BOZICH | Louisville has more questions than shaky quarterback play
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Twice I asked Bobby Petrino which player would be the University of Louisville’s quarterback moving forward.
Twice, Petrino delivered the same answer: “That’s a great question.”
Thanks, coach. I was only getting warmed up. With the Cardinals parked at 0-2 for the first time since 1998, I’ve got plenty more.
I suspect U of L fans also have a few, especially after Louisville lost (34-31) to Houston, a team the Cards were favored to beat by 13 ½ points in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium Saturday.
“It’s a bad day for us,” Petrino said. “I thought we got outplayed and outcoached … It’s a disappointing loss, yeah.”
Back to the questions. Lines one, two, three and four are lighting up.
Why has Petrino been so reluctant to go with Kyle Bolin at quarterback, even though evidence from the Kentucky game last season as well as from Saturday suggest Bolin throws the straightest and sharpest spirals?
What has happened to the U of L defense that linebacker James Burgess pledged would be the best defense in America only a month ago?
Houston drove 75 yards against that defense twice for fourth-quarter touchdowns. The Cougars popped the Cardinals for 462 yards. Only Florida State and Georgia put more than 360 yards on U of L last season in 13 games.
Even Petrino was not impressed.
“I’m very disappointed,” Petrino said. “We didn’t tackle well. We didn’t run full speed to the ball like we normally do … defensively we should play better than that.”
Why weren’t the Cardinals able to run the football, averaging only 2.7 yards per carry against Houston?
Why would this Louisville team come out several quarts low on adrenaline after losing to Auburn and knowing an 0-2 start would make a spectacular season highly improbable?
Several players agreed the Cards were as flat as a stack of musty press clippings.
“I kind of sensed we weren’t ready for the game,” U of L tight end Micky Crum said.
“I don’t know,” Crum said. “No answer for that. Something we have to do as a team.”
Losing to Auburn and lugging a 0-1 record did not motivate the Cards?
“No, I guess not,” he said.
I could fire a dozen more, but I only intend to write 950 or so words, not 9,500. This final question will have to cover substantial ground:
Aren’t we seeing evidence of the talent drain Louisville has suffered the last two seasons?
You bet. Of the 25 former U of L players who made NFL rosters this week, 17 departed the program the last two seasons. I don’t care how well you recruit or how many gaps you plug with gifted transfers, the transition will not be seamless.
Fifteen games after Teddy Bridgewater departed as a first-round quarterback, Petrino still has not settled on a replacement. Louisville doesn't have a quarterback. Not yet.
Will Gardner four games. Reggie Bonnafon three games. Gardner three games. Bonnafon two games. Bolin one game. Bonnafon one game. Lamar Jackson one game.
Unbeaten Clemson arrives in four days. Who is going to be?
Petrino said that he wasn’t certain. He wanted to take a lengthy look at the film, as he should.
But even after the coach makes his pick, he still won’t be certain until one quarterback separates himself from the pack. That has not happened.
Jackson is a talented prospect but he played like a guy who has to learn that what worked at Boynton Beach (Fla.) High School won’t work in FBS football.
You can’t float a pass into double coverage 50 yards down the middle of the field without serious risk of an interception. You cannot throw a second interception and be involved in two lost fumbles and expect to stay on the field.
Bolin nearly saved Louisville by directing a pair of scoring drives in the fourth quarter, completing 10 of 18 throws for 157 yards without a turnover. Just as it did in the Kentucky game last November, the Louisville offense looked more like a textbook Bobby Petrino offense with Bolin in charge.
Maybe it’s lack of mobility. Maybe it’s a question about his arm strength. Maybe there’s something in practice the rest of us don’t see. But Petrino has not viewed it that way. He's been reluctant to make Bolin the guy.
Today the Cards are back to where they were two weeks ago: The Jackson OR Bolin OR Bonnafon OR Gardner quarterback lineup that we saw on the depth chart prior to the Auburn game.
Then, it produced some chuckles. Today, it is producing furrowed brows. Louisville needs a quarterback to take charge.
Those other questions?
I’ll take a shot. The offensive line is a mess. I already shared the Cards’ sub-par yards per carry average. Louisville only ran for seven first downs, five fewer than Houston. The Cougars were better across the front.
In the fourth quarter, Louisville suffered three penalties for 35 yards. All three were against the offensive line. False start. Hold. Another hold on the final drive that twisted a second-and-nine into a second-and-19, bumping U of L back to the Houston 44.
Instead of a likely chip shot field goal or even a game-winning touchdown, Louisville was forced to try a 53-yard field goal. The kick by John Wallace was partially blocked. Ball game.
This is strange territory for Louisville and its coach. The first 0-2 start of Petrino’s college career -- and it's also the first time he's opened against teams as talented as Auburn and Houston.
It is also the first 0-2 start for the program since John L. Smith’s first team stumbled against Kentucky and Utah before rallying for a 7-5 season. Going 7-5 excited people in 1998. Expectations have changed. Petrino helped change them the first time he coached here.
The last three seasons the Cardinals won their first two games. Now you look at Clemson, North Carolina State (road) and Florida State (road) and wonder if Louisville is looking at 1-5.
But that’s a question for another day. Petrino has enough other questions to answer now.
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