It was closer than many expected, but Louisville pulled out a dramatic 35-28 win over Purdue on Saturday night. As always, there are good and bad to take away from it. Let’s look at the pros and cons from U of L’s win in Indianapolis.
The offensive line for Louisville allowed zero sacks last night, their first time since the season opener last year against Charlotte. They had other issues which may overshadow it (more on that later), but allowing zero sacks is a stark contrast to how they performed closing out last season. Mekhi Becton had a stellar showing in his first start, only allowing a couple of Purdue linemen to get loose.
The improvement in pass protection also gave Lamar Jackson an opportunity to showcase his development as a pocket passer. He settled comfortably in the pocket had success throwing to multiple levels of the field, but more importantly he was consistent. Jackson missed a couple of sideline throws, but that is still something he can develop as the season progresses. Adding 107 yards on the ground, it reaffirmed his status as a Heisman Trophy contender.
Receivers Dez Fitzpatrick (four receptions, 95 yards and a touchdown) and Jaylen Smith (eight receptions, 117 yards) were the Breadwinners™ of the group last night. Louisville was most effective on offense when they used four or five receivers, and Fitzpatrick created some mismatches in the Purdue secondary. If he continues to produce, it wouldn't be surprising to see him inherit a bigger role in Petrino's offense.
The defense had a lot of issues after Jaire Alexander went down with an injury, but made big time stops when it counted. The Cardinals tallied four sacks, led by the returning Trevon Young (1.5) and had three interceptions in the second half to thwart Purdue scoring drives. Stacy Thomas returned one of those for a touchdown, shifting the momentum for Louisville on defense.
As much as the offensive line deserves credit for a zero-sack game, the pre-snap penalties held them back many times. U of L committed 16 penalties, ten of those coming pre-snap. Some of those penalties killed drives for Louisville and drew the ire of fans.
Along with penalties, ball security remained a big issue with Louisville. Two fumbles inside the one-yard line ruined red zone opportunities for the Cardinals, and Jaylen Smith's fumble in the third quarter parlayed into a Purdue touchdown. Though U of L was fortunate to win the turnover battle (4-3), these are reasons why teams like Purdue build confidence and believe they can win.
One thing about Purdue is that Brohm had excellent play-calling through most of the game, utilizing short routes and attacking Louisville's man coverage. It's unknown how long Alexander will be sidelined as of now, but if it's indefinite, it'll be on guys like Ronald Walker and Russ Yeast to step up while he's out. It'll be interesting to see if the team also moves Cornelius Sturghill back to cornerback, in that situation.
The running game could also stand for improvement. Jackson had a decent night (21 carries for 107 yards), but 11 carries for 41 yards and a touchdown from the running backs. It also hurt that two of those fumbles came inside the one from the backs, and nearly a third on Bonnafon's touchdown run. For Jackson to be at his best, one of those backs has to get going so that defenses don't key towards Jackson on options. It shouldn't be a surprise if Jackson will lead the team in carries every game, but the lack of a clear cut starter at RB (ex: Brandon Radcliff) is a concern.
Giving Louisville a letter grade, a C+ is fine. Jackson had the offense clicking throughout the game, but untimely turnovers and penalties killed their drives and gave Purdue multiple chances. The running game will need more production from their backs as well.
On defense, the Louisville pass rush was a surprise as Trevon Young was disruptive throughout the night. As a whole, the defense bended a few times, but when it counted, guys like Stacy Thomas and TreSean Smith came through with big plays.
Louisville also had multiple big plays on special teams, which has been flying under the radar with this game. Louisville got a huge fumble return on a kickoff but failed to convert it into points. Drew Bailey blocked a field goal in the second quarter, while Bonnafon's 33-yard punt return resulted in a field goal. A play that deserves more attention is when Blanton Creque angled a kickoff that ended up resulting in Purdue starting inside their own five. It forced Purdue to drive the entire length of the field, and eventually Louisville got an interception from it to effectively close the game.
See you at Chapel Hill next week.