36 inches…..3 Feet……91.4 Centimeters…….ONE YARD
For decades experts have ascertained that football is a game of inches. Boy, is it ever. And the impact those inches can have is profound.
One yard could very well be the difference in a Louisville Football program that is currently struggling to keep its collective heads above water versus a program that has cemented its place as one of the best in the ACC, if not the country. That yard, or lack thereof, can to this day be vividly recalled by the majority of Louisville fans. It is, of course, the play where former wide receiver James Quick ran out of bounds in the closing seconds at Clemson one yard short of a first down when it looked as if Louisville was almost certainly knocking on the door of a program changing upset win. The final score (42-36 Clemson) is now a thing of the painful past for the fans, BUT it has had a lasting effect on how Bobby Petrino’s football teams have performed since that October night in Death Valley.
Before I dive deeper into my theory and cast out any other opinions, let me be clear. I’m not a person living in the “Fire Bobby” camp….yet. However, something needs to change for the better and it needs to happen fast. I’m uber-disappointed with the results Petrino and his seemingly ever changing staffs have produced in recent years. Hell, to be perfectly frank, I’m even more disappointed in how Petrino’s teams have played in his entire second stint at UofL. I expected a lot more. Maybe the joke is on me and due to a change in conferences and the fact that other coaches have learned to better scheme against Petrino’s offense. Maybe Coach Petrino really is fool’s gold and we the fans are just finding out.
Am I optimistic that things can and will change in the near future? I’d be lying if I answered yes to that question right now. The ONLY thing keeping me from abandoning all hope in Petrino 2.0 at the moment is the fact that the Cards will play a manageable schedule for the remainder of this season, excluding a road game at Clemson of course. But, as porous as the Cards have looked through their first three games thus far, I’m not sure finding success with ANY schedule is feasible.
So back to how Louisville Football has looked to have lost its luster in the past few seasons, particularly post 2016 Clemson. If UofL is victorious in that game, it wins (outright) the Atlantic Division, plays for an ACC title and who knows what else from there. But, that clearly didn’t happen. Instead, Louisville has looked to have taken a few steps backward as a program. But why?
Something is amiss, rotten at the core. I don’t know what that issue (s) is or has been, but to me it’s apparent that something is defective with Louisville Football. Many defenders of Coach Petrino will quickly point to the fact that Cardinal legend Lamar Jackson is no longer around to run Bobby’s offense. I call BS on that notion because even WITH Jackson, Petrino’s teams lost nine games the past two seasons that included two bowl contests and a home tilt against in-state rival UK when the Cards were double digit favorites. Frankly, I still haven’t gotten over that debacle.
Another line of defense for those that support the job that Petrino has done in his second stint at UofL is that he’s had too much inconsistency at the defensive coordinator position. My retort is simple: Who is responsible for hiring and retaining said assistants? That responsibility falls solely on the shoulders of Bobby Petrino, that’s who. While it’s still too early to give new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder a reliable report card grade, very little looks to have changed from a UofL defense that in 2017 looked as dreadful as any I have ever watched. But let’s forget about the defense for a moment. It’s Petrino’s historically explosive offense that has underwhelmed since his return to the Louisville sidelines.
I remember sitting in a cold, rainy Cardinal Stadium back on November 27, 2004 cloaked in a cheap rain poncho as a Bobby Petrino coached Louisville team literally humiliated Cincinnati 70-7. At the time, I told my best friend that I wasn’t sure if any offense could ever be as efficient. Receivers seemed wide open on every snap and the running game with Eric Shelton was borderline unstoppable. It was a thing of beauty, a masterpiece that day and many others going forward. However, that game and that thought process all seem like centuries ago now.
Yes, Louisville now plays in the ACC and thus the caliber of league opponent is the best its ever been for the Cards. But, regardless of how good the teams UofL is playing, the play calling hasn’t been the same this go around. I don’t see the creativity with Bobby 2.0, the explosiveness, the ability to score and move the football with relative ease. Yes, there were many spectacular moments with Lamar Jackson at quarterback. And while Bobby should receive some credit for helping develop Lamar, I would infer that most of that greatness was simply raw, once in a lifetime God-given talent. To go even further, I’ll touch on another sensitive subject – Petrino’s hiring of family members as assistant coaches.
Look, it’s nothing personal but I think Lamar Jackson deserved the opportunity to collaborate with a quarterbacks coach that had earned the right to work with a Heisman Trophy caliber player. I don’t think Nick Petrino fit that bill. And given the current quarterback conundrum that took less than 3 full games to materialize, I’m not positive that Puma Pass and Malik Cunningham will receive the one on one tutelage they deserve and require to develop and be the best they can be. As for Ryan Beard and L.D. Scott, I won’t pretend to know how effective they have been or can be at their respective jobs but I think it’s a ballsy move by Petrino to have them on his staff.
In less than 24 hours Louisville will play a pivotal football game at Virginia which is something I never dreamed I’d be saying. A win in Charlottesville would help keep the band aid on a Louisville season that looks to be ever so close to imploding. A loss (UofL is a 5 point underdog) would further strengthen the argument that Bobby Petrino’s best days as Louisville’s head football coach have come and gone. Either way, I’ll be looking for all the “little things” on Saturday: silly penalties, energy levels, players supporting one another, body language, etc.
Losing at Virginia would advance the argument that Petrino’s job status as Louisville’s head football coach next season should be viewed as anything but secure. I WANT Petrino to succeed, there is no ax to grind, no hidden agendas.
But more than wanting him to triumph, I want LOUISVILLE FOOTBALL to flourish and achieve success. I just worry that Bobby 2.0 jumped the shark that night on October 1st, 2016. The only thing that will convince me otherwise is seeing a Louisville team that comes out focused, businesslike, and able to make big plays when it matters most the rest of this football season and beyond – in other words, a team that wins games and does so in a convincing fashion.
Go Cards, beat Virginia!