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In The Face Of Adversity, Will Gardner Steps Up As A Leader

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most pressing issues a team faces in the wake of an upset loss early in a season is the need for leadership from amongst the players.

Bobby Petrino stressed the importance of this during his Monday press conference, and pointed to two players in particular who have already stepped up. The first was senior defensive captain Lorenzo Mauldin, who is widely regarded as the face of this year's Cardinal team. The second choice was a little bit more surprising.

"When Will (Gardner) came back in the game, he provided some energy and some leadership to that offense," Petrino said. "When we came over on the sidelines, he was talking and directing his teammates on what we needed to get done to go score. The biggest credit for Will is that when he went back on the field he had confidence, he played with poise, and I thought he really competed. That was a very big positive coming out of that game."

Petrino's comments come after a handful of days in which words of praise for Gardner have been few and far between. The sophomore signal caller completed just 14-of-34 passes in the loss to Virginia, and was credited with two interceptions and a fumble.

Speaking to the media for the first time since the game, Gardner could have easily followed his head coach's lead and assigned at least partial blame for the myriad of deflected passes on Saturday to his front five. Instead, the sophomore spoke like a true leader when the topic was brought up.

"That's something -- I take the blame for that, because I've got to find throwing lanes and I've got to stand tall in the pocket," Gardner said. "So I take the blame for that, and I'm going to do my best to work hard this week so that that doesn't happen again.

"You can't play like I did at the end of the first half, and then just turn it on late and expect to win a football game."

Energy and enthusiasm are typically the types of things that start at the top and trickle down. That being the case, perhaps the biggest evidence that the team has faith in Gardner's leadership is the report that they had perhaps the best practice of the second Petrino era on Tuesday.

"I learned from our players today that they have a lot of pride," offensive coordinator Garrick McGee said Tuesday. "Today, was probably the best practice we had since we been here. There was an extreme response from our players. They were extremely disappointed about what happened to us on Saturday. They are going to do the right things to make sure that doesn't happen to us today."