CRAWFORD | Louisville's Petrino concocts the beginnings of an of - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Louisville's Petrino concocts the beginnings of an offensive identity

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Freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson looks to avoid a defender in Louisville's 45-3 win over Samford. (AP photo) Freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson looks to avoid a defender in Louisville's 45-3 win over Samford. (AP photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — I’m picturing University of Louisville football coach Bobby Petrino in mad scientist mode.

Mad? That’s right, mad. His team had lost three straight to open the season. I don’t care how positive he is with his players, somewhere in the Howard Schnellenerger complex, a manager was assigned to quietly remove all sharp objects while avoiding eye contact at all costs.

His team is 0-3, Samford is coming into Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, he has this week and next to figure out something for his young team. The lights are off. His laptop is on. Lab coat? You want him in a lab coat? Sure. Give him one. Put horn-rimmed glasses on him for all I care, that’s not the point.
  
The point is what he comes up with. And the answer is that it looks a little like what you saw on Saturday, when the Cardinals got their first win of the season, 45-3, over FCS opponent Samford.

It was Lamar Jackson giving to tailback Reggie Bonnafon on a toss sweep for 16 yards on one play, then throwing to him for 13 yards the next. It was Jackson running for 184 yards, a Louisville single-game record for a quarterback, and accounting for 396 run-pass yards by himself.

TRANSCRIPT & RAW VIDEO | Petrino after Louisville's win over Samford

Yes, it’s easy against the Samfords of the world. But with wide receivers James Quick and JaQuay Savage back and making big catches, tight ends Keith Towbridge and Cole Hikutini back and making big plays, along with Micky Crum, Petrino now has what he hopes are the beginnings of an offensive identity.

He arrived at it by watching tape of his own team’s most effective offensive series, then trying to figure out who engineered them and how he might enhance them.

“I kind of went back and re-watched the Auburn game, re-watched the first half of Houston and saw where we were at there,” Petrino said. “And so in practice this week, we were trying to build off of those things that we did well there. So we've just got to continue to do that. I think now that we've got some of our players back: (Keith) Towbridge and (Cole) Hikutini and (James) Quick, we can start working different personnel groups and mix it up a little bit."

How mixed up is this? Reggie Bonnafon started the season at No. 1 on the position depth chart. On Saturday he lined up at tailback, wideout and came in at QB in some short-yardage passes. He carried six times for 26 yards (his 4.3-yard average was second on the team, caught one pass for 13 yards and completed 3 of 6 passes for 62 yards and a touchdown. He also changed the oil on the team bus and designed the team’s uniforms. All right, maybe not those last two, but in this poor man’s Braxton Miller role, Bonnafon could flourish.

“I think we can build on it,” Petrino said. “I think he's really talented and he's got a great attitude for it. He's real explosive. I thought he was going to break one of those (runs) tonight. He can catch the ball. He's smart. He's a really good player and I think it's something we need to try to do. When he and Lamar are on the field together, we're fast. That's what we're working on.”

CRAWFORD | At the horn: Eight quick takeaways from Louisville's win over Samford

Asked about the switch, Bonnafon said he’s happy to do anything that gets him onto the field. He said he expects people to say he’s in the “Braxton Miller” role. And that’s all right.

“For me, personally, it's nothing, nothing new,” Bonnafon said. “I'm a football player at the end of the day. It's what I love to do. Growing up, I played many positions, so it's not a big adjustment for me. As far as scheme wise, I mean, I think it puts a good wrinkle into the offense. You know, something to throw in that teams have to game plan on, so I think it works out pretty good.”

The attack starts with Jackson. He ran for 184 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, the long a 73-yard sprint late in the first quarter. He threw for 212 yards on 15-of-22 passing, with a touchdown.

Having James Quick back on the field helped. He caught three passes for 69 yards and a touchdown. Between them, Bonnafon and Jackson hit 12 different targets, including four different tight ends.

This is the Louisville offense. It’s not simple. There are many personnel groups, trying to highlight the skill position talent he has. There’s an offensive line that was reworked, with T.C. Klusman, Lukayus McNeil, and Kelby Johnson each earning their first career starts on the offensive line.

Overall, six freshmen started on offense, and there were times when eight were on the field at once.

The challenge, of course, gets much tougher very soon. N.C. State and Florida State won’t give Jackson the wide-open spaces in which to run that he saw against Samford. They’ll have speed to close escape routes. But the threat of his running opens things up. As does the presence of Quick. As does the possibility that Bonnafon could do anything with the ball at any time.

Petrino says he has settled on Jackson as the quarterback. He has the most long-term upside, even if there may be more near-term mistakes.

Told after the game that he's the starter, and asked how he feels about that, he said, "Now I just have to try not to lose it."

Asked how he found out that he's the starter moving forward, he said, "You just told me."

Petrino may not be telling him about his long-term plan, but he liked the rhythm of his offense Saturday night.

“He just has explosiveness,” Petrino said of Jackson. “You see it on the field and in practice. You saw it in the first game of the year.  He's real explosive and he can go the distance when he gets the opportunity. I think he needs to learn when enough is enough —when he needs to get down and protect himself. . . . I thought we started to get into (a good offensive rhythm) with the way we were running the ball. Lamar was making good reads. They were giving him some runs and he took advantage of them with his speed. I thought our receivers really worked hard down the field getting some big blocks. And then in the second half we worked hard on the passing game and tried to really work hard and improve in all aspects of the passing game. I'm happy with our offense.”

With his first win under his belt, Jackson said, "Now we just have to keep rolling the dice."

It may not be much of a gamble, but whether the mad scientist has hit on a winning formula here only testing against tougher competition will show. But at the very least, it forms the beginnings of a structure from which he can game plan, and on which he can build. He liked the rhythm he saw his offense get into at times. Much of the second half he was experimenting with his passing game.

For now, you can leave the lab coat hanging on the door. But keep the pocket protectors close by, just in case.

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