LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The last time the University of Louisville football team worked out for the public before its Labor Day Monday night opener against Miami was a 157-play scrimmage in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium that wasn't just a scrimmage, but a dress rehearsal.
Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino saw some things he wanted cleaned up. He also reiterated something he has said before -- his team is well-drilled, has a strong work ethic and knows how to shift into game mode.
The team will have more detailed rehearsals before facing Miami, replicating not only their pregame rituals but also their opening script. But this look gave Petrino a look at how far the team has come through its opening weeks of camp, and where he needs to work leading into the opener.
"There will be a lot in the video that we can use to build on and correct," Petrino said. "Some of the day is not just about how we do in the scrimmage, but we tried to go through a game day, how we're going to go through how we act in the training room, how the locker room is going to be. We had what we call our clap-session, so we had the players to learn and kind of go through exactly how we're going to let that run, and that I thought was well done. You can see that we have a lot of senior leadership and a lot of experience on the team, and I thought they took the field with good energy and I thought they competed. Obviously we made some mistakes, but I think overall it was a good day."
The two biggest plays of the day had a hometown flavor. One, a 65-yard deep strike from freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon to Matt Milton that went for a touchdown in the first half.
The other was a catch by DeVante Parker in the second half, in which he rose up over and then between two defensive backs (whose identity will be protected here) to snatch an underthrown ball for a third-down conversion.
Petrino liked a lot of what he saw from his QBs, but didn't like the lapses -- missed protection calls that could be drive-killers, leading to sacks in games. Of Bonnafon and starter Will Gardner, Petrino said, "They showed they can really play the game, but we need to be more consistent. We made some mistakes, we had some protection issues, didn't see certain blitzes come in time. But when we had things right, and they were able to set their feet, they both are able to make all the throws that you need to make. I thought Will executed pretty well for the most part. I tried to get him out one time just to get a little pressure on Reggie to step in the huddle and jump in with all the seniors and take over the huddle and I thought he did a really nice job of it. I was really impressed with his poise in doing that. Something you always try to do with a young guy is throw him in there one time and I was really impressed."
No stats were provided by U of L. The time has come apparently to start keeping a few things under wraps. But unofficially, Gardner was 14 of 19 for 117 yards in the first half. Bonnafon directed a sharp 15-play, 65-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard TD pass. The No. 1 offense went up against the No. 1 defense for the entire first half.
Gardner for the most part looked sharp. He did throw one late interception. And his stable of running backs was impressive.
One staple in Petrino's first run at U of L was the ability to run the ball in the red zone, and the Cardinals showed that Saturday with an early six-yard TD run up the middle by L.J. Scott.
Michael Dyer, the transfer from Auburn, however, continues to lead the running back corps. He left Saturday's scrimmage early with what Petrino said was a bruised knee that the staff expects is a minor injury in what has been an excellent preseason.
"Michael Dyer has really had a good camp," Petrino said. "He's quick and he's physical. He's as good as he's been since we've been here. He's seeing things, giving us a lot of energy out there. He got his knee hit, just a bruise, but there was swelling in there but . . . we anticipate it will be fine. I like the way Dom Brown is performing. We're going to have to be able to run the ball. That's got to be a big part of our offense."
The running backs put up big numbers, which might be cause for concern for the Louisville defense. But they also got 155 plays, more than twice what they'll get in a regular game.
Tight end Gerald Christian continues to make progress, as does 6-5 sophomore Keith Towbridge.
Petrino said he would hold off on making offensive line evaluations until studying the tape.
Defensively, the Cards stopped their No. 1 defense early and woldn've gotten credit for quite a few more sacks had they been allowed to.
"I didn't like giving up the big plays, especially with our No. 1 defense in there," Petrino said. "We are going to be able to rush the passer. Our defensive front is very active and can really come off the ball, and they're very experienced and really now how to attack protections."
After moving cornerback Terrell Floyd to safety, Petrino said some of his concerns about that position have been addressed. Gerrod Holliman is improving steadily and newcomer James Sample could be special.
"He's been very impressive," Petrino said. "Tough, quick, has what we call great FBIs, football instincts. He's going to help us a lot.
"Holliman is playing better and moving Floyd in there has really helped us. But Sample's addition, and his maturity, the way that he studies and prepares for practice -- he's fun to watch practice because he goes hard every play, and he's a really good tackler."
Petrino says he'll go back to work on cleaning up a few areas of concern, and on polishing the Cardinals' special teams play. He'll need to settle on some returning men. Corvin Lamb and Charles Gaines returned kickoffs on Saturday.
"We're way ahead of where we were in spring," Petrino said. "I went back last night and watched all our spring scrimmages and our spring game, just to prepare for today, and we're way ahead. We're better at safety, better at the nickel position. For me, it's really hard to understand how good the defense was until I see the film, because I'm out there trying to beat them, calling plays and moving the ball. There were a number of times when they had stops and it would be three-and-out but you go over again. . . . We certainly have a long way to go, but I think we're starting to see some things that we really like."
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