BOZICH | Louisville players positive that staying positive turne - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Louisville players positive that staying positive turned around season

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Louisville halfback Brandon Radcliff has stayed positive during a difficult season. Louisville halfback Brandon Radcliff has stayed positive during a difficult season.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – You know precisely what happens when a football team starts any season packed with promise with a loss, another loss and another loss – by a combined 13 points.

The chatter erupts.

“Once you start kinda the way we started, you need to go one of two ways,” said Louisville defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins.

“You can either fold it in, tuck your tail between your legs or you can fight out of it.”

You know how it works. Guys start wondering why they’re not playing more snaps. Louisville quarterback Kyle Bolin did that. He confessed Saturday after Louisville defeated Virginia, 38-31, in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

Guys start thinking about why they’re not putting up the big numbers the pre-season magazines expected them to deliver. Put halfback Brandon Radcliff in that category.

Fans start wondering why four-star recruits like James Quick have not become four-star impact players. Louisville fans asked that question.

Do not forget the media chatter, with people asking crazy things about whether this Louisville team would rally to become bowl eligible after this season began with losses to Auburn, Houston and Clemson. I’ll admit that I wondered.

Wonder no more. Once 0-3, the Cardinals will carry a 6-4 record to Pittsburgh Saturday. According to U of L statistician Kelly Dickey, 507 FBS teams have started their seasons by losing their first three games since 1980.

Louisville became only the 22nd group to transform from 0-3 ugly duckling to bowl eligible.

There’s nothing magical about how Louisville did it. Neither Knute Rockne nor Urban Meyer would steal any of their material for a motivational speech. Bobby Petrino did not say anything that Charlie Strong, Steve Kragthorpe or John L. Smith did not share with their players during challenging times.

Stick with the plan. Continue to work. Support your teammates. Wait for your opportunity. Practice, practice, practice.

It’s not top-secret stuff.

This time it worked.

It worked because the Louisville schedule softened. Of the six teams the Cardinals have defeated in their last seven games, one is an FBS program that has won more than three games (North Carolina State). The first three teams to beat U of L are a combined 25-5 -- and Auburn has all five of the defeats.

The Cards have handled the teams they were supposed to handle. Not every team does that. Petrino’s team has. Give them credit for that, especially if they power ahead and beat Pittsburgh and Kentucky to get to 8-4.

But the Cardinals have also kept the team ego ahead of the individual egos. Easy to say. Difficult to do. And even more difficult to prove.

I’ll take a swing at proving it with three prime examples – Quick, Radcliff and Bolin.

Against Virginia, Quick did not do the primary thing that he was brought to Louisville to do – catch a pass. Five Cardinal receivers caught balls. Quick was not one of them.

Nobody was talking about that after the game. Not after Quick delivered the nasty fourth quarter hit on punt coverage that resulted in a Virginia fumble and a Louisville possession at the Cavaliers’ 2-yard line. Two plays later the Cards’ scored to move ahead, 31-24.

You can argue about whether the play deserved a penalty because Quick did not give Olamide  Zaccheaus the space that the rules demand unprotected receivers deserve. Among other things, Virginia coach Mike London called the lack of a penalty, “unfortunate.” Virginia folks were steamed -- as Louisville folks would have been if the roles had been reversed.

You can argue about the lack of a penalty flag. You cannot argue about Quick’s commitment to contribute. He covers punts. He covers kickoffs. He handles both assignments with enthusiasm.

“He likes playing on special teams,” Petrino said. “We kept him out a little bit when he came back from his injury but it hard to keep him out of there. He is so explosive and he loves doing it. He has a smile on his face. Those are big plays that he makes.”

Radcliff plays with similar determination. It’s easy to forget that Radcliff finished last season by scoring six touchdowns in Louisville’s final four games, rambling for 136 yards against Notre Dame and 89 against Georgia.

Radcliff was the guy that everybody expected to become Louisville’s next prime-time running back. It didn’t happen. Lamar Jackson, a quarterback, has been Louisville’s top rusher this season.

Radcliff had 43 yards against Houston. Huh? Only 37 at N.C. State. What? He lost two yards on two carries against Boston College. Then Radcliff did not play against Wake Forest.

“I talked to him after the Wake Forest game,” Bolin said. “He was really down on himself and down on the situation as well.

“I told him, ‘I’ve been in the situation as well and I know it sucks. But you’ve just got to fight through it and be a leader.’ “

Radcliff’s season was over – until it wasn’t. Radcliff backed up the 117 yards he gained against Syracuse last week with 146 yards and two touchdowns against Virginia. The Cardinals needed every inch of it.

“I just see comfort and confidence (that the offensive line) has now compared to the beginning of the season,” Radcliff said. “For a running back, you love to see your offensive line have that mad, pumped up attitude in the huddle.

“If gives us a boost to know that they’re ready to go out there and knock some heads off.”

Then there is Bolin, the redshirt sophomore quarterback who has usually gotten his opportunity only after others have failed.

This is a guy who didn’t even make the traveling squad to Virginia last season. He started this season on the bench, was summoned to save the game against Houston and then started against Clemson.

Then Bolin disappeared again – for four straight game.

If he liked to moan and second guess, Bolin had plenty of material. Bolin is human. He admitted that he wondered why he was not playing more, early in the season.

“Before the Houston game I was really, really upset,” Bolin said. “I thought that I had done really well. I was being selfish and saying that I should be playing and this and that.

But Bolin did not let those moments define his season. Lamar Thomas, the Cards’ receivers’ coach, would not let him, lecturing Bolin about the importance of remaining positive.

“That’s what I did,” Bolin said, “and I haven’t looked back since.”

Now, after coming in to relieve Jackson in the Wake Forest game, Bolin has led Louisville to three consecutive victories.

Now the Cardinals are winning, six times in their last seven games, confirmed participants in a bowl game for the sixth consecutive season.

Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.

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