BOZICH | Where's the offense? Louisville's Petrino still searchi - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Where's the offense? Louisville's Petrino still searching

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Bobby Petrino's offense failed to score on 11 straight possessions against Virginia. Bobby Petrino's offense failed to score on 11 straight possessions against Virginia.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WDRB) – The talk has percolated about a different Bobby Petrino at the University of Louisville, but this isn't the kind of difference that people had in mind:

A guy with an offense that couldn't do anything substantial with the football for 11 straight possessions in the guts of a 23-21 loss to a Virginia team that had not defeated anybody in the Atlantic Coast Conference since November 2012.

A guy who suddenly isn't any more certain about his quarterback situation – Will Gardner or Reggie Bonnafon? -- today than Petrino was before the season began.

A guy whose offense posted the kind of dismal numbers that would have made the faithful howl if Charlie Strong and his offensive coordinator Shawn Watson had delivered yardage like this.

You don't have to tell Petrino. He knows.

This is a guy who expects his team to have 28 points on the scoreboard before he adjusts his collar. That didn't happen against Virginia.

Louisville roared 75 yards on nine plays for a touchdown on its first possession. Then it was 11 consecutive possessions of punts (seven), interceptions (two), fumbles (one) and time running out (one).

“Offensively, besides the opening drive, we didn't do anything for two quarters,” Petrino said. “Then finally in the fourth quarter we got on a roll and were able to take the lead.

“It looked like we had a chance to win the game and then we made another mistake (a fumbled punt by James Quick with about five minutes to play that led to Virginia's game-winning field goal). I told the team the mistake we made in the kicking game did not cost us the game.”

Correct. Petrino is absolutely correct. Look beyond the fumble, one of four Louisville turnovers.

This is what cost Louisville the game in what should have been one of the easier Atlantic Coast Conference road games on the Cardinals' schedule: Those 11 consecutive empty possessions when the Cards generated 90 yards on 41 offensive plays. It wasn't merely a quarterback issue. The breakdowns came at several spots.

Think about these numbers. Louisville finished with 282 yards of total offense, averaging 4 yards per offensive play. When Petrino coached the Cards from 2003-06 Louisville averaged at least 475 yards per game and 6.8 yards per play every season.

You know how many times Louisville scored 21 points or less during Petrino's first 50 games at Louisville?

Three – against South Florida (2005), Memphis (2003) and Temple (2003).

Just 79 yards rushing, 74 by Dominique Brown, and 203 yards passing. Michael Dyer? Petrino said that he still was not able to play because of his injured leg. DeVante Parker's foot injury? Don't bring it up.

“They did what we thought they were going to do,” Brown said. “They brought a good rush and we picked up on that. But we just didn't execute collectively on offense.”

Was Virginia's defense that relentless?

Neither Will Gardner nor Reggie Bonnafon, Louisville's two quarterbacks, were made available to speak with the media, despite a request.

Petrino tried everything. He tried toss sweeps. He tried play-action passes. He tried throwing to the tight end. He tried Bonnafon, the true freshman from Trinity, for the last series of the second quarter and all three series in the third quarter.

Nothing worked. Virginia scored 20 consecutive points. The Cavaliers surged to 20-7 lead. The UVa students got so whipped up that they punctuated the victory by storming the field.

Who's it going to be for the next nine games?

Gardner or Bonnafon?

You can expect to see both when Louisville enjoys a Get Well card at Florida International in Miami next Saturday. Both should play. Both should do well, just as they did against Murray State. Then comes another winnable game at home against Wake Forest before the Cardinals visit Syracuse.

What Petrino must do is decide which quarterback gives Louisville its best chance to succeed when the daunting work begins against Clemson, Florida State and Notre Dame.

My guess is that it will be Gardner, but Petrino showed that he was ready to make a change Saturday.

Gardner threw the ball 34 times and had 20 incompletions with a strangely high number of balls batted down. He also threw two interceptions. Petrino went to his freshman on the final series of the first half.

“We thought maybe we could get a spark and get something going,” Petrino said. “He (Bonnafon) looked good before the half . We weren't able to move the ball at all (in the third quarter) so we decided to switch it back up. Finally we got rolling and got the ball in the end zone a couple of times.”

Gardner led the Cards on their only three touchdown drives, the last two after Petrino put him back in the game in the fourth quarter.

Bonnafon was ineffective against the quicker, more determined Virginia defense. The Cards gained only 33 yards on the 15 plays when Bonnafon was the quarterback. They failed to make a first down in the entire third quarter.

“We weren't able to make the throws,” Petrino said. “We had some guys open and then we dropped one. It was kind of an accumulation of the entire team's protection, throws, catches. Just a poor job by me getting them ready to play.”

So Bobby Petrino has work to do – and the work is building the kind of offense the football world expects from Bobby Petrino.

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