The upgraded Louisville football schedule brings with it very few negatives, but one of those rare exceptions is that games like Saturday's against Murray State are even more of a chore for all parties involved.
Now that the stats are official and the win is secured, I think we can all agree that we're just glad this one's over. Don't get me wrong, exciting things happened and the team got exactly what they needed to get out of the experience, but it was a little bit harder to get through it all than it would have been in years past. Even lazily watching the ESPN3 replay on Sunday afternoon felt like sitting through a lecture from your least favorite professor by the time the midway point of the 3rd quarter rolled around.
Virginia might not be the most well-regarded opponent left on U of L's slate, but I'm still so excited for the week ahead. For the first time, it feels like we're in the middle of a real ACC game week.
The Miami game was an event, and the long build-up and the hype and the Monday kickoff made it take on a very bowl game-esque feel. Then after what felt like only about 48 hours of recovery time, the Cards were taking the field inside PJCS again. Now it feels like we're finally settling into the season, and that's cool.
We talked all offseason about the Florida State and Clemson and Notre Dame games, but this week, to me, represents the most underrated aspect of the move to the ACC. Now, even the matchups against the middle and bottom tier teams from the conference are going to feel like real football weeks and games. Charlottesville might not be the toughest place to play in the world, but it's still a massive step up from a road trip to Memphis or Storrs. Louisville/Virginia feels like one of those games that pops up on ESPN2 or ESPN the moment "College Gameday" goes off the air at noon. It may sound silly, but I think it's a big deal.
I'm very excited to spend the week learning about the Cavaliers, getting ready for U of L's first conference road game, and really settling into the 2014 season. For now, though, we need to take a somewhat abbreviated look at the Saturday that was.
We'll start with the crowd again, because I'll fully admit that the number of people I'd heard of looking to give away their tickets in the days leading up to the game made me very nervous. Instead, the attendance again topped 50,000, the stadium looked great at kickoff, and the videos from Card March looked like the drop-off from the Miami game was far less severe than most people predicted it would be.
For a second straight week, well done, Cardinal football fans.
The ESPN3 replay is worth watching if only for an irate Petrino's extremely audible (and visual), "Run off the G-ddamn field! Run off!" tirade following the Cardinal offense's 3 and out on their first series. The guy might have changed a lot of things, but that isn't one of them, and I'm cool with it.
This wasn't exactly the performance you wanted to see from Will Gardner (that 300+ yard prediction didn't quite blossom), but I also don't think anything happened that should seriously rock anyone's confidence in him. He still made a handful of throws that showed off his great arm strength and accuracy, and he also tossed three or four balls that should have been caught and would have made his final numbers look far more impressive.
Our man Mark Ennis was down on the sidelines (he'll have some of his own takes coming), and reports that Petrino was consistently frustrated by both Gardner's footwork and his inability to make quick decisions. These are two things that a first-year starter some time to get the hang of, which is why it's a great thing that September represents the softest portion of Louisville's schedule.
Petrino said after the game that the staff had debated whether or not they wanted to try and redshirt Reggie Bonnafon, but ultimately decided to play him on Saturday because they think they're going to need him. It was pretty obvious to see why.
Everyone already knew about Bonnafon's athleticism (that little cut on his first TD run was filthy), but what impressed me the most about Reggie's debut was how patient he was in the pocket and how willing he was to stand in there and take a hit. Despite being knocked to the ground on three of his first four passing attempts, Bonnafon showed no fear in the pocket, even at times when he could clearly see that a pass rusher was bearing down on him. Often times, athletic quarterbacks seem to be almost begging for any excuse to take off out of the pocket. Bonnafon, conversely, never let his eyes drift from their downfield gaze, and wound up hitting receiver after receiver the moment they broke open.
Despite the enthusiasm displayed by both this staff and the last one, plenty of people thought Bonnafon would never play quarterback at Louisville. It's pretty clear to see now how wrong those folks were. He has great pocket presence, he throws a really crisp ball (although a big five conference secondary almost certainly swats away that touchdown pass), and I think it's a safe bet that we see his athleticism put to use in a variety of different ways going forward.
However he winds up being utilized, Reggie Bonnafon's future at Louisville is quite bright.
My favorite play from the entire game was when a Murray State player attempted to drill him with a cheap shot way out of bounds, but wound up not even being flagged because he just bounced right off of Scott, who barely moved. That kid is an absolute hoss, and he's only going to get better. It's hard to envision what his role is going to look like if Michael Dyer comes back and becomes the player he looked like he could be in the spring, but I can't imagine he won't have a major impact in at least one more game before all is said and done.
The secondary again had its fair share of shaky moments, but was bailed out a couple of times by drops and poorly thrown balls. Those days are coming to an end soon, which means that unit needs to accelerate its improvement rate.
Also, talking sh-t after the opposition just scored a 57-yard touchdown is just about peak Charles Gaines. He's going to get an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty before the month of September is over. Take that one to the bank. Write it down. Period. End of discussion.
I was very surprised to see guys like freshmen Javonte Bagley and CameronPolk get into the game late. I know Petrino has raved about Bagley on a handful of occasions, but with the receiving corps being as deep as it is, I really thought he would just shelve him for the entire season. Although Petrino's never been afraid to play talented freshmen sparingly for most of the season before letting them loose at the end of their debut year. Harry Douglas -- who caught just five balls all year in 2004 but went wild in the Liberty Bowl -- is a prime example.
Don't think there's any question that John Wallace is the best kicker we've had since Art Carmody. I know it wasn't exactly a pressure situation, but he buried that 45-yarder and would have done the same if it had been 10 yards deeper.
I was at a wedding Saturday night, but more than a few people told me that the best moment of the game was when a John Calipari look-a-like made an appearance on the big screen and was booed heavily. Apparently it happens quite often to this gentleman.
@TheCardConnect yep that's what makes it funny to us, hates uk with a passion but yet Kentucky fans will give him weird looks everywhere— scotty winkler (@winkscott44) September 8, 2014
Godspeed, Not John Calipari.
Very interesting to see the squad go back to the all black again. I've heard rumors that an issue with the other set of home helmets is the main reason behind the all-blacks becoming the de facto home uniform, but I'm not sure if that's true. Either way, I think it's a safe assumption that you'll see something a little different at some point before the end of the year.
There should be at least one play action pass thrown in the direction of Gerald Christian every time Louisville has a series inside the 10-yard line this season. Kid is a lethal, lethal weapon down in that area.
Bobby Petrino lauded the way his offense is running the ball right now, and it's easy to see why. Last season against a similar opponent (Eastern Kentucky), Louisville rushed for 78 yards on 28 carries for an average 2.8 ypc. On Saturday, the Cards carried 49 times for 325 yards, good for an average of 6.6 ypc. That's a marked improvement that you could just toss out the window had it not been for what Dominique Brown did to Miami a week ago (God, has it only been a week?).
I think a lot of people forgot what Kai De La Cruz was doing last season before he got hurt, but he's certainly starting to remind them. That first touchdown was as impressive an individual effort as you'll see on a U of L scoring play this season.
I think it's impossible to view Saturday as anything other than an all-around positive for Louisville football. The fans showed dedication they might not have shown in years past, and the team and staff showed a level of maturity and focus that they might not have shown in years past. There was a job to be done, and all parties involved took care of business.