Jeff Walz needs toughness from Louisville women

Tough times make tough people.

More than a little discomforting the 1-4 start for the University of Louisville women’s basketball team. Depressingly bad way to start a season.

Not what UofL fans, more than 16,000 of them turning out for the opening game against California, were expecting with what numerous analysts had proclaimed to be the top recruiting class in the nation. High expectations have given way to some harsh realities, the Cardinals dropping out of the top 25 this week.

Jeff Walz needs toughness from his troops.
Jeff Walz has some motivating to do.

Now comes the news that Asia Durr, the most heralded recruit in the 2015 class, is having difficulties recovering from a groin injury. She will miss the rest of the season, hoping to be ready for next year.  Update: She’s available and playing, a surprising recovery.

With only two starters among the four players returning from last season, Coach Jeff Walz knew there would be a learning curve. Little did he know how steep that learning curve would be, with more than a few shortcomings on offense and an inability to stop anyone on defense.

A rude awakening for a team that has two of the nation’s top recruiting classes over the past two seasons. A nice group of players, possibly too nice for their own good. Possibly taking too seriously all the conjecture about how good they were going to be, going through the motions. Welcome to reality, ladies. There’s a big difference between the fantasy world of recruiting hype and the rigors of college women’s basketball.

Walz has expressed surprise about the lack of basketball intelligence from some, indicating that he has spent a lot of time on basics, and possibly not being as demanding as in the past. In other words, too soft. Millenials are concerned about feelings, you know. That hasn’t worked for him or them.

This team obviously has some good players with significant potential. But they will begin to improve only when they develop some toughness, refusing to roll over when they are challenged. That will likely require a more hands-on approach from a coach who has never tolerated mediocrity.

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Sorry to hear that Will Gardner has been granted his release from the UofL football team without seeing any action during the 2015 season.  Gardner actually looked good during the spring training camp, like he was ready to compete for the starting position again. But those three ACL tears on the same leg had to be a concern for Bobby Petrino, reluctant to get Gardner involved in any part of the season-long quarterback controversies. Hopefully he finds a good home and some serious playing time at his next stop while avoiding further injury.

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Julie Hermann out at Rutgers.
Julie Hermann out at Rutgers.

Julie Hermann, the former associate AD in charge of women’s athletics at UofL, has been fired after two tumultuous years at Rutgers University. Hermann had to see the writing on the wall when the administration dealt directly with Kyle Flood, the football coach, who was suspended during the season for improper contact with an academic instructor. Hermann and Flood were fired within hours on Sunday.

Hermann had visions of doing for Rutgers what Tom Jurich has done for UofL. Rutgers announced a new $3.5 million baseball stadium last spring but they made little progress in raising the money. Hermann will continue to receive her $450,000 salary through 2018.

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.

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.

Virginia crushes Louisville’s high expectations, 23-21

The first indication that the University of Louisville might be in trouble came early in the week, with at least one local analyst who will go unamed, projecting a 6-0 start to the football season, anticipating a major showdown at Clemson in a month.

Not surprisingly, many UofL fans bought into the invincible scenario.  Runaway wins in the first two games will have that kind of effect, coming on top of so many wins the past three seasons.

Those  soaring expectations came crashing down to earth Saturday with UofL on the wrong side of a 23-21 score against Virginia, a team that had lost 11 straight conference games over the past two seasons. Yes, against the team picked to finish last in the Coastal Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The starting assignment might have been Gardner's last if freshman Bonnafon had been able to move the offense.

Except for the opening drive and a couple of exceptions in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals would spend much of the game starting out inside their five-yard line, managing only 79 yards on the ground and 203 through the air. Probably the lowest offensive output since the Kragthorpe era. Sure felt like it.

Continue reading “Virginia crushes Louisville’s high expectations, 23-21”

Campus Insider: Gardner may be better than Bridgewater

At least one analyst believes Will Gardner will be better than Teddy Bridgewater was at the University of Louisville.

Will Gardner
Will Gardner

Campus Insiders’ Rich Cirminiello took up the argument that Louisville quarterback Will Gardner will outplay Teddy Bridgewater, year over year, attempting to convince his disbelieving co-workers.

If his assessment eventually proves to be accurate, one would have to heavily factor Bobby Petrino’s approach to offensive football into the equation. Check out the Campus Insider video at http://ow.ly/AlbgQ.