Cardinal Football

Louisville Football: The Good, The Bad & What’s Next

AP Photo - Tim Easley

A bye week is exactly what the doctor ordered for the Louisville Cardinals football season.

Everything that this team hasn’t done over the last 4 weeks, they did Saturday. Their tackling, coverage, pass rush, special teams, and running game all were a complete 180 from the last time we saw the Cards take the field against Wake Forest.The 38-21 win was by far Louisville’s best overall performance on the season and it wasn’t even close.

After giving up 470 total yards to NC State, 555 to Boston College, 403 to Florida State, and 625 to Wake Forest, Louisville couldn’t have asked for a better time for a bye week. In the post game press conference following the embarrassing performance against Wake Forest, Bobby Petrino said no staff changes would be made as everyone was “in this together” even when it was perfect timing to hand the Defensive Coordinator reigns over to someone else and move on from Peter Sirmon. Coach Petrino, the rest of the staff, and the players rallied together and showed that they have the fight left in them to get this season back on track. The defense was able to hold Virginia to just 277 total yards, 2 turnovers, and three forced fumbles.

This is extremely important so don’t miss this. My daughter has now been alive for 10 days. In those 10 days, UofL has played football once. The Cardinals sit at 1-0 with her alive. In the other days where she was not alive this season, Louisville was 5-4. I think we’ve found the secret sauce to a winning season.

The Good – Louisville’s Top Performance of the 2017-18 Season

For the first time this season a Louisville football game consisted of much more good than bad. Because of that, instead of pointing out one or two things, I’ll just name anything and everything that was good..

Lamar Jackson is the first player in college football history to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. WE DO NOT DESERVE LAMAR JACKSON!!! Seriously, if Lamar Jackson is not in New York on December 19th when the Heisman Trophy winner is announced, there should not be a Heisman Trophy Presentation. This kid has done everything required to be named the first back-to-back Heisman Trophy winner since Archie Griffin back in the 1970’s. The first touchdown run of the game against Virginia was insane. His throws to the back of the endzone to Seth Dawkins & Jaylen Smith were incredible. He was unstoppable running the football. And time & time again he made big time plays to keep Louisville ahead.

Louisville went for it on fourth down twice and got the first down both times. Bobby 1.0 is back?

Louisville ran the ball 43 times, 28 of those attempts were by running backs. The three running backs who received carries (Dae Williams, Malik Williams, Reggie Bonnafon) combined for 151 yards and a touchdown. The committee of half backs out carried AND out rushed Lamar for the first time since week 2 against North Carolina (Murray & Kent State excluded) – Running Backs: 25 carries, 151 yards – Lamar Jackson: 15 carries, 147 yards

Dae Williams is the best running back on the roster as of today and is likely going to be the future at running back for Louisville. At one point Bobby Petrino ran him 4 times over 5 plays all for positive yards. I can’t remember the last time a running back got the ball 4 times in a quarter, let alone a series – That drive resulted in a touchdown.

Seth Dawkins & Jaylen Smith were incredible throughout the entire night, combining for 10 receptions, 139 yards, and 3 touchdowns, two of them coming on great throws & even better catches, including Jaylen Smith’s one handed, Odell Beckham Jr. like catch in the back of the endzone  

Cole Bentley stepped in for an injured Mekhi Becton and looked like a future all ACC type lineman. The future is bright up front for Louisville, who should return all five starters, and several key reserves next season.

The defense is healthy again.. Jaire Alexander, Drew Bailey, and Stacy Thomas all returned to the starting lineup, the first time that’s happened since the season opener against Purdue.

The defensive line was DOMINANT.  The statistics don’t even begin to tell the story of how well the front seven of UofL played. They were CONSTANTLY in the backfield chasing Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert out of the pocket, forcing bad throws and three fumbles. Like I’ve said several times this season, when the pass rush gets after the QB, the secondary does a much better job of covering receivers. Unfortunately that hasn’t happened very often.

James Hearns – 3 sacks, 3 QB hurries, 3 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles

Jonathan Greenard – 1 sack, 1 QB hurry

Trevon Young – 2 QB hurries, 1 fumble recovery

Henry Famurewa – 3 QB hurries

–Jaire Alexander SHUT DOWN his side of the field.. Tru Washington was much improved in coverage as well.. Chucky Williams, Dee Smith and Khane Pass, also did their thing. The secondary only gave up 214 yards passing. The Tax Boyz could be on track to be get back to what we expected prior to the season.

–It’s worth mentioning Louisville has been really bad returning punts this season, but against Virginia Louisville was much improved. Reggie Bonnafon had two nice returns (28 yards to the 25 yard line – Malik Williams fumbled the next play – 17 yards to the 41 yard line – resulted in a touchdown) that gave the Cards great field position. Reggie did muff a return off the bounce which Virginia recovered (intercepted by Dee Smith two plays later) and was close to muffing another punt on the next Virginia drive.

