CRAWFORD | U of L spring game brings fireworks to town early - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | U of L spring game brings fireworks to town a night early

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© AP photo. © AP photo.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Remember the column I wrote last season, about the University of Louisville football coaching staff not being apologetic about beating lesser teams by small margins, or about winning with defense first?

You can go ahead and rip it up into tiny pieces. Or, since it was an online column, you can delete it. Or print it out, then shred it, burn it, bury it or otherwise destroy it.

Because if we learned nothing else during the University of Louisville's first Spring Game of Bobby Petrino's second coaching era here, it's that offense is back.

The usual caveats: The Cardinals' first-team offense was working against the second-team defense, and if this team has an issue, it's with defensive depth, especially in the secondary. The defense played its basic scheme, and did not do much pressuring by design, so new starting quarterback Will Gardner found himself in the enviable position of sitting in the pocket with lots of time -- and lots of open receivers. It will seldom be this easy.

But even that demonstrates that there's a new sheriff in town. Charlie Strong would never have subordinated his defense in such a way. A year ago, with Teddy Bridgewater under center, a stable of experienced receivers, and some of the same running backs Petrino unleashed last night, the first-team offense put up 34 points.

Last night, it scored 56. It put up 699 yards of total offense. Before an announced crowd of 27,500, Gardner completed 32 of 37 passes for four touchdowns, one interception and 542 yards. Last season, the Cardinals had four touchdown passes of more than 40 yards. In the first three quarters of the first spring game of Petrino's second era, the Cards had three. And they would've had four had a 66-yard TD completion to DeVante Parker not been called back by penalty.

This was a kid in the candy store. There was no attempt to balance the considerations.

"I was happy with what I saw out there," Petrino said. "Offensively, it was good to see Will in command of the offense. I like the way he carried himself. He took charge in the huddle. I like the way he delivered the football, and looked comfortable out there and for the most part was very accurate with his throws.

"Defensively, I would have liked to see (the first-team red defense) shut the white offense down, but I'll tell you what, L.J. Scott was really running with the football. He was very, very impressive. And we know we need to continue to work at the safety spot. And we did handicap the defense a little bit by being pretty base and not allowing a lot of pressure situations or pressure calls. I was happy with it, but we do have a long, long way to go."

Petrino has a bunch of toys, and he was going to play with them. James Quick, who languished through much of his freshman season, hauled in a 62-yard TD completion on the third play from scrimmage. He got the ball on deep patterns, on crossing routes and on a reverse. He caught five passes for 152 yards. There were four 100-yard receivers. DeVante Parker caught 10 passes. Tight end Gerald Christian had 28 receptions last season. He had eight in the spring game.

"We were sitting in the meeting yesterday and I said, 'Let's get a good get-it-to list to No. 18,'" Petrino said, of Christian. "I felt like in the last scrimmage we didn't get the ball in his hands enough, and he's a real threat. He can catch the ball away from his body, he can elevate and make catches. To be able to threaten the middle like he can is going to help our whole offense."

Running backs? Michael Dyer had 10 carries for 99 yards running with the ones in the first half, then had four carries for 41 with the twos and a running clock in the second. L.J. Scott had 13 carries for 93 yards with the second-team in the first half. He had nine carries for 33 yards with the first-team in the second.

For the night, the two teams combined for 951 yards of offense. Asked about the defense, Petrino said: "We're going to certainly evaluate it. We'll evaluate every position and every guy out there, and make sure we really understand why we didn't shut the offense down every time. We'll certainly evaluate it and make some decisions off that, and we understand that we've got to get better."

But of the offense, Petrino was clearly pleased, most of all with Gardner, who he said was "swimming" with the new playbook early in practice, but who looked confident and comfortable by the end of spring.

He throws a nice ball, has some strength behind his passes, and if accuracy has been an issue at times in spring camp, it wasn't at all last night.

"That was probably as good a job as he's done going through his progressions, right down to the last pass, when he hit L.J. (Scott) out in the flat," Petrino said. "Because he wanted to throw that ball on the option route to Eli (Rogers), but the defense didn't let him so he dumped it off, which was a nice job."

Petrino installed his package at the start of spring practice. He let the players spend a week learning it, then the next week came back and started all over again, installing it again. This summer, when camp convenes, they'll go through the process a third time, and he hopes at that point it is ingrained.

But you could tell, he was happy with the way his offense executed.

"I'm excited about the playmakers that we have," he said. "We just have to continue to get better up front, and get better in quarterback play, and making sure that these playmakers know that when they're not getting the ball and their number isn't called that they give us 100 percent on that play so someone else can make the big play. I think we've gotten better at that as spring went on."

As for featuring one playmaker after another, from Dyer and Scott in the running game to Parker, Christian and Quick in the passing game.

"It's fun to be able to do that," Petrino said. "When you have a group of receivers that you can just read the defense and let the defense dictate where we deliver the ball and have confidence, that's great for a quarterback, especially a young quarterback. . . . He learned as the game went on, and that's going to be important that he learn as games go on starting Sept. 1, and not make the same mistake twice."

A night before Thunder Over Louisville, Petrino and the Cardinals made something of a statement with this spring performance. The fireworks aren't just for downtown, anymore.

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