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Should Will Gardner be "The One"?

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In short, yes?

Tyler Smith

This isn't an indictment of Reggie Bonnafon. It's not even a ringing endorsement of Will Gardner. Louisville has been put in a position that's less than desirable at the quarterback spot, which is why this discussion has happened ad nauseam in the first place. With that said, here are 900 or so more words on the subject.

There are a few things we know about the young Bonnafon, and none of them are really bad. He's mobile, he's shown that he can make the throws that are required of him and appears to have a good head on his shoulders that will serve him well throughout his career. He's a freshman, but he's familiar. Folks in the Commonwealth came to know him long before he stepped between the lines as a Louisville Cardinal.

Like DeVante Parker, James Quick and others before him, it felt good when Bonnafon committed to stay at home, and expectations were consequentially high from the moment he entered the game against Murray State in September. It's almost a subconscious thing to do, especially when he's a hometown kid who played for a nationally recognized high school powerhouse.

Similarly, it's natural to expect growing pains from a freshman quarterback who's been playing the position for his entire life, let alone one who has only been a quarterback for less than two seasons (one of which being in high school). Bonnafon has had growing pains, and he'll probably have more. Still, he's almost certainly going to get his fair shot at being the man for Louisville in the not-so-distant future.

Garrick McGee announced Tuesday that Bonnafon's shot has ended for now. He'll have his own package of plays, which could be used as a tool to set up gadget plays down the road. Nobody knows, but if he enters the game to hand the ball off a few times on Saturday, we could be treated to some trickery in a big game in the future. Regardless, in due time, Reggie Bonnafon will be back.

Now, it's Gardner's time to take the reigns of the offense back this weekend as the Cardinals' sole signal caller for all intents and purposes. It was a relatively predictable move after he was effective at Clemson last weekend and nearly led Louisville to what would have been a big time comeback victory. The end result was heartbreaking, but it was something to build from.

Re-inserting Gardner into the starting position is a good thing for Louisville. The Cardinal offense had enough on its plate when it found out that it would have a new offensive scheme to learn on top of losing Teddy Bridgewater this past offseason. It came into the season with Gardner as its quarterback, and went to work developing a new chemistry with his strengths in mind. That process was obviously going to take time, and though the early returns weren't pretty, they only resulted in one loss.

The development of a new and complex offensive system was altered when Gardner went down, and while it gave us a sneak peek at what might make Bonnafon a very good quarterback in the future, it had to be some sort of set back. It may not have shown in the win/loss column, but the fact that there was a very different skill set at the quarterback position had to change things and interrupt what Louisville was building around Gardner.

Maybe knowing that Gardner will be the starter from here on out will kickstart that chemistry building once again. Frankly, it needs to. Flipping between quarterbacks literally never works for top-echelon teams, and at 5-2 with quite possibly the best defense in the nation, Louisville isn't in any kind of position to try that faulty experiment.

DeVante Parker is also returning to the fold soon, which can't possibly make things harder for Gardner and the offense. At the very least, Parker will require attention from opposing defenses, which should help the likes of James Quick, Eli Rogers and the rest of the pass-catching bunch. More probably, he'll be able to make plays and even compensate for some mistakes Gardner could make when throwing his way.

Basic passing statistics aren't en vogue these days (maybe they're even irrelevant, I won't pretend to be smart enough to know), but Gardner's haven't been bad. Sure, they haven't blown anyone away, but only throwing two picks compared to nine touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards in just 128 attempts isn't so bad that it prohibits a team from winning. Thank you, defense.

This weekends tilt with N.C. State is the perfect opportunity for Gardner to put together a performance that continues to build confidence and rapport with the weapons around him. Obviously, he'll need as much of those things as he can get when Halloween eve and beyond rolls around. Nothing will get easier for the rest of the season.

The bottom line is that the jury is still out on basically everything having to do with the offense, Gardner included. But something resembling stability should help considering the pedigree of the coaching staff surrounding the unit. Hopefully, that stability will be the catalyst for the leap everyone's been expecting since Petrino returned to Louisville.

Saturday will mark just the sixth game that Will Gardner has started in his college career. It's fair to expect that the bulk of his progress is yet to come. Now that he's healthy and the job is his again, perhaps that process will be jump started a bit. Of course, philosophical and intangible things aside, caught balls and a more steady running game (more Brandon Radcliff) supported by a better offensive line will all expedite his growth.

Oh, and DeVante Parker is coming back soon. Said that already? Sorry.