CRAWFORD | The new normal: Petrino hopes hype of this week becomes commonplace for Louisville
Game Day is here. And GameDay is here. WDRB's Eric Crawford sets the stage for No. 2 Florida State vs. No. 10 Louisville at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- It has been a wild week in Louisville. The hype machine has been fed round-the-clock.
In the buildup to today’s noon meeting between No. 2-ranked Florida State and No. 10 Louisville, you’ve seen Lamar Jackson called the next Michael Vick. Earlier this week, someone asked my WDRB colleague Rick Bozich if Lamar Jackson is the best quarterback the school has ever had.
“Well, there was that one guy named Unitas,” Bozich replied, or something to that effect.
Folks around here are a bit wide-eyed. This is all new to us. But for Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, he’s hoping this is the new normal. A win today, for instance, would lead to a potential ESPN GameDay scenario at Clemson in two weeks. And then another Game of the Year later this season at Houston, and perhaps more.
But let’s not outkick the coverage.
Florida State has seen this scenario plenty of times. Head coach Jimbo Fisher is used to it. He piped crowd noise into practice this week to make sure redshirt freshman QB Deondre Francois and his teammates were on the same communications page. From the time Fisher and FSU won a title with Jameis Winston, Florida State’s arrival to road venues has been an event.
“You're everybody's Super Bowl,” Fisher said. “You're ranked up there high, that's what you do at Florida State. You get used to going into those environments and hopefully it's like going to work every day. That's what it is and you respect it and you do it. You put your work in, don't get caught up in the clutter and the hype. You concentrate on what you do and how you prepare and how you play, and learn to have a great process of getting ready.”
Like going to work every day. It isn’t quite like that for Louisville -- yet. But Petrino hopes it can become that. Certainly, the possibility is there, given the conference and division in which Louisville now finds itself. Petrino, however, is hoping that this group of players is able to take advantage of the opportunity right now. With Jackson having progressed off the field, apparently, at the same speed he plays on the field (i.e., really fast), in Year No. 3 Petrino finds himself with an experienced, highly skilled team that has one of the nation’s most exciting players at quarterback. There’s no time like the present.
All week, Petrino has tried to keep his players’ minds not on the moment, but on the task. It’s tough to do. Louisville will honor Muhammad Ali throughout the game, has painted a giant butterfly behind its North end zone with the word “Ali” in the middle. It’ll wear the same design as a helmet sticker.
Who knows what other little distractions have fluttered around the players. Petrino, however, has been hammering football, football football. And he liked his team’s week of preparation. It isn’t easy to tune everyone out when all they want to do is pat your back and sing your praises. “Praise is poison,” they’re fond of saying in the basketball facility just down the road
In fact, the Louisville men’s basketball team produced a short video wishing the football team luck, calling it the “biggest football game in our history.”
Whether that statement turns out to be true actually depends on the game itself. It could be the biggest, depending on the outcome and what happens ahead. But Petrino would prefer to think of it as the new normal.
“I don't think we really need that,” he said of the hype. “This is a big game for us against Florida State, the No. 2 ranked team in the country. We've been trying to battle to get to where they've been. It's just something that is above and beyond having the big game.”
For Florida State, it’s been a bit different. Fisher has a national title contender. The Seminoles may be the most complete team in the country. But all week, Florida State players and coaches have been listening to the media rave about Jackson. By Thursday, you got the sense Fisher had heard enough when he said, “The guy is very dynamic. He can run, throw, he can do it all. Lamar Jackson, the one we played last year? He’s gotten better.”
The one they played last year. Florida State bottled up the run game for Jackson in a 41-21 win in Tallahassee, sacking him five times and holding him to 32 yards net rushing on 19 carries. Still, Jackson threw for 307 yards and three scores.
“He’s good with the ball,” FSU junior defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi said. “Meaning, when things hit the fan, he knows how to use his feet. . . . (Playing him last year) gives you a good gist of how he’s going to be, especially him and the O-line, because that’s the same O-line we faced last year.”
Senior defensive back Marquez White says he notices improvement in Jackson just from watching video.
“He’s become more deceptive with his ball-handling,” senior defensive back Marquez White said. “He’s really crafty with that. He’s improved drastically with his ball-handling in the backfield, with his carrying out fakes in the read option.”
A year ago, Florida State humbled a Louisville team that had steadied itself after an 0-3 start. Missed tackles, blown assignments, and a second straight second-half against the Seminoles in which Louisville gave up 35 points. Linebacker Devonte Fields walked up to Petrino after the game and told him he’d never see an effort like that again. Fields was a changed player the rest of the season, and Louisville won six of its last seven games.
“Our pride was hurt a little bit after the Florida State game last year on defense,” Petrino said. “We didn't play the way we usually play. We didn't have the effort running to the football that we're used to, accustomed to here. We had some of our players that really watched the video. What you’ve got to do to be a great player is be critical with yourself, be honest with yourself. Devonte saw where he wasn't putting in the type of speed, effort and desire he normally plays with. He never let it happen again the rest of the year.”
So there’s the scene. Big-time college football, once again, is coming to our city, as Big and Rich would say.
It won’t be the last time. But it does mark a step for the program. It does bring a certain credibility. It has afforded the university a week of positive national publicity at a time when that hasn’t always been the case. A game like this, if you win it, changes perception.
Now, with ABC and ESPN having installed 23 cameras, plus 16 pylon cameras, for the game, all eyes will be on Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
“I’m excited about this opportunity,” Petrino said. “I believe our players are ready to handle it.”
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