforcements, playing with newfound confidence and efficiency. Having the game of his UofL career after relieving Jaylen Johnson. He would set the tone in the first half, making all five of his field goal attempts and pull down nine rebounds. He would win up with 11 points in the game.

— Anas Mahmoud, a junior already, stepping in for Mangok Mathiang, still perfecting that move to the basket, making all four of his field goal attempts and winding up with nine points. He would also be credited with two assists, a block and a steal.

— Redshirt freshman Ryan McMahon coming through when the Cardinals needed him most, light out on his two 3-point attempts and two free throws. If Coach Rick Pitino needed to have more confidence in McMahon, he should have been convinced in his performance against Purdue.

— Senior Mangok Mathiang with perhaps his best start ever. Every basket he makes is a bonus, some of them unbelievable in this game. Splitting defenders, making hook shots, jumpers, even a scoop shot, he would make five of 11 field goal attempts, winding up with 11 points. He would also pull down eight rebounds and be credited with an assist and a steal.

 Not a great night for freshman V. J. King, who missed all three of his field goal attempts. But nobody doubts his time is coming, and that could happen any game now. That will make the bench even stronger.

Louisville gets Indiana’s attention with Purdue football opener

The first thought after learning that Purdue will be the opening opponent of UofL’s 2017 college football season was that this was Tom Jurich’s way of getting Indiana University’s attention.

Jurich has attempted to get Indiana on the football schedule for years but the Hoosiers have been reluctant to do so. Scheduling their arch rival sends a strong message to IU administrators.

The next question was about how the UofL-Purdue football game will affect negotiations for a basketball series with Indiana. Second hand reports indicate that a home, away and neutral site series has been in the works. Lots of anticipation, especially from Rick Pitino but the discussions have dragged on for a while.

A Louisville-Indiana basketball series (or football for that matter) would be lucrative for both schools. The Hoosiers may have needed more than a nudge.

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Louisville and Kentucky will meet up in baseball again for the second time in a week Wednesday in Lexington. Expect the game to go down to the wire again. It’s that kind of season for the Cardinals.

UofL will go with freshman right hander Kade McClure on the mound, with a 1-0 won-lost record and 3.09 earned run average. He’s an imposing presence, standing in at 6-foot-7, 234 pounds. Kentucky will counter with sophomore left hander Zach Logue, who is 2-2 with a 5.04 earned run average.

A UofL press release indicates the 6:30 p.m. game is on the SEC Network, but there’s some confusion because the network schedule doesn’t list the game.  It also indicates the game is on WatchESPN.com. Cross your fingers.