Not a good day at Papa John’s Stadium

Kyle Bolin was able to move the ball but Louisville's defense couldn't stop Houston.
Kyle Bolin was able to move the ball but Louisville’s defense couldn’t stop Houston.

With the rugged schedule the University of Louisville football team was confronted with during the first three weeks, the start of the 2015 season was either going to be sensational or awful. Prospects for the latter are looming large after UofL dropped its home opener to Houston 34-31 on Saturday.

The lack of clear leadership at quarterback, an inexperienced offensive line, a wide receiving corps of all freshmen, and a defense that lost nine people in the National Football League draft are dampening much of the pre-season optimism.

Enthusiasm for the game, both from the Louisville players and the fans, was not helped with a noon kickoff time. Many fans apparently choosing to sleep late, unable to get excited about playing a team from the American Athletic Conference, a crowd of 50,019 in attendance. Coach Bobby Petrino would state afterwards that his players were not sharp or focused.

What transpired was what many had feared, lots of offense with little defense, lots of miscues and turnovers, teams trading touchdowns. The kind of game that exposed some glaring weaknesses for UofL. Most unfortunately exposing a Louisville defense unable to keep Houston from converting on third downs. Freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson looking all too human with a tendency of throwing into crowds, resulting in two interceptions. Fumbling without being hit at one point.

Coach Bobby Petrino, for a second straight game, seeming to change quarterbacks a bit too late, waiting until the third quarter to insert Kyle Bolin when it was clear Jackson wasn’t having one of his better days. Jackson may be the future but this is the here and now.

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Petrino may want to reconsider always being on the receiving end of the opening kickoff. The current edition of his offense doesn’t appear to be ready coming out of the gate.

Three and out on the first series of downs Saturday against Houston,setting up the Cougars on their 49-yard line, needing only six plays for their first touchdown. Last week, Auburn intercepting a Lamar Jackson pass on the first play from scrimmage, setting up on the UofL 26, and scoring five plays later.

Too much to learn on the offensive line, at the wide receiver positions and at quarterback to warrant that kind of optimism. And if the defense is supposed to be the team’s strength, he might want to let them prove it early on.

Another ugly beginning, starting off in a hole, setting an uncertain tone, not inspiring confidence for a team needing a major boost of positivity right now.

Chris Jones all in now, eyes another Louisville championship

Chris Jones has been getting to the gym at 7:30 every morning the past week, working on the fundamentals, paying more attention to Coach Rick Pitino than the coach was giving Jones credit for during Friday’s press conference.

Chris Jones is listening, comprehending.
Chris Jones is listening, comprehending.

He’s got the message, Coach, taking it to heart, telling UofL play-by-play announcer Paul Rogers after UofL’s hard-fought 85-67 win over Wake Forest,  “I know what we have to do to win a national championship. I’m all in.”

Jones said he was taking responsibility as point guard for running this team, getting the point guard thing down, getting the ball to open teammates. Playing 36 minutes at full speed, Pitino said Jones played brilliantly. He had no choice, not with Terry Rozier playing in foul trouble and Wake Forest clamping down on Montrezl Harrell.

The most crucial basket he made may have come after Wake Forest had clawed back, taking a 69-68 lead at the 5:19 mark. Slipping through all the congestion, he would put UofL back on top to stay. Then he would sink two free throws and find Harrell beneath the basket, and suddenly Louisville was ahead 76-71.

For the game, Jones would be credited with an amazing 10 assists to going with his 22 points, three steals and four rebounds. Working on his game, getting better.

Harrell, taking the ball the length of the court at one point, all but unstoppable in the first half. Connecting on seven of 10 field goal attempts, including a couple of three-pointers, for his first 20 points. Wake Forest double-teaming him in the second half, allowing him only five more points.

Rozier, limited to 25 minutes of playing time because of foul trouble, would keep Louisville out of trouble while he was in, scoring 10 of his 18 points in the second half.

Devin Thomas, of Wake Forest, was having the game of his life, getting to the basket with ease with UofL’s revolving trio of Anas Mahmoud, Mangok Mathiang and Chinanu Onuaku, taking them to school en route to a career high 31 points. They’re going to be under Pitino’s thumb during upcoming practices.

Listen to the Coach, guys, listen carefully.

Clemson survives Louisville scare

Clemson fans storm the field. (Paul Rogers photo)
Clemson fans celebrate win over Louisville. (Paul Rogers photo)

From all the chatter out of South Carolina over the past week, the University of Louisville football team didn’t have much of a chance. Clemson had too much talent, too much tradition, the crowd would be too loud, and would embarass UofL.

Those same people were sitting on the edges of their seats with 21 seconds left, clinging to hopes for a miracle with UofL on their two-yard line, wondering who are these guys. Many of the Clemson faithful storming the field, exhilarating after a 23-17 win over Louisville.

Their first brush with Louisville football a scary encounter, a lesson in humility, a reminder that games are won on the field, not on message boards, learning firsthand that UofL will be a contender in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

UofL would live up to its No. 1 ranking in total defense, allowing the Tigers only 229 yards of offense — 261 yards fewer than their ACC-leading average coming into the game. The Tigers would make only two third-down conversions and would be sacked four times. Bobby Petrino’s offense wasn’t much better, however, managing only 264 total yards and one of 17 third-down conversion attempts.

