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Louisville football's unheralded difference makers

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Head Coach Bobby Petrino has always had a knack for evaluating talent. He has an arguably unrivaled ability to locate potential in every corner of this country. Once found, Coach Petrino pushes these prospects until they exceed even the loftiest of expectations. No one develops players better than Bobby Petrino, however, this ability goes well beyond his roster of student athletes. Louisville isn't a championship contender without Lamar Jackson, but there is no record setting year without the true difference makers of 2016. Coach Petrino has assembled a first class coaching staff that has pushed the Cardinals to the cusp of glory.

Todd Grantham was a perfect hire for Petrino when he returned home in 2014 even though many questioned his tenure at Georgia. Grantham's resume is one of the most impressive and extensive in all of football. He has coached under Frank Beamer, Nick Saban, Romeo Crennel, Wade Phillips, and Mark Richt. In case you didn't know, that list includes the best college football coach of all time, the best defensive coach in the NFL, and two possible future hall of famers. Wherever Grantham has been, his teams have performed and the statistics reinforce his abilities. Louisville was ranked 6th nationally in total defense in 2014, 18th in 2015, and are currently ranked 8th. He has players all throughout the NFL and is on the verge of a couple more first round draft picks in 2017. Coach Grantham helped Louisville survive two years without a quarterback and now has his unit excelling at its one job: get the ball back to Lamarvelous as fast as possible.

Lonnie Galloway was an absolute steal during the offseason. The Galloway addition has paid massive dividends both on and off the football field. The Cardinals may sign their highest ranked class of all time in February and Galloway's efforts have been a huge factor in landing playmakers. Louisville's receivers haven't been perfect in every game, yet, Lamar Jackson's season, which will go down as the greatest ever, has only been possible due to the wide outs getting open and making plays. James Quick has still had a few moments of "d'oh", but he is on track for the best statistical year of his career. Jaylen Smith enjoys game winning touchdowns while averaging a staggering 24 yards per catch. Jamari Staples has been Mr. Reliable for Action Jackson and may find himself on NFL roster in 2017. Reggie Bonnafon has transitioned nicely into his role as wide receiver. The ultimate team player has accumulated four touchdowns. Seth Dawkins is one of the best true freshman to ever suit up for the Cardinals and eerily reminds me DeVante Parker. Lastly, and tight end coach Matt Lombardi deserves credit too, is Cole Hikutini. Cole has dominated defenses while his strength and speed make him a surefire bet to enjoy a lengthy NFL career.

Chris Klenakis definitely received some criticism during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. However, the issue wasn't coaching, it was lack of depth and talent. After filtering out the players who weren't dedicated to the system and signing some much needed assistance, Coach Klenakis finally has the offensive line gelling. Football teams, and Coach Petrino's offense, are only as effective as their offensive lines. The Cardinals have had seven players attempt meaningful running plays. These ball carriers have accumulated 2,357 yards (would be more if you added back in Lamar's sack yardage) and 30 touchdowns. Coach Petrino's offense has always dominated when it has been balanced. Petrino's faith and Klenakis's perseverance is finally paying off as Louisville ranks 11th in rushing offense and number one in total offense.

Kolby Smith and L.D. Scott are former Petrino players that have been instrumental in recruiting success, as well as player development. Both Smith and Scott are young enough to relate to this new generation of athletes, but they are fully committed to enforcing Coach Petrino's demands of excellence. Louisville's defensive line has been the team's strongest aspect since Petrino returned in 2014, much of that success should be attributed to Scott's ability to instruct. Due to Action Jackson, Louisville's running backs are having a quiet, but breakout year. Louisville's primary backs are averaging 6.5, 6.5, and 7.6 yards per carry respectively. Kolby Smith had a brief, but successful NFL career before injury issues led him to pursue a coaching career. He also played at Louisville during the most successful era in the program's history.

Keith Heyward has the Cardinal secondary firing on all cylinders. The former Southern California assistant has helped spread the Louisville brand to the west coast and has landed several impressive recruits. Jaire Alexander is the best cornerback in college football, while the rest of Louisville's coverage team have showcased a relentless ball hawking ability. Keep it going coach!

Lastly, there is Nick Petrino. In what was the most questioned hire of Bobby's tenure, it is clear now (should've been clear from the beginning) that Nick has what it takes to elevate his father's offense. Nick Petrino was raised by a football genius, has a grandfather who was a great coach in his own right, and has an uncle is who has been in coaching for decades. Nick played the quarterback position and has been coaching under his father since 2010. From what Lamar and Coach Bobby have told us, Nick is one of the hardest workers on the staff and spent all offseason breaking down film with Jackson while improving his footwork. Watching Nick interact with Lamar on the sideline, as well as the other coaches, leaves little doubt as to whether he was the right man for the job. If you still doubt him, do you think it's just coincidence Lamar Jackson is having the best individual season in the history of college football?

Louisville Football is on the verge of the college football playoff and I firmly believe if they squeak in, the Cardinals will win the whole damn thing. Coach Petrino and Lamar Jackson are the faces of the franchise, but the difference makers work tirelessly behind the scenes every hour of every day. Coach Petrino knows talent and has a knack for squeezing every ounce of potential out his players and staff. The coaches he surrounds himself with are clearly an extension of his genius. The 2016 season isn't possible without the staff excelling in their individual roles, but now is not the time for celebration. The mission will be completed January 9th in Tampa, Florida.

All Hail UofL !!