CRAWFORD | Looking for answers from the Louisville offensive lin - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Looking for answers from the Louisville offensive line

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- This is a story about the offensive line. That in itself is a bad sign for the University of Louisville football team.

Nobody writes about offensive lines that are dominating. If offensive lines are doing their jobs, you see stories about how many yards the quarterback is passing for and how much yardage the running game is gaining.

No, when you've got a whole column on the O-line, the operative phrase is, "Oh, no."

Let's get the numbers out of the way right here. Heading into Saturday's 3:30 p.m. home game against N.C. State, the Cardinals have allowed 24 sacks through seven games; just two shy of the number they allowed all last season. Only four teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision have given up more.

The story is even worse in overall tackles for loss. The Cardinals have given up 54 -- only three teams in FBS have given up more. The Cardinals have run 519 plays his season. More than one in ten has gone the wrong direction.

And then, of course, there are the penalties. The Cardinals are averaging 10 penalties per game over their past three games, and are averaging four false start penalties over their past two. (Interestingly, the line wasn't called for a hold all season until the Syracuse game, where they were flagged for three.)

These are the problems. They jump off the game tape.

Jake Smith, however, says this line isn't as far away as it would appear.

"I think you can look as an outsider and out of 75 plays you see 10 bad ones and think this guy is a terrible lineman," Smith said. "But you see bright spots out there too. . . . You see guys playing hard out there. There are mistakes that you have to correct. But there are some plays where you'll look and see that guys are really dong their technique real well and some plays where you'll see guys aren't executing the way we should be. Pretty much anything you could think of, I think our offensive line has all the capabilities you would ever want. I think it's just about stringing it all together and being consistent."

The false start penalties have been a particular focus in recent practices. Players face extra penalties during the week if they incur them. Offensive coordinator Garrick McGee says it's not so much the penalties themselves, but their timing, that is hurting the offense.

"It's about concentration and focus," he said. " . . . What happened (at Clemson) was there were false starts in some critical moments. We had a third and 3 late in the third quarter and a false start pushed it to third and 8. So there are critical moments. It starts with the quarterback and using the correct cadence, and then everybody has to concentrate."

Smith said, "It's mental for sure. You want to get a jump on a guy, and you want to come off real hard. So sometimes you lose discipline, so it's about having discipline and practicing discipline."

Football is a complicated game in this regard -- sometimes when something goes wrong, you can't immediately determine the culprit. There may be line breakdowns that come about because of an incorrect play call by the quarterback. Receivers have not done a great job getting open all season, which keeps the ball in the quarterback's hand longer. But without question, the line bears its share of responsibility for the inability of U of L's passing game to get moving.

I asked Smith if Petrino's offense made different demands of linemen than others he has played, but he said that wasn't much of a factor.

"You can analyze it as much as you want, but blocking is blocking and throwing is throwing and catching is catching," Smith said. "The technique is not too much different. We've been in pro-style offense since I've been here. This coaching staff, I think the biggest thing is everything is in the details. They want you playing hard -- effort, effort, effort -- that's probably the biggest emphasis with this offense. . . . The technique, you know, like I said, a block is a block, so it doesn't vary too much. There's a way to do it and a way not to do it."

The goal this week, McGee said, has been consistency. Like most things offensive-line related, there's nothing flashy involved when it comes to correcting issues.

Everybody agrees, things have to get better fairly quickly. N.C. State provides an opportunity. The Wolfpack defense has struggled all season, and comes to Louisville with their two leading tacklers having been suspended.

"We need to progress," U of L head coach Bobby Petrino said. "We need to do it right away. So, you know, we're working hard at it. We're not progressing quick enough."

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