By the time, Petrino pulled Reggie Bonnafon in the second half, it was painfully clear why Petrino had delayed his starting quarterback decision. Except for his 39-yard completion to Dominique Brown, the freshman quarterback was having another off day, completing only five of 13 attempts with a minus 26 yards rushing.

Still having problems with those decisions, holding the ball too long, coughing up the ball again on his own one-yard line, again giftwrapping six more points to the opposition.

Continue reading “Clemson survives Louisville scare”

Louisville defense dissects Wake Forest in 20-10 win

Another grinder against a lower tier Atlantic Coast Conference team, the University of Louisville football team’s 20-10 win over Wake Forest Saturday in front of 51,463 fans at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

Similar to a number of games in the American Athletic Conference last season, the sleep-inducing, slow-motion yawners, Saturday’s game reminiscent of the challenges Charlie Strong faced getting points on the scoreboard. Maybe he wasn’t so conservative after all?

Brandon Radliff
Brandon Radclliff

If Bobby Petrino, oft described as an “offensive genius” is having the same problem, there are some things to be worked out. And it could require some time, like maybe a recruiting class or two. The UofL coach admits the offensive unit isn’t performing at a high level, something painfully obvious the last three games.

“We kept killing ourselves,” Petrino said of his offense after Saturday’s game. “We’re still a work in progress.”

He gave thanks for having an impressive defensive effort, UofL allowing Wake Forest only seven first downs, converting only two of 16 third down attempts, and only 100 yards of total offense. Lorenzo Mauldin would tie his career high of three sacks and Gerod Holliman would make his sixth interception this season.

Reggie Bonnafon, stepping in for the injured Will Gardner at quarterback, was more than adequate despite a number of rookie mistakes, including a fumble on his one yard line allowing Wake Forest to score its only touchdown. Nice to see some mobility for a change, Bonnafon escaping several breakdowns in protection, turning some broken plays into gainers. He would be credited with 46 yards rushing while completing 16 of 32 passes for 206 yards.

Remember Brandon Radclliff, the hard-charging 5-foot-9 redshirt freshman listed as the fourth-string running back? Lots of fun to watch in mop-up duty up to now. He would finally get his chance Saturday and he would make the most of it, gaining 130 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns.

Leading rusher Dominique Brown would get pulled early after gaining a net total of one yard on three carries, and fumbling one of them, giving the ball to Wake Forest. Michael Dyer would carry 14 times for 41 yards.

Not quite living up to the season’s expectations thus far, but UofL will be 4-1 going into Friday night’s game at Syracuse.

Louisville dismantles UConn on Senior Day

Luke Hancock is escorted by family and friends for his final game at the KFC Yum! Center.
Luke Hancock is escorted by family and friends for his final game.

Hard to imagine University of Louisville basketball without some of the players who competed for the last time at the KFC Yum! Center in Cardinal uniforms Saturday.

Tim Henderson
Tim Henderson

Four of them — Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, Stephan Van Treese and Tim Henderson — playing their last home game as seniors, having compiled so many memories, so many accomplishments, the winningest class in UofL history, including two Final Fours and a national championship.  Providing the leadership for a team that just may putting the pieces together for another memorable run.

Montrezl Harrell, just a sophomore but a co-captain, inevitably putting his name in the NBA draft, fitting in perfectly with his older teammates, bringing so much so quickly for a team that badly needed his enthusiasm and skill set.

Stephan Van Treese
Stephan Van Treese

Big game, emotions running rampant, with the kind of distractions that often affect individual focus and collective composure. Sometimes manifested in overpowering starts and big leads, often fizzling as the game wears on. Like when Louisville jumps out to an early 17-5 lead before a dry spell allowing UConn to cut the margin to eight with three minutes to go in the first half.

UofL’s shooting may have cooled off briefly but not its defensive effort, not allowing UConn’s Shabazz Napier or Ryan Boatright to collect a single field goal in the first half. They would wind up with only nine and six points, respectively while managing only three assists and turning the ball over nine times.

  • Russ Smith, playing in front of several of his high school teammates from New York in the crowd, showing he’s much more than a shooter now, making a rare start at point guard and racking up a career high 13 assists while making four steals. Russ would, believe it or not, take only two field goal attempts, winding up with only three points in the game.
  • Luke Hancock’s three-point shot has never looked better (except in the NCAA championship game). He would hit four of them in a game for the fifth time this season.
  • Montrezl Harrell knows when to pounce, again looking almost unstoppable, with his 20 points — half of them from dunks — and 13 rebounds, his eighth double-double this season.
  • Stephan Van Treese, who demonstrated a pretty impressive post move for the first time ever, would also pull down 13 rebounds. Keep working on that post move, Stephan, a secret weapon could come in handy the next two or three weeks.

An impressive performance 81-48 win over UConn on Senior Day, Louisville wrapping up the regular season with a 26-5 won-lost record. These players have been through a lot in the past four seasons and they’re not ready to say goodbye any time soon.

Russ Smith with his dad (left) and other family members.
Russ Smith with his dad (left) and other family members.