What an atmosphere it was Saturday night in Lucas Oil Stadium. To say Louisville fans showed out would be an absolute understatement.
Louisville fans certainly didn’t expect to be down to Purdue and first year head coach Jeff Brohm at half time, but to come back and get the win was huge for several obvious reasons. While a win is a win, there were a lot of things that left fans thinking that the weaknesses from last year’s team weren’t fixed. The false starts, the turnovers, the big plays allowed by the corner’s, all of it left fans scratching their heads as they walked out of Lucas Oil Stadium.
There was a lot of good that came out of the game Saturday night. The wide receivers showed they are for real and can be as good as any team in the country. The offensive line allowed zero sacks (yes you did read that right), and Lamar Jackson balled out for the entire country.
The Good: Lamar friggin’ Jackson!
Is it too early to call a Heisman repeat and for Lamar to be the #1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft? Am I overreacting to one game against Purdue? Yes, but who cares. Lamar was INCREDIBLE and put on a show for everyone at Lucas Oil Stadium just like all Louisville fans knew he would. He made big time NFL quality throws left and right. He made more Purdue defenders whiff than I could keep track of. He made the right check downs and threw the ball away when the pressure came more times than not. He didn’t force runs like we often saw last year and once again he single-handedly carried the offense.
While it will be difficult to put up bigger numbers than what he did last season, starting this year out with 378 passing yards, 107 rushing yards, and 2 touchdowns is a great start. Lamar did a great job of spreading the ball around, hitting a total 9 receivers throughout the game. Jaylen Smith made great catches all over the field, totaling 118 receiving yards on 8 receptions, and seemed to be Lamar’s go to target early on. Seth Dawkins & Dez Fitzpatrick, who many believed were in store for breakout seasons, both had great games accounting for 8 receptions, 151 yards and a touchdown. There were other really good parts to the game that should be noted including the forced turnovers by Louisville’s defense. Three players were able to make great plays over the middle of the field grabbing three interceptions.
The Bad: The running game
There were a couple of things that quickly come to mind when I think of what was bad during Saturday night’s game. The 10 false start penalties were horrendous and left fans scratching their heads, but from everything I’ve heard over the long weekend those mistakes are easy fixes. The Jaire Alexander injury is terrible news for a team that is now smack dab in the middle of competing for the ACC title and for a chance to make the College Football Playoff. However, it seems his injury isn’t as bad as maybe initially thought and he could be back in time for Clemson. My focus then goes straight to the running game which was more than bad, aside from Lamar Jackson of course. The two running backs, Reggie Bonnafon & Jeremy Smith, combined for 11 carries for 41 yards, two turnovers and a touchdown.
Reggie Bonnafon, who got the start at running back, came out with a couple of decent runs through the first few drives, but wasn’t really relied upon throughout the game aside from pass protection. While, Jeremy Smith got the call on the goal line twice after two long drives, only to cough it up and have Purdue recover on both occasions. I don’t want to be the fan that overreacts after one game, but there’s no excuse for fumbling on two carries at the one yard line, knowing it would’ve gone a long way to putting the game out of reach early. It’ll be interesting to see how the coaches use Smith going forward, who was already on a short leash due to fumbling issues last season. Coach Petrino and staff praised senior running back Malik Williams throughout fall camp and it’s likely he will get a shot against North Carolina and with a strong performance could take over as the second running back behind Reggie Bonnafon. If Louisville has any shot of beating Clemson & Florida State this season, someone from the backfield has to emerge as reliable threat to take pressure off of Lamar Jackson.
What’s Next?: A tough road test against a rebuilding North Carolina team
North Carolina and California both came into last week’s game trying to find a new identity after losing their starting Quarterback’s to the NFL Draft. While California seemed to have found their guy early on, North Carolina played two guys, with varying success. Brandon Harris the LSU transfer got the start for the Tar Heels, only to be benched after throwing two early interceptions in favor of freshman Chazz Surratt. UNC would eventually go on to lose in disappointing fashion and will look to rebound against Louisville this week in Chapel Hill.
Michael Jordon will be serve as an honorary captain, and the basketball team will receive their national championship rings at halftime. For North Carolina fans this will be a huge deal, but I’m not sure how it will translate to the football field. Louisville should be hungry to prove that a 35-28 win against Purdue was mostly because they overlooked an opponent who won 9 games in five years and not because they aren’t as good as advertised. Look for Louisville’s defense to put a lot of pressure on whatever quarterback is on the field and to force several turnovers. Also, watch out for Malik Williams. I know I said it last week, but until he gets an opportunity I’m going to continue to say it. I’ve heard way too much about this kid from people in the know inside of the football program, and I’ve got to believe he’s going to get a chance. It’ll be up to him to make the most of it.
Jacob Lane joined The Cardinal Connect in August of 2017 after previously writing for CardinalSports.com on the Rivals Network. Jacob covers anything and everything Louisville Cardinals. Follow him on Twitter @Jacob_Lane08