CRAWFORD | Petrino draws on a wealth of history -- and creativit - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Petrino draws on a wealth of history -- and creativity -- to rebuild Louisville offense

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — For Bobby Petrino, offensive inspiration can come from anywhere. It could come from a massive archive of plays he’s collected and carted wherever he has gone, pretty much his whole life.

It can come from a mistake, a receiver running the wrong route. It can strike in the middle of the night. Once for an Iron Bowl matchup against Alabama, he dusted off a 10-year-old playbook to win without his top two running backs. And occasionally, like last season, he’ll harken back to those years he watched his father, an option football guru.

Petrino started coming to the football field at age 2 — when he already, incidentally, could dribble a basketball with either hand. Some of those principles of option football he grew up with came in handy last season when he found himself using a freshman quarterback in Atlantic Coast Conference play.

“When you’re a power team and you have the best players and can overpower people, then that’s what you do,” Petrino said. “But if you’re not that, you have to find different ways to move the ball and try to isolate a defender and give the quarterback a decision to make off of one guy. That’s really what the option is, trying to make one guy make a decision, then being able to play off what he does. Some of the things we did last year, like in the Wake Forest game, and when Reggie (Bonnafon) was in early, were based on those philosophies, instead of overpowering people.”

If Petrino has ever faced more offensive question marks than he will this season, I’m not sure when or where it has been. His primary receiver has been lost to the NFL Draft, he’s working his way through five quarterback candidates to find a starter, and he’ll need to rebuild his offensive line.

But when he sat down at ACC Media Days, he seemed energized by the challenge.

The first change has to happen on first down. When he went back over video and statistics from a year ago, he wasn’t satisfied with what he saw.

“We weren’t where we needed to be,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. You have to not only be close to 50-50 on first down, but you look at the efficiency. We weren’t efficient enough running the ball on first down and not efficient enough on the yards we got per pass attempt. So that means we weren’t getting what I call chunk plays. And that’s really what was lacking from our offense. We didn’t have the long runs or huge throws for touchdowns that we normally have. We’ve either got to get better at making somebody miss one-on-one running the ball, or better blocking with our receivers. There were a couple of opportunities where it looked like we were going to have a big play and then a receiver didn’t get his block or do what he was supposed to do. So it’s all 11 guys getting better.”

Perhaps as big a challenge as any Petrino has faced has been taking a team that was built to win games with defense and turning it into an offense with his stamp on it.

That proved difficult last season. But don’t let the depressed offensive numbers fool you. Petrino still burns as much mental energy on crafting his offense as ever — if not more.

“One of the things that’s different now is we get every NFL game, it comes across the line, we get all the coaches’ video, end zone and sideline,” Petrino said. “So we make cut-ups of the best NFL teams, run game, play action, drop-back pass, quick game. And then in the offseason I’ll assign guys to teams and they can make a notebook, and we go through all those to see what we like and what fits.”

Petrino will also have to fit his playbook to whoever wins the quarterback job, but he said he and his staff are ready to do that.

“What we do is after those first three weeks of camp, we’ll just start with some parts of the offense,” Petrino said. “But as the year goes on, we might continue to work on some of it. Continue to try to get better at other parts. One year when I was offensive coordinator at Auburn, we had these great running backs and great, big, old linemen and we could run the ball real well. But by the Iron Bowl all the running backs were hurt. We had a true freshman running back. We had continued to practice our five-wide-receiver package. There were times when Coach (Tommy Tuberville) said ‘Why do we keep practicing this stuff? You never call it in a game.’ Well, when the Alabama game came along it ended up being part of the package that helped us win that game.”

Several ACC coaches talked about their defenses always being “under attack” when facing a Petrino-coached offense. When the U of L coach was asked about that, he wasn’t sure how to respond.

“I’m not really sure what that means,” he said. “I do like to work personnel, and put our players in a position where we can be successful and try to dictate to the defense, not let them dictate to us. When we were at our best, we were able to change formations, motions, flips, and put pressure on the defense to get lined up, and operate at a fast tempo, and not no-huddle. That’s get in and out of the huddle, flip your tight ends, motion this, motion that. And when you’re talking about different quarterbacks, a lot of it is who can do that and who can’t do that. Because you have to be able to get to the line of scrimmage, or you have to go no-huddle. So we have to find out what our identity is going to be right now, offensively. What part of the offense and what part of the tradition are we going to be good at?”

Those are the things Petrino will be working to figure out over the first several weeks of camp. He’ll have to multi-task, and adjust on the fly.

But after a life around offensive football, he’s plenty qualified to do that.

Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.

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