Louisville football survives game of unbridled offense

University of Louisville running back Javian Hawkins has a productive day with 177 yards rushing, 13 yards passing and a touchdown (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

No one expected the road back to respectability for University of Louisville football to be easy. Too much ground to make up after being so far down.

Case  in point that cliffhanger of a 41-39 win for UofL over Boston College in front of a crowd of 46,007 at Cardinal Stadium on Saturday. An outcome still much in doubt after Blanton Creque makes good on a 41-yard field goal and a two-point lead for UofL at the 1:02 mark.

An eventful week for Malik Cunningham who would choose to be called Micale, pass for 288 yards, run for 43 yards and account for two touchdowns (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

That play setting the stage for what would have been a heartbreaking finish. UofL badly needing a win after nine straight ACC losses since 2019. Another conference loss and UofL will be saddled with the ACC record. A collective sigh of relief  after the Cardinals give up eight shots but somehow containing the Eagles within their own 46-yard line.

A. J. Dillon, the human tank who ran for 272 yards against UofL two seasons ago, would be stopped for no gain the one time he carries the ball in that final minute. Not quite the same force he was in 2017 but still good for 118 yards on Saturday.

Blanton Creque is hoisted on teammates’ shoulders after kicking winning field goal (UofL football photo).

“None of these wins are going to be easy,” said UofL Coach Scott Satterfield. “A lot of them will probably come down to something like this. I told our guys in the locker room that we’re defined by how we finish. And you have to finish games like this, and they were able to do that. All the way to two seconds to finish the game and get the win.”

One of those games usually decided by mistakes. UofL miraculously recovering a fumble two plays before the winning field goal.  Giving Boston College a second chance during the final minute on an illegal substitution. Hanging on by the skin of their collective teeth.

The UofL defense giving up 563 yards but the offense was putting up 664 yards.  Javian Hawkins with 190 of those yards, including 177 yards rushing and one touchdown.  Only a freshman, coming attractions should be plentiful.

That same UofL defense making stops when it absolutely had to, including that surprising take-away on the 2-yard line on Boston College’s by Monty Montgomery and the first interception of the season by Anthony Johnson.

Not a pretty game, one which UofL was lucky to win — an inescapable conclusion looking back at this one. Football is a game of breaks, good and bad, with the outcomes often unpredictable. No question, though, that Louisville sorely wanted a win this day.

Louisville football is suddenly fun again

The Unversity of Louisville football team gave fans reasons to be optimistic about the future direction of the program (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

One of the biggest games in University of Louisville football history, with a new coach and a new attitude, accompanied by Notre Dame’s first ever visit to Louisville.

Lots of questions, mucho suspense, with Coach Scott Satterfield on the sidelines for the first time. Would the program begin the road back to respectability or linger in the wasteland created by the former mentor. A 35-17 loss to the Irish would certainly make one wonder.

Quarterback Jawon Pass celebrates with teammates after scoring his second touchdown, giving UofL a brief lead over the nation’s ninth-ranked team (Cindy Rice Sullivan phot).

The Observer is thrilled to report that Louisville is back on the right track again and few people in the record crowd of 58,187 would disagree, including the approximately 7,000 Notre Dame fans. The Cardinals arrived ready to rumble, maintaining their intensity during adversity, competing until the final whistle.

A red sea of humanity for the first Card March of the 2019 season.

As did the vast majority of UofL fans, hanging around long after the game had been decided. Basketball may be the dominant sport but football will always be the fun sport. The fans emerging from the shadows after a season from Hell, desperate for new signs of life from their favorite team.

No Louisville fan will ever be happy with a loss and this was no exception. UofL would in the game until the final seconds of the first half, until quarterback Jawon Pass would fumble on three consecutive plays. Should have been a 14-14 tie at the half, but those miscues opened the door for Notre Dame’s seven-point lead at the half.

Except for that disastrous series of plays, UofL looked like a team primed for a possible upset. The kind of win that speeds up the rejuvenation process, sending a charge through the fan base. Not to be. But plenty about which to be optimistic, with Louisville actually outgaining an opponent on the ground (249 to 230) for the first time since the Lamar Jackson era.

Serious questions remain about UofL’s passing game, with Pass completing only 12 of 28 passes for 134 yards. That has got to get better. But Pass was improved in other phases of his game, scoring two touchdowns on runs of eight and 17 yards. Nice to have some contributions from running backs from the running backs, with Javian Hawkins and Hassan Hall gaining 128 yards and 72 yards, respectively.

Scott Satterfield said afterwards that the team is going to keep improving, getting much better, and is ready to compete. Any UofL fan who saw the improvement from last season to now would have to agree. Louisville football has a future again.

Notre Dame right opponent to welcome new era for Louisville football

Notre Dame is coming.

Not news to anyone but some of us had a hard time believing that would ever happen, the Irish showing up at Cardinal Stadium. Notre Dame is coming, one keeps repeating to himself.

Were it not for last season’s dismal season, the opening game against the Irish would have been the most anticipated game in University of Louisville football history. One has every reason to believe it will be a sellout and, in all likelihood, will set a new single game attendance record.

Some would argue that it couldn’t come at a worst time, with UofL coming off the most embarrassing seasons in the program’s history. Louisville has has had worse won-lost records, losing every game in the 1931 and 1932 seasons with identical 0-8 records. UofL won only 17 of 70 games during that decade.

