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.

Petrino finds the future in loss to Auburn

Bobby Petrino leads his University of Louisville football team during Card March at the Georgia Dome.
Bobby Petrino leads his University of Louisville football team during Card March at the Georgia Dome.

Safe to say the University of Louisville has found a quarterback, and he appears to live up to all the ballyhoo, the rumors coming out of fall football camp. So good in fact that Bobby Petrino had him on the field for the first play from scrimmage.

Cat-like instincts, dazzling speed, football savvy, standing tall, delivering the ball, moving the offense with authority. Louisville may have lost the game, but the future appears to be very bright with Lamar Jackson calling signals.

Jackson wouldn’t line up under center at the start. That honor went to Reggie Bonnafon but the ball was snapped to Jackson, Petrino wanting his young freshman to get going early. Bad snap, forcing Jackson to run for his life, throw the ball into a crowd of Auburn defenders.

Jackson’s first pass attempt at UofL an interception, Auburn taking full advantage, scoring five plays later. Auburn would, in fact, race out to a 17-0 advantage in the first half with the young freshman relegated to the sideline.

He would reappear early in the third quarter after UofL had fallen behind 24-0 with a freshman performance that won’t soon be forgotten, completing nine of 20 passes for 100 yards and run for 106 yards himself, averaging 6.6 yards per carry.

Auburn couldn’t handle Jackson once he found his rhythm, moving the offense almost at will during the fourth quarter, cutting the deficit to the final score of 31-24. Fortunately for Auburn, the clock ran out. Few people in the crowd of 73,000-plus at the Georgia Dome believed Auburn could have withstood another drive.

Jackson is one of those quarterbacks who makes everyone around him better. Just ask Brandon Radcliff who was struggling in the first half, but started churning out the yardage when Jackson returned, accumulating most of his 76 yards in the second half.

UofL’s offensive linemen also looked better after Jackson returned, having struggled to give Bonnafon any daylight. Jackson creating most of his own, running the ball laterally and vertically while eluding the persistent Auburn defenders.

So that was what Bobby Petrino was so excited about with Lamar Jackson. He’s gotta be having some second thoughts about not getting Jackson back in the game earlier. But the coach should be confident that he has the quarterback who can take his offense to the next level.

Will Gardner’s track record makes him best bet

The really good news on the University of Louisville quarterback situation is that Will Gardner has been cleared by the medical staff and will be competing for starting position when fall camp opens Thursday.

Gardner, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound junior, separated himself from the pack last season, completed 127 passes for 1,669 yards and 12 touchdowns. That, of course, was before he tore an ACL in left knee in the 10th game against Boston College. He underwent surgery on the knee in April, later saying it felt stronger than ever.

Will Gardner back in contention.
Will Gardner back in contention.

Let’s hope that’s true because Gardner brings confidence and accuracy to the quarterback position, qualities that will be badly needed with a largely untested offensive line. He faced many of the same challenges last season, putting up some respectable numbers, playing injured most of the time.

Coach Bobby Petrino keeps saying that Reggie Bonnafon would be the starter if the season started this week. Bobby knows best but UofL fans can’t help but remember Bonnafon’s less-than-stellar performances against Clemson and Kentucky last season, all those over and under throws and all those frustrating third-down mishaps.

Bonnafon actually played in two more games than Gardner last season, competing 61 passes for 864 yards for five touchdowns before going down in the UK game. He was good for only one completion in the embarrassing 37-14 loss to Georgia in the Belk Bowl.

Players often make some significant strides between their freshman and sophomore seasons. Bonnafon would have to have made some major improvements in his game if he is going to be successful in the opener against Auburn in the Chick fil A opener.

Gardner was hobbled three times last season, in the fourth game against Florida International, missing the next two games before returning in the second half against Clemson. He had UofL on Clemson’s two-yard when the game ended.

If Gardner can make it safely through fall camp, don’t be surprised to see him calling signals at the Georgia Dome.

Louisville turns Notre Dame away, the quest continues

A virtual red sea of University of Louisville fans descend upon South Bend on a cold drizzling day in November 2014. A cold drizzly day, gray skies, temperatures in the mid-forties, wet and slippery conditions for an historic football game. A school, a football program and a fan base ready to take the next step.

