Friday night kicked off the beginning of Bobby Petrino's second go around as UofL's head football coach. To say that his offense didn't disappoint would be a massive understatement. Will Gardner torched the second team defense for 542 yards and 4 touchdowns. The fireworks started early with a 62 yard touchdown pass to a streaking James Quick. The big plays kept coming with big plays by DeVante Parker, Gerald Christian, and Michael Dyer. Fans clamored for more offense during Charlie Strong's tenure here and it looks like they will get their wish.
Bobby Petrino is known as one of the best offensive minds in football. A spring game is hardly the best setting to really learn much about the offense he will run, but it was blatantly obvious that we will see a lot of the things we wished we could have seen under Strong. Spread formations. Shotgun draw plays. Running back screens. Deep posts routes. Petrino does a better job of manipulating a defense than anyone in the game and he had receivers running wild all night long.
Gerald Christian was the star of the night for the offense. The massive tight end made a living between the hashes and avereaged nearly 16 yards per catch on the night. Gary Barnidge had a great career for the Cards in Petrino's offense and it looks like we could expect a monster year out of Christian.
James Quick and DeVante Parker put on a show for Cards fans that have been eagerly awaiting an offensive system that gets the ball to playmakers in space. Quick and Parker both caught passes all over the field and made the defense pay each time they touched the ball. Quick ran go routes, screens, shallow crosses, and even and end around. Parker was lined up outside as well as in the slot and he was targeted often by Gardner. These two will demand respect from opposing defenses and they will open up opportunities for everyone else in the offense.
The offensive line was a major issue for the last two years even though they somehow got a pass from most of us. Chris Klenakis came in this year and made it a focal point for his line to finish blocks in the run game. It showed immediately. Running backs were still running behind blocks when they reached the second level which allowed them to make cuts and turn short runs into long runs. The line is the hardest position to judge in a spring game, but they looked extremely improved from what we have seen for the last few years.
Michael Dyer and L.J. Scott ran wild all night with a mix of power runs, off tackle sweeps, draws, screens, swing passes, and zone reads. Dyer flat out looked better than everyone else, which is what I think we all expected to see last season. Injuries hampered his season and he was never able to reach the potential expected when he transferred in. Dyer looked much quicker with his cuts and much more comfortable in the offense than he did last year while Scott just looked like a beast. Scott ran around, over, and through the first team defense like a seasoned veteran. Not a guy that should be getting ready for his prom. Scott is the first true power back Louisville has had since Anthony Allen. He runs with a relentlessness and a power that most guys just don't have anymore. He's a throwback and it showed yesterday. Scott went against the first team defense and put up 92 yards on 13 carries. Impressive numbers for a true freshman.
The obvious issue with the offense having such a banner day is the fact that it was done against our own team's defense. Outside of a handful of bright spots, the defense left a lot to be desired. Receivers and backs ran freely through the defense all night. The quarterbacks stood tall in the pocket most of the night and Brett Nelson and Kyle Bolin were both able to make a few big plays down the field. It's a new system for the defense that is a far cry from the organized chaos scheme that Vance Bedford utilized to have a top three defenses last year. But after a few weeks of scrimmage heavy practices, I expected a stronger showing from the defense.
Sheldon Rankins and DeAngelo Brown were able to ease a few concerns that some of us had with the change to the 3-4 in Todd Grantham's system. Rankins is a perfect blend of size and speed for defensive end in this scheme and he played extremely well last night, finishing with 2.5 sacks. Brown plugged the middle very well stuffing a few runs behind the line and doing a good job of holding up blocks to allow Keith Kelsey and James Burgess to stay clean and make plays.
The run defense from the first team wasn't nearly as bad as the statistics seem to show. L.J. Scott tore off a big 50 yard run that skews those numbers, and to be honest Scott just ran through a lot of guys to get the yards he gained. It's still an issue that a freshman back can run through our first team defense like that, but the defense flowed to the ball well and outside of the 50 yard run Scott was held to 3.5 yards per carry.
The defensive backs had a pretty bad game all around. Depth at both safety and cornerback were pretty obvious when Quick ran right past second teamer Kevin Houchins for his big touchdown on the third play of the game. Both Terrell Floyd and Charles Gaines picked up pass interference calls on deep balls. With a few guys out injured I expected to see some issues and the problems that come with learning a new system didn't help either. Chucky Williams looked really good with the second team defense. He, as well as pretty much everyone else, struggled in coverage but Williams played aggressively and finished with 9 tackles and an interception.
The scheme of the defense in general should be very fun to watch. It involves a lot of blitzes from different angles and the coverage schemes are designed to confuse quarterbacks. The defense shifts before the snap pretty regularly to adjust the read for the quarterback. Safety blitzes and defensive tackles dropping into coverage are also staples of the defense that we got to see last night. With the talent the defense has in the two-deep, we should see a much better product when the actual season comes around.