Among those who considered what the Louisville Cardinal offense might be like in the post-Lamar era, there was a significant contingent -- myself included -- who were sure there would be more balance, less reliance on one player more Petrino 1.0.
Attendant with that line of thinking was a belief that Bobby Petrino would be more comfortable with a traditional QB -- heir apparent Puma Pass -- whose inclination is to stay in the pocket and leave the rushing for the most part to the running backs.
While U of L was pummeled by Alabama in the opener, Pass, who but for fortune might have been the Roll Tide QB replaced by phenom Tua Tagovailoa, looked like the future for the Cards. He was eerily calm in the pocket despite unrelenting pressure from the Tide, completing 50% of his throws, and generally comporting himself admirably in his first start on national TV against what’s proving might be the scariest pigskin juggernaut in memory.
Fast forward. Here are the signal caller’s numbers of note from the Cardinals’ escape against the Hilltoppers. Ten completions in 18 attempts for 88 yards. A team leading 21 rushing attempts for 129 net yards.
Not Puma Pass. And not exactly LJ, but certainly reminiscent. Contrary to what we pundits might have believed, contrary to what Bobby Petrino was planning, things look just the same as they ever was on O.
Malik Cunningham, come on down and play.
Situations such as this are commonly categorized as a “quarterback controversy.”
I’m not sure that’s accurate here. Cunningham has clearly been more effective in his two relief stints. For whatever reasons, mysterious as they may be, Pass hasn’t gotten anything done since the opener. Before being justifiably pulled early on against the Toppers, he was 0/3 with a pick.
Until last Saturday, Cunningham was frankly an afterthought. Here’s what the media guide says in toto about the former #1 prep QB in Alabama, “Redshirt freshman Malik Cunningham is a talented, dual-threat athlete, who enters the fall as the back-up quarterback.”
It’s a blurb as mundane as the instructions that come with a new knife sharpener.
Despite his jittery feet, and his propensity to tuck and run, he’s been the catalyst for Louisville’s offense -- such as it has been -- for two weeks in a row.
It’s hard to conceive he won’t take the field for the first snap in Charlottesville.
* * * * *
There are more than a few matters amiss for the Cardinals.
With just under three minutes to play in the opening half, the University of Louisville had ZERO yards passing. Two completions to that point were for losses. The Cards were down 0-14.
Signs of life then appeared. Malik hit Jaylen Smith for a gain of 31, Dez Fitzpatrick for 17, Devonte Peete for 9 and then 8. Then the drive stalled after a false start, and a WKU pick in the endzone that was overturned on review, because the DB landed out of bounds. The Cards couldn’t punch it in and settled for a FG to get off the schneid.
On the first play of the Louisville series after falling behind 13-17, Louisville’s most heralded receiver Jaylen Smith was five yards clear of the man covering him and allowed a perfectly thrown pass to slide untouched through his paws. The Cards did tally the go ahead/ winning TD eventually on the drive.
But Smith’s drop seems a metaphor for the reality that all is not as it should be with the Cardinals. And it was not the only gaffe by Louisville receivers. There were by unofficial count at least five dropped balls that should have been easy catches.
U of L was three and out on a potential game sealing drive beginning with 2:01 to play. The visitors got better field position than they should have after an undisciplined impeding the returner penalty. Western ran a classic hook and ladder for a 36 yard gain, allowing a game tying FG attempt.
U of L suffered three disturbing long drives by WKU. Sixteen plays for 80 yards, using up 7:13 of the clock for the Bowling Greeners opening TD. Fourteen plays for 60 yards in 6:32 in the 3d, which ended when Jared Goldwire blocked a FG attempt. Fourteen plays for 68 yards in 6:09, ending in a successful three. During these sustained onslaughts, the Toppers OL manhandled the U of L front.
For context, Western Kentucky’s offense was being directed by the team’s third option at QB, Davis Shanley.
* * * * *
Down 0-7 early in the 2d, with the Cards showing little fire, Bobby Petrino gambled, going for it on a 4th and 3 at the Cards’ own 31. Cunningham was stuffed on a keeper.
Two plays later, the Hilltoppers scored, increasing their advantage to 14.
I can’t argue with the call. Petrino was looking to energize his team which, for the second week in a row, was playing listlessly.
That U of L came back to escape with a win is to its credit.
But the Cardinals’ indifferent performances the last two weeks against “lesser” foes they should have overwhelmed indicate there might be trouble in River City, and it ain’t pool.
-- Seedy K