Rarely, if ever, do the athletic programs of the University of Louisville lay the proverbial egg when competing in their respective sports. Through 53 games as head coach, Bobby Petrino had only two occurrences where his Cardinals arrived to the gridiron out of sync and performed uncharacteristically amateurish. Saturday in Charlottesville marked the third, and with the loss, the players, coaches, and fans are left unranked searching diligently for answers.
Saturday was not the complete horror show that the national media would like us to believe, nor as painful as we all felt after that fumbled punt in the fourth quarter. The Cardinal defense has never been better, and their performance coupled with his current success on the recruiting trail clearly proves Todd Grantham was worth every penny.
The Louisville defense continues to bail out the offense and save the entire team from complete disaster. Through three games, the Cardinals have turned the ball over six times inside of their own 40 yard line. That stat line would generally spell disaster for most teams. Due to the Cardinal defense, that terrifying truth has produced two comfortable wins and a road loss where the Cardinals held a one point lead with under four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Simply put, Grantham and the D deserve a day or two at the spa, and every penny of their contracts.
The offense and the special teams...speechless. I wrote earlier that the hiring of Coach Petrino would undoubtedly bring about improved special teams because he understands its value and importance in close games. Through three games, the Cardinal field goal kicking, punt coverage, and kick coverage are fine. Kick returning (minus Lamb's Miami return), punt returning, and actual punting are somewhat abysmal. The talent is there, but so are some very bad decisions and outcomes.
The Cardinals were set to receive a punt, late in the fourth quarter with a one point lead. At this juncture the only thing that mattered was gaining possession. It didn't matter where the Cardinals regained that possession, the only concern should have been getting the offense onto the field to run out the clock. Instead of clearing out and staying as far away from the bad punt as possible, the Cardinals decided that the majority of the punt return team should crowd James Quick as he frantically sprinted to run under the ball. As we know, this ended in disaster as a 5th year senior ran into Quick, the Cardinals muffed the punt, and the Cardinals left UVA 2-1. I do not know what the players were told before leaving the sideline to return the punt, but not one Cardinal should have been near that ball Saturday afternoon. If that miscue wasn't damaging enough, on the subsequent kickoff, we elected to fair catch the kick giving Louisville horrid field position to start its game winning drive.
The encouraging thing about the special teams is that these are simple mistakes, errors in judgment, and miscues that are easily fixed. If the Cardinals are to rebound, fixed and corrected these mistakes must be.
The Louisville offense is a bit more of a head scratcher. DeVante Parker's absence is certainly creating massive problems for the quarterbacks, and Michael Dyer's athleticism, speed, and strength are certainly needed to counter Dominique Brown's punishing style. However, injuries are part of the game, and guys have to step up and make plays when their numbers are called. The offensive line has been hot and cold. They have done a great job at times, opening holes and protecting the QB, but out of nowhere break downs occur, penalty flags fly, and the defenses have a field day in the Cardinal backfield. The offensive line will improve as the offense itself showcases more balance.
For the life of me, I cannot figure out Will Gardner's inability to perform up to his talent level. Spring practice and the spring game were not illusions; the kid has talent and fits the mold of a prototypical NFL quarterback. My only conclusion is that he doesn't like getting hit and has a mental inability to settle into the pocket. In the spring game, Gardner was well aware the defense couldn't tackle him. Since game one, Will has yet to calm down, read his progressions, and make crucial and timely throws from the pocket. Also, a 6'5 quarterback should never have a ball deflected at the line of scrimmage.
Will's inexperience has been on full display, but his consistency in committing horrific turnovers is the reason why Reggie Bonnafon deserves more playing time, and maybe the starting spot. If not for a roughing the passer penalty, Gardner's 3rd interception would have cost UofL the game long before the fumbled punt. I am not anti-Gardner, I still think he can be a great quarterback, but something is obviously wrong there. Reggie appears to be more of an athlete, a natural, and his arm is more than capable of delivering all the necessary throws. Louisville plays three winnable games before traveling to Clemson. Reggie is the future of this program, and I am all aboard getting his feet wet as a freshman.
Louisville has arrived at a crucial juncture in their 2014 campaign. The annual cliff and bridge jumpers are trying to convince everyone the sky is falling. The majority of and more reasonable fans understand that sometimes, a spade is a spade. Louisville played a bad game, very bad, it happens, and yet the Cardinals were still in position to win. Louisville has one glaring weakness right now and it is surprisingly the quarterback position. The Reggie Bonnafon era should begin with FIU, and as the Coaches and players learn to correct their mental mistakes, Louisville is only going to improve.
Every year, college football fans learn a valuable lesson. Football lasts from August to December and teams play 12 games for good reason. Louisville's most important and challenging opponents are ahead of them. We are in mid-September and the Cardinals have nine games left to make a statement. Improvement will occur, our best players will get healthy, the defense will continue to punch opponents in the mouth, and Reggie Bonnafon will mature with each snap under center. Step away from that cliff Cardinal fans, the fun and excitement is just beginning.
All Hail UofL !!