CRAWFORD | Out of the spotlight, Louisville looks to reboot its - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Out of the spotlight, Louisville looks to reboot its season vs. Samford

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Will freshman QB Lamar Jackson return to the starting spot for Louisville vs. Samford on Saturday? (Photo special to WDRB by Mike DeZarn) Will freshman QB Lamar Jackson return to the starting spot for Louisville vs. Samford on Saturday? (Photo special to WDRB by Mike DeZarn)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — After opening the season in front of more than 70,000 fans against nationally ranked Auburn and facing a ranked Clemson team in a nationally televised Thursday night game, the University of Louisville football team settles down to a 6 p.m. start tonight against Samford.

On the Internet. You can find it on ESPN3.com or the WatchESPN app.

There’s no TV for Saturday’s game, the result of ESPN’s deal with the ACC that, for the most part, puts a chokehold on its football “inventory” and leaves local TV rights-holders with little more to broadcast than the weekly coaches’ show.

Such is life in big-money football. Make sure you have plenty of broadband.

And such is life for the U of L football team at the moment, which after three losses on national TV finds itself 0-3 and badly in need of a reboot.

Samford would, on the surface, seem to be the ticket. The Alabama Baptist school with fewer than 5,000 students competes in the Football Championship Subdivision out of the Southern Conference. These games are supposed to be big paydays for the visitors and smooth sailing for the home teams. The Cardinals are massive (29 1/2-point) favorites.

Yet the Bulldogs, who are 2-1, come into today’s game averaging better than 533 yards per game and nearly seven yards per play. They have a senior quarterback, Michael Eubank, who in 2010 was the Southern California offensive player of the year out of perennial powerhouse Centennial High School in Corona, Calif. Rivals ranked him the No. 8 dual-threat QB in the nation.

He signed — and played — for Arizona State, but wound up transferring to Samford, where the 6-5, 250-pounder hopes to take advantage of a chance to make a national statement against a Louisville team that shouldn’t sleep on his ability. He ranks No. 4 in FCS in passing, and has completed at least 75 percent of his throws in two of his team’s three games.

“They're going to run fast tempo, they’re going to throw the ball, they've got a big quarterback with a strong arm, they've got two really good wide receivers who have made a lot of plays and can catch the ball, so they're going to try to go fast on us,” Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said.

For Petrino, the challenge, he admits, is making sure his team stays engaged after its early season disappointments.

Running back L.J. Scott said he thinks the team is handling it well.

“All through the spring and starting summer camp we had the motto ‘normalize discomfort,’ and starting 0-3 is as uncomfortable as you’re going to get,” he said. “So now that it’s here you just have to keep a positive attitude and know that it can’t get worse from here. The morale of the team is to move forward and not go back.”

Who will be at quarterback as the team attempts to move forward is, once again, a decision that Petrino hasn’t made public. Sources around the program say freshman Lamar Jackson will be the starter, and a few posts from his Twitter account seem to indicate it. But there’s no way of knowing.

If it is Jackson, it represents an acknowledgment on Petrino’s part that the freshman has the biggest upside, and could pay the biggest dividends as U of L returns to conference play. Jackson also, however, has thrown three interceptions that were the result of nothing other that poor judgment, winging the ball deep down the field and putting it up for grabs. He’s also lost a couple of fumbles.

In between all of those, he has moved the team. He has shown good instincts. He has the ability to run and throw.

“When you play the quarterback it’s about decision-making and execution,” Petrino said. “So we missed on some decisions (against Clemson). We missed on some execution. But it’s all 11 guys. It’s a lot easier to execute when you have space. There’s no bodies around you because we’re doing a great job of setting the pocket and widening the pocket. It’s a lot easier to play quarterback when you have that type of space. Guys can separate and get open. It’s just a work in progress.”

Against Clemson’s defensive front, the Cardinals could get little space to do anything — run or pass. That should be different against Samford, or at least Petrino hopes it will.

He also needs his quarterback — whoever it is — to simply operate the offense. He doesn’t need dazzling play, he needs consistent play, with decisions he can count on.

Defensively, the challenge for the Cardinals is a little stiffer today. All offseason, the defense said it expected to be just as good as last season’s unit, which ranked sixth in the nation in total defense.

Instead, the Cardinals are giving up 206 yards per game on the ground, ranked 100th in the Football Bowl subdivision. The tackling has been suspect at times, and the unit twice gave up the lead in the second half against Clemson.

“We haven’t forced teams to play from behind,” Petrino said. “They’ve been able to be patient and keep banging the ball in there and eventually making some plays. We’ve been playing pretty good defense at times. Not well enough when we get the lead. That’s when the concerns are. . . . We need to play better when the game’s on the line.”

“We’ve just got to stop giving up hidden yardage,” defensive lineman De’Angelo Brown said. “We’re stopping guys at the line of scrimmage, but letting them fall forward for extra yardage. We’ve got to make sure we’re knocking guys back and not letting them fall forward.”

The national TV cameras are gone. National rankings are nowhere in sight. It’s a different kind of game from what the program has experienced the past three seasons. How well the team focuses tonight, and how well it executes as it pursues its first victory of the season, could be an indicator of what the rest of this season could be like for a program that has grown accustomed to winning.

Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.

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