As my 27th year as a Cardinal Fan comes to an end, Louisville Football has given me another first. Louisville's last 0-3 start was 1984 and the negative nancy's are tempting many to join their parade of bridge jumping. Frustration is high, confidence is evaporating, and Coach Petrino is tirelessly seeking an identity and direction for his football team. As a hopeful optimistic, 0-3 was never on my radar, but none of us should be surprised with current results. The American public enjoys ignoring the obvious, and in 2015, fans and pundits alike ignored an obvious transition season for Louisville Football.
I am younger than most, older than some, but I have experienced all ends of the spectrum in relation to Cardinal Football. Together, we have all experienced atrocious football. I grew up with Ron Cooper and his 1-10 wrecking ball through the final year of Old Cardinal Stadium. The wounds from Kragthorpe crashing our Ferrari of hope are still fresh to this day. Even Charlie Strong added some agony by losing to Connecticut, Florida International, Kentucky, Marshall, and Central Florida at home. Cardinal Fans know bad football better than most, and in 2015 Louisville is playing just good enough to give us hope while simultaneously inciting fits of rage due to self-inflicted "d'ohs".
Louisville Football is evolving and transitioning into a championship program, enjoy the ride and brace yourself for growing pains.
The writing was on the wall: 10 players drafted into the NFL, 18 departing seniors (four from the offensive line), and an endless debate hovering over the quarterback position. Bill Belichick and Vince Lombardi could be coaching UofL and would have issues overcoming those hurdles. To make matters more interesting, Coach Petrino and his staff have started filling holes left by Charlie Strong with their recruits and their players. Every senior, junior, and most sophomores came to Louisville for Coach Strong. Strong is gone and the new staff is going a new direction in regards to talent, coaching style, and scheduling. Lorenzo Mauldin was a perfect leader a season ago and was invaluable to Coach Petrino. The leadership void left by Mauldin hasn't been filled and if Louisville Football is to regain it's footing, someone has to step up.
The coaches aren't innocent and need to focus on improving fundamentals, but Petrino doesn't miss chip shot field goals, he doesn't fumble hand offs or hike the ball early, Petrino doesn't commit penalties, and Coach Petrino hates to lose. The coaching staff has put the team in position to be 3-0 and ranked in the top 15. Players have to make plays and it is time for these kids to execute. 0-3 was unfathomable just four weeks ago, but it is reality now and the players have to decide where will Cardinal Pride take them from here.
For those of you ready to burn our coaching staff at the stake, pay closer to attention to what is actually transpiring between the sidelines. Keith Kelsey, Sheldon Rankins, and James Burgess aside, every single player making a major impact for Louisville in 2015 is a true freshman or transfer, and those kids are 100% attributable to this coaching staff. A true freshman quarterback produced the most electrifying and hopeful moments this season, and true freshman tight end Mickey Crum impressively reminds me of Jeremy Shockey.
The kids of Cardinal Football are delivering hope of a brighter future, but this is America and we want our results now. My weekly words of advice for Coach Petrino is to name Lamar Jackson the starting quarterback moving forward. A large portion of the fan base have been so entrenched behind Kyle Bolin since the UK game, but he led the offense to 10 points on 13 possessions last Thursday night, threw many passes up for grabs, made major mistakes at crucial times, and has very little upside. Lamar Jackson isn't going to turn UofL into a playoff team in 2015, but 2015 is starting to feel a lot like 2011.
After saving the day against UK in 2011, Teddy returned home a conquering hero. After three straight losses, many were ready to put Will Stein back in the lineup. Strong stuck with the new kids on the block, the team rallied, improved, and hit the ground running in 2012 as seasoned vets.
The offensive line is abysmal; Lamar Jackson can escape the pocket. Jackson also has the size to see over the line and read the defense. Lamar clearly has the ability and arm strength to make certain plays and passes that no other quarterback on our roster possesses. He is 18 years old and raw, Lamar will make mistakes, but at 0-3 it is time for Coach Petrino and Louisville to choose future and continuity over playing it safe. If Lamar, Jaylen Smith, Mickey Crum, Traveon Samuel, Devante Peete, Geron Christian, Danny Burns, Chandler Jones, Lukayus McNeil, and Kenny Thomas can grow together in 2015, 2016 will begin the dynasty.
Louisville Football is questioning itself after beginning 0-3. Coach Pitino once called it a bridge year, a transition from one era to the next. The Cardinal stars of tomorrow are maturing today and carving a new path to the pinnacle of college football. No one ever said change was easy, but the transition and transformation into a championship team is beginning now. Put your hair back in that you pulled out, keep wearing your Cardinal red, pick these kids off the mat a time or two, and have faith in the coaching staff because another win streak starts Saturday.
All Hail UofL !!