Fact is the game against Notre Dame could have come under worse conditions. Bobby Petrino would still be coaching UofL football had Athletic Director Vince Tyra not had the guts to eat the $14 million payoff.  Sent Petrino packing. He’s gone, hopefully never to be seen in Louisville again.

Last year’s humiliating 2-10 record followed a $70 million expansion of Cardinal Stadium, buoyed by numerous finishes in the top 20. Growing seating capacity from 55,000 to 60,000-plus. Louisville was a contender, having earned national respect, greatly boosting the athletic department’s overall reputation. No longer just a basketball school.

Two seasons after Louisville football had risen to No. 3 in the national polls and competing for the college football playoffs. Those aspirations crashing down to earth following a 36-10 loss to Houston in the next-to-last game of the 2016 season. The Cardinals allowing 50 points in seven games during an awful 2018 season.

This season’s opener has been designated a Black Out game, with fans being encouraged to wear black. Not that any extra incentive was needed to get UofL fans there, not with Notre Dame being the opponent in the opening game of the season.

Ten months is a long time between seasons, especially between tailgating sessions for party-loving Louisville partisans. The long wait is over and there’s new blood with Coach Scott Satterfield and his enthusiastic staff. One has to believe last season’s team could not possibly have been as bad it looked at times.

It’s a new beginning for UofL football, fans recognizing there are going to be some significant challenges. Those of us who have been following the program for several decades, however, have been there before. Going to require a lot of patience and persistence, the kind that enabled UofL to become a national contender just a few years ago.

So forgive long-time Louisville fans if they are more than a little ecstatic that Notre Dame football is coming to town.

Bad taste still lingers from Bobby Petrino’s final season

The best news for Louisville football fans is that there will no third coming of Bobby Petrino.

One more slap at Bobby Petrino and one can move forward.

Fans can’t look forward to the University of Louisville’s 2019 football season without  negative thoughts about the former coach and the total ineptness that permeated the program last year.

Petrino at his lowest ebb, punishing the very people willing to give him a second chance.

One has to go back a couple of decades, to 1997, to match the sense of futility of UofL  fans in the program. Even so, Ron Cooper’s last team, which finished 1-10, was better than Petrino’s last unit with a 2-10 record . Cooper’s team was occasionally competitive, Petrino’s team was never in most games in the second half.

The guys who played for Cooper were outmanned and outclassed, playing out of their league. Petrino’s players had lost all respect, sensing he really didn’t care about them or the outcome of the games. Just hanging around for a $14 million buyout check.

A good number of fans are still around from earlier decades, with lots of memories about how the University of Louisville struggled for respectability. They were there long before the winning seasons, the packed stadiums, all the big bowl games, all the anticipatory pre-season expectations.

So for many of them, it’s like starting all over again. The only solace is that Petrino is gone. Well, that and the fact that there will not be a third coming  in Louisville. Banished to obscurity somewhere in a Florida mansion.

The good news is that UofL may have hired an up and coming new coach in Scott Satterfield. A coach who has the ability to work with people, who is able to hire and work with competent staff, who cares about the players, and is confident in his abilities to steer the program in the right direction.

These Louisville fans have been through the good and the bad, not only in football but in basketball. They’re willing to go through it all again, knowing all the pitfalls and the rewards of struggling program. Confident that UofL football will have begun its return to respectability.

Satterfield quietly maintaining focus on Louisville football

Scott Satterfield on the mound for the University of Louisville (Photo by Jared Anderson).

Some polite applause as Scott Satterfield took to the mound on Tuesday for the ceremonial first pitch prior to the University of Louisville-Vanderbilt baseball game. After a quick acknowledgment, throwing a perfect strike into Zeke Pinkham’s mitt.

Strictly business, watching a few innings before heading back to the Howard Schnellenberger football complex.

Scott Satterfield (Courier-Journal photo).

Pretty obvious from his first few months in town that Satterfield doesn’t bring a ton of charisma to his job as the new University of Louisville football coach. One could be standing behind him in line at the cash register and not make the connection.

Quiet and unassuming, not an individual who’s going to excite the masses with his presence. Never going to resort to hype to sell football tickets, never going to ride an elephant, or compare UofL fans to UK fans. He has more important things to do, faced with the enormous challenge of undoing the damage of his predecessor to the Louisville football program.

The program took an unprecedented nose dive just months after a new board of trustees was installed. Reports surfaced that Bobby Petrino would not be around very long. The former coach owed a lot to former President Jim Ramsey and former Athletic Director Tom Jurich after Petrino’s downfall after the Arkansas scandal.  In the end, a $14 million buyout seemed to be his only motivation.

Rarely has a college football program fallen so quickly and so far than UofL football did under Petrino.

One of Satterfield’s first discoveries was that there seemed to be little rhyme or reason to Petrino’s recruiting practices. More than a dozen wide receivers on hand but only just a handful of offensive linemen, for example. Outside of practice sessions, the players saw very little of Petrino, many of them not even knowing the location of the coach’s office in the football facility.

Petrino was so unlikeable in his profession that he had serious problems hiring and keeping good assistants. So much damage, shaking the very foundations of the program.

So please forgive Scott Satterfield if he seems a bit pre-occupied with all the issues that Petrino left in his wake. Don’t expect any optimistic predictions or quick turnarounds. Not going to be easy, more than likely a long drawn-out grind that’s going to require a lot of patience from fans. 

Scraping bottom at present but, with a coaching staff that actually cares, the program can only get better. Satterfield knows that and has little time for distractions.

Notre Dame is going to pack Cardinal Stadium Sept. 2, hype or no hype.