CRAWFORD | Can young Louisville offense achieve expected Petrino - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Can young Louisville offense achieve expected Petrino Year 2 improvement?

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Bobby Petrino says offensive inexperience means this isn't the "normal" Year 2. (AP photo) Bobby Petrino says offensive inexperience means this isn't the "normal" Year 2. (AP photo)

ATLANTA (WDRB) — Sports, like the stock market, develop measurable trends. One of the key trends being used to handicap the University of Louisville’s coming football season involves Bobby Petrino and the offensive improvement of his teams in his second year.

It’s based on sound reasoning. As Petrino’s players learn the rather complex terminology of his offense and better master the demands of his considerable playbook, the results improve.

At CardChronicle.com, contributor Greg Hydes has an excellent breakdown of Petrino’s record in this regard.

Most striking is that Petrino’s offenses have risen from 29.1 points per game in his first season at a school to 42.9 per game in his second. Across the board, numbers are better, in pass efficiency, rushing offense, passing offense, you name it.

On paper, it looks good. It has helped make the Cardinals a bit of a trendy pick in the Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division, and even has a few folks thinking the Cards might pull a surprise in Saturday’s season opener against No. 6-ranked Auburn in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game in the Georgia Dome.

And the Cardinals might.

But Petrino has gone to some pains to remind people that this isn’t a typical Year 2. And as anyone in the stock market can tell you, past results aren't always indicative of future performance.

In some ways, on offense, this is as big a transition season for U of L as last year was. The quarterback position, while more experienced in Petrino’s system than a year ago, still remained unsettled until two weeks before the opener. No QB separated himself significantly.

If, as expected, sophomore Reggie Bonnafon is the starter, he remains a true sophomore with a lot to learn. And he isn’t the only one.

The previous U of L offense, under Charlie Strong, was designed to complement a strong defense -- which is about as close to the opposite offensive approach you can take to a Petrino system as you can find. Petrino likes different things from his offensive linemen, wideouts, backs, basically from everyone. And it takes time to covert all those things over. When he took over for John L. Smith in 2003, he followed a coach who shared his offensive philosophy. Now, the transition is taking a bit longer.

“It’s a little different because we came in with a team that was very heavy, senior-wise and experience-wise, talent-wise,” Petrino said. “Now all of a sudden 26 of them are gone. We have a lot of newness, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, so it’s almost like starting over as far as teaching and executing offensively.”

In prior years, Petrino had significant offensive weapons back. In the second year of his first stint at Louisville, he had Michael Bush back, along with starting quarterback Stefan LeFors and leading receiver J.R. Russell. He had Travis Leffew, Renardo Foster and Jason Spitz all back on the offensive line. The only position with major questions was tight end.

Louisville fans looking for hope in Petrino’s ability to fashion an effective offense quickly might look to his second year at Arkansas. He used transfer quarterback Ryan Mallett and a re-vamped offensive line to fashion an attack good enough to get the program into the Liberty Bowl. But even then, he had big-time talent at running back and receiver.

On this Louisville team, he has good talent all around, it’s just young.

“I really like our talent,” Petrino said. “I really like the players that we have. It’s just how quickly can we get them to operate at the execution we need. That’s been the greatest challenge, is that offensively there’s so much newness there that we’ve kind of had to go slower than we’d like to in Year 2. Normally in Year 2 you would say, ‘Everyone understands what we’re doing now. We can take further steps ahead.’ But we really are young offensively.”

Petrino has done all he can from a preparation standpoint. In the last scrimmage before breaking camp, he took all of the coaches off the field to see how his offense would operate at game speed. But he knows, game speed against Auburn in a setting like the Georgia Dome will be far different.

“We did a lot of things last Thursday and Friday, and we talked about them all the time, like, ‘This is what we’ll do next Friday before we leave to go to Atlanta, this is what we’ll do when we get to the hotel, this is what we do for the pregame meal in Atlanta.’” Petrino said. “That’s what the whole mock game — I’m not sure where that term came from — but that’s what we’re trying to do. It’s not just going out on the field and playing like we would on the field, but how everything leads up to it, how the meetings go, what you’re supposed to do in walk-throughs, how you go about conducting your business. We rely on the guys who were here a year ago and provide leadership, make everyone understand when they walk into that training room what the mood is supposed to be. That’s the good thing about being here a year is that the players do know what we expect of them, and they need to expect that of the younger guys and teach them.”

That much has improved. By the end of the season, the offense should be far better than it was a year ago. How it will look in this opener, however, remains a question, even for U of L’s coaches.

“It’s different than playing most schedules, where you have a couple of (easier) early games,” Petrino said. “That’s why we had to play these scrimmages at game tempo and work hard on our conditioning and operating out on the field and the coaches being on the sideline. I thought it was real important for the players to learn how to play without the coaches out there. So it certainly escalated how fast you’ve got to teach guys to play at game tempo.”

With Auburn in Week 1, a home game against Houston in Week 2 and a major test against No. 12-ranked Clemson at home on a Thursday night in Week 3, how quickly the offense gets up to speed may well dictate whether the Cardinals indeed are a surprise team for 2015, or will be playing catch-up after a tough start.

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