CRAWFORD | Reality settles in for U of L during 20-10 win over W - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Reality settles in for U of L during 20-10 win over Wake

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- As the third quarter gave way to the fourth in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on Saturday, reality began to settle over the University of Louisville football program.

And it wasn't exactly pleasant. U of L wound up winning the game 20-10, but victory seemed far from inevitable at the start of the fourth quarter.

The Cardinals trailed Wake Forest 10-7. Bobby Petrino's offense had spent much of the game tripping over itself, losing three fumbles -- two bad exchanges and a fumble in the end zone that led to Wake Forest's only touchdown.

There were penalties of every shape and size. Three false starts, three illegal blocks in the back, illegal formation, offsides, holding, 12 men on the field and even a personal foul.

True freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon, making his first college start, had looked to that point like, well, a true freshman.

The Cardinals came out of their huddle with coaches facing third down, 13 yards to go on their own 49. The call was this -- give it to Bonnafon and let him run a speed option to the right side.

Bonnafon called his own number, kept the ball, and sprinted 16 yards for a first down. After that, he kept it one more time, for two yards, before handing off five straight plays to sophomore Brandon Radcliff, who scored the TD that put U of L ahead for good.

That drive, Bonnafon's run and Radcliff's success pounding straight ahead, may have established something for this Cardinal team.

It isn't going to be the high-flying aerial show that people expected when Petrino was hired. But when Petrino committed to running the ball, adding a second back for lead blocking, and pounded it at Wake Forest, the result was good.

Regardless of who U of L wanted to be this season, this is who it is right now -- a team with a very good defense that just needs to score enough points to keep moving forward.

Sound familiar?

Bonnafon played well enough to win the game. He made things happen with his legs. He completed 16 of 32 passes for 206 yards and didn't throw an interception. He ran 10 times for 71 yards but was sacked four times for 25 yards.

He was good enough, and he'll get better. That third-down run was his moment to make something happen, and he did.

It's been a rough stretch for the freshman. He was thrown into a starting role by injury. He missed an entire week of practice because of the death of his father. Then, one week removed from the funeral, he's starting his first college football game.

He looked, honestly, about the way you'd expect him to look. He made some plays, missed on some plays, and showed flashes of promise. 

"Reggie showed a lot of poise, and a big competitive spirit," Petrino said. " ... He made some mistakes out there, but to play well at quarterback we need all 10 guys around him to play a little better. . . . We're still a work in progress. Thank God we have a great defense, because it's allowing us to win while we work harder to improve our offense."

Bonnafon said football was his "safe haven."

Maybe it's just me, but Bonnafon didn't look too safe out there for much of the game. He was sacked four times and Wake Forest came close on a few others. The Cardinals couldn't impose their will by running the ball. And they weren't protecting very well either.

The crowd got restless, and when a fake punt failed at U of L's own 25, there were a few boos.

As it has all season, the defense came to the rescue. Defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins stepped in to pick off a shovel pass, setting up U of L's go-ahead drive.

The Cardinal defense allowed negative 22 yards rushing on 23 carries. It held Wake Forest to 100 net yards on the day. It intercepted three passes and recorded eight sacks.

Lorenzo Mauldin said afterward, "We're just carrying over the defense that we had last year."

For all the talk of change -- one thing remains consistent for this U of L defense: Tackling. These guys tackle. When the defense makes contact with a ballcarrier, he generally comes down. You don't see many missed tackles.

"That just carried over from last year," Mauldin said. "The other coaches told us to wrap up and then go for the ball, we need to go for the ball as well. But if you want to be a good tackler, you just wrap up. There's just no ifs, ands or buts about it."

On U of L's go-ahead drive early in the fourth quarter, Petrino put an extra back in the backfield, gave Radcliff a lead blocker and let him pound.

The "i" formation isn't what many expected of Petrino, but those principles might be the ones that this team needs to hold onto in the coming weeks.

As reality settles in, with road games at Syracuse and Clemson next on the schedule, this isn't the offense most people thought it would be, and it may not be for the rest of the season.

But it is an offense that can improve, and will as Bonnafon gets more practice reps and gets more comfortable in the position.

The attitude went from seek and destroy to survive and advance pretty quick.

"Hey, that's a win and we'll take it," Petrino said as he entered the postgame news conference discussion with the reporters.

The question many reasonably have after Saturday's game is how many more they'll be able to take.

I'm not sure. What I do know is that this is who the Cardinals are right now. The return of DeVante Parker, at some point, might change that a little. It's not the kind of offense anyone expected. But at this point, Petrino's best bet may be to just take it and run with it.

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