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The Secret To Louisville's Success Lies Up Front


By Andrew Phelps

At one juncture in late July or early August, the narrative around this week was an impatient concern that it would never arrive. As of two o'clock Tuesday afternoon, the uneasiness of the unknown, and the excitement of kickoff had become full-fledged reality.

The anticipation and eagerness for college football has never engulfed Cardinal fans in the same manner it does top programs throughout the Southeast and Midwest, and for good reason. Louisville has never opened a modern era season against a top tier team and program, in a prime time television slot, and in a matchup boasting conference championship as well as national championship implications. As a side note, Louisville has never had an opportunity to play in such a game.

Throw into the pot the inaugural ACC season exhilaration and the hullabaloo surrounding our born again head coach; the city of Louisville is completely on edge for Monday night. No offense to UK, Ohio, and any other to be forgotten opponent, but these are the season-opening games UofL deserves.

The story arcs entering this season have surrounded the expected cast of characters: Petrino's offensive prowess, Petrino's past, Will Gardner's ability to fill Teddy's bubble gum socks, DeVante's injury and return, how the players have adjusted to the new staff, and the defensive depth. After reading about the inspirational story of Tobijah Hughley, my thoughts immediately turned to the real difference maker in the potential of the 2014 season. Cardinal fans haven't witnessed a strong and impressive offensive line since Petrino's departure, and his return guarantees an emphasis on a flawless group of big boys.

If one thing has stood out through the first seven months of Petrino Part Deux, it has been his overhaul of the offensive line. It wasn't a secret that Charlie Strong was underperforming in recruiting the boys up front, and the last seven months have solidified what most of us already knew. The Louisville roster had a lot of talent in many areas, but the offensive line cupboard was stocked with several guys who were not talented enough for this level, or didn't possess the work ethic to succeed under an actual coach.

Seven offensive linemen have left the program since Petrino's arrival. Player departures are never a surprise when coaching changes occur, but the offensive line has felt the effects of the change more than any other unit. The intensity and demands of Petrino are known from here to Alaska, but the intensity and knowledge of Coach Klenakis has quickly surfaced as a welcomed story from spring and fall camps.

Cardinal fans are an intelligent bunch, and after four years it was more than obvious that Dave Borberly was not an adequate offensive line coach. Aside from the coaching upgrade our football team received, the two staffs also have two completely different goals for the physical attributes of the offensive line. Strong and Co. believed in heavy players, but an absence of emphasis on strength and quickness. Strong's offensive line could never open holes for running backs, and for a group that outweighed almost every unit they faced, the lack of movement off the ball was shocking.

Petrino has placed several successful offensive linemen in the NFL, many of them unheralded recruits, and the value he places on offensive line production should receive the same attention his playbook does. The fact our coach understands the value of quick, strong, hardworking, and knowledgeable offensive linemen should help every member of Card Nation sleep well Sunday/Monday night.

Successfully running the football is paramount to Petrino's success as a football coach. His best teams run the ball as well, if not better than they pass it. If and when Dominique Brown and Michael Dyer are drafted into the NFL next year they will have a lot of people to thank. Towards the top of that list will be Coach Petrino and his complete overhaul of the Cardinal offensive line. The big boys up front never receive the attention they deserve, but after Louisville exceeds all expectations in 2014, those 15 players will share the spotlight and trophies together.