Momentum swinging back and forth during the game, moods bouncing wildly between helplessness, resignation to exultation, teams trading leads four times, teams going from defenseless to defensive, hot to cold and back again on offense, the final outcome in doubt with the clock ticking down to decision time with less than a minute on the clock.

Brandon Radcliff
Brandon Radcliff

Notre Dame is moving the ball again, quickly advancing the ball from its own 20 to Louisville’s 15-yard line. Quarterback Everett Golson finding his swagger again, ready to redeem himself, salvage the Notre Dame mystique. The Cardinals digging deep, somehow holding the Irish, forcing a field goal attempt. Visions of overtime with Louisville leading 31-28.

The holder is still positioning the ball as Kyle Brindza’s foot connects. The football veers wide right.

Louisville holds on, winning the historic first game in the series against the sport’s most revered program. Another one of those historic wins that just seem to keep coming for that ambitious, but humble and hungry school, the University of Louisville.

Quarterback Reggie Bonnafon, thrust squarely into the spotlight during his fourth freshman start, learning on the job, needing to grow up quickly. Responding with an aura of confidence, steady hands and quick feet, maintaining the poise to the end, leading his team to a monumental victory. Notre Dame may be down the past three games, but remaings highly competitive, underscoring the importance of Bonnafon’s performance.

For the day, Bonnafon would connect on eight of 21 passes for 180 yards and a 21-yard touchdown pass to DeVante Parker. He would rush for 35 yards on 15 carries, including touchdown runs of 12 and eight yards to give Louisville an early 14-3 lead.

No one ever knows which UofL running back will leave the most indelible mark. The first half belonged to Michael Dyer who would come through with 61 yards on 13 carries, setting up the Bonnafon touchdowns. His longest run was 21 yards before Notre Dame could get a handle on him, keeping him in toll after his initial surge.

Time for Brandon Radcliff to step up, and his derring do would come at just the right time, following two consecutive Notre Dame touchdowns, giving the Irish the lead again, threatening to demoralize UofL’s then sputtering offense. Ripping through Notre Dame’s shored up defense in that second half for 136 yards and a go-ahead touchdown. Averaging 8.1 yards per carry, a man on a mission, cherishing every carry, punishing and embarrassing many would-be tacklers.

DeVante Parker getting far too much attention from Notre Dame defenders, making only four catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. He gets credit, too, for deflecting attention away from UofL’s running game, which accounted for 229 yards on the ground, compared to only 99 for the Irish.  Kai De La Cruz, whose name hasn’t been mentioned much lately, was big on a 52-yard pass play, setting up Bonnafon’s first touchdown.

Every bit of drama that could be expected in a first game between Louisville and Notre Dame, the Cardinals emerging with another one of those memorable wins, emerging from the house that Knute Rockne built with still another memento in their growing trove of treasured victories.

Will Gardner out, Petrino on the case

Will Gardner has advanced so far this year only to have his season end abruptly. He’s out for the season with a knee injury that will require surgery.

Displaying such confidence after such a rocky start, connecting immediately with DeVante Parker after his return from injury. Again and again.

Will Gardner
Will Gardner

His sophomore season ending on what looked like a simple pass, landing softly on his left leg, but wincing and kneeling in pain, limping off the field. Reminding one of Brian Brohm’s injury during his junior year. So non-threatening the fall, but with heartbreaking implications in each case.

“It is really unfortunate and disappointing for Will because of how hard he has worked and how respected he is in the locker room,” head coach Bobby Petrino said.  “Will will continue to be an integral part of our program moving forward because of his leadership he has displayed and the respect he has in the locker room. ”

Gardner started seven games for the Cardinals, posting a 5-2 mark. He threw for 1,669 yards and 12 touchdowns, with three interceptions.

Fortunately Coach Bobby Petrino has extra time to work with Reggie Bonnafon before the Notre Dame game Nov. 22. Equally important, he will get a look at a new backup.

Petrino has been down this road before. Remember Michael Bush going down the first game during the 2006 season? The University of Louisville won the BCS Orange Bowl that season. He will make it work.