Louisville STAYED healthy.. It seems like each game the Cards have lost a significant player, whether it was Stacy Thomas, Jaire Alexander, Malik Williams, or Drew Bailey. Against Virginia, Louisville was able to avoid being bitten by the injury bug again, which should bode well for the team in their matchup against a uptempo, fast Syracuse team (more on that later)

The Bad – More Turnovers and Bad Clock Management

Saturday was Louisville’s best performance of the season, hands down… I seriously can’t say that enough. However, there were still several aspects of the game that made you shake your head, simply because the team has struggled mightily throughout the season in those areas.

While Louisville didn’t lose the turnover battle, they unfortunately didn’t win it. Louisville had two fumbles (make it five, fortunately three others were recovered by UL) one by Malik Williams, the other by Reggie Bonnafon, both coming with Louisville having good field position. Reggie Bonnafon, who I mentioned earlier, was great returning punts (for the most part) against Virginia. However, he did muff two punts, losing one and recovering the other. The Malik Williams fumble came in a bad spot, as Bonnafon returned a punt for 28 yards to the Virginia 25 yard line, only to fumble one play later. Louisville has not done well this season in the turnover battle, only winning the turnover battle three out of their 10 games. You can see the turnover count below.

UL: 3 Purdue: 4

UL: 0 UNC: 0

UL: 1 Clemson: 0

UL: 3 Kent State: 4

UL: 2 Murray State: 1

UL: 1 NC State: 1

UL: 2 BC: 1

UL: 1 FSU: 3

UL: 1 Wake: 1

UL: 2 Virginia: 2

———————

UL: 16 Opposing Teams: 17

The clock management going into halftime was absolutely terrible, which we all know has happened before. The Auburn game two years ago comes to mind right away. It’s hard to figure out who is to blame for it. Going into halftime the game was extremely tight. Virginia had just drove down the field on a 6 play, 58 yard scoring a touchdown cutting Louisville’s lead to 17-14, and were gaining momentum. Louisville started their next drive at their own 25 yard line with 48 seconds remaining and with one timeout to use. They’d start the drive with two intermediate passes, both complete, getting a first down at the 36 yard line. This is where the bad clock management began. Bobby Petrino called a timeout with 31 seconds remaining, instead of spiking the ball following the complete passl. After an incomplete pass to Dez Fitzpatrick, Lamar Jackson would hit Jaylen Smith down the field for 29 yards, putting the Cardinals at the Virginia 35 yard line with 13 seconds remaining. The clock was stopped after the catch, and wouldn’t begin to tick until the ball was set, giving the Cardinals the time they needed to get down the field to spike the ball or call a play. Virginia then called a timeout just a millisecond before the snap to Lamar Jackson. This gave Bobby Petrino the perfect opportunity to draw up one or two plays that would get the Cardinals in better range for a field goal to put the score at 20 to 14. Instead, the Cardinals come out and ran another passing play (with two receivers running routes to the outside) only to pass the ball 7 yards down the field to Charles Standberry, who was unable to get out of bounds and have the clock run out. I get that the Cardinals won, but if they wouldn’t have, this would have been where you pointed and asked the question “what in the world was Bobby thinking?” I can’t imagine that the intermediate, middle of the field route Charles Standberry ran was the hot route for Lamar Jackson. But on the sideline during the Virginia timeout, Petrino HAS to make sure Jackson knows that you either throw the ball to the sideline/out of bounds or throw it away. Luckily, the missed opportunity for points wouldn’t matter as Louisville would come out hot in the third quarter, pulling away for good from Virginia. Turnovers and poor clock management can kill a season, and they almost did that for the Cardinals against Virginia on Saturday night.

What’s Next – Louisville fans say one final goodbye to the greatest Cardinal of all time  

Out of the 55,000 seats in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, there shouldn’t be one empty when Louisville takes on Syracuse in what is likely to be Lamar Jackson’s final home game as the Louisville Cardinals quarterback. While, Jackson has the option to come back for his senior season, it would almost be foolish of him to do so.

Where do I even start with what Lamar Jackson has meant to the Louisville football program? He’s broken nearly ever single statistic in the record book, in just 2 years as a starter. He’s the first Louisville Cardinal to ever win the Heisman Trophy. He’s helped Louisville get big time wins over huge football programs like Texas A&M, and Florida State (2-1 against FSU in 3 years) and has done things that many people have ever seen before. Louisville has never had a talent like Lamar Jackson, and likely never will again. I can confidently say Jackson is the greatest to ever don the red & black.

After dominating Virginia, Louisville will face a tough test against the uptempo Syracuse football program, who has the capability of scoring on any play. While their star QB Eric Dungey may not play due to injury, expect Dino Babers to replicate the gameplan from the Wake Forest game, where the Demon Deacons put up over 600 yards of total offense. There couldn’t be a more perfect game for Lamar Jackson to be sent off into the NFL. I expect upwards of 80+ points combined between the two teams, and this could be a game with over 1000 yards of total offense. It should be a fun game to watch, but I’m not confident Louisville will pull out a win.

Either way, Saturday is a day Cardinal fans have to get out to PJCS as we send off a legend.

Thank you for all you’ve done Lamar Jackson.

See you Saturday folks!

Jacob Lane
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
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