CRAWFORD | Louisville's talent and preparation has Petrino dialed in, having fun
Anyone who has watched the University of Louisville offense this can tell you, Bobby Petrino is dialed in. Eric Crawford looks at his preparation and thoughts after the No. 3-ranked Cardinals' 3-0 start.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- So, you might’ve heard this at some point during his time here: University of Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino is a bit of a workaholic.
I talked to one of his former assistants once -- who had only great things about him, by the way -- and he told me, “It’s a great learning experience, but you also might find yourself in the office breaking down a game that’s eight months away thinking, ‘What am I doing here?’”
Petrino told me years ago that he likes to do game plans for key opponents the previous winter, then again in the summer before fall camp even starts. He does them again when the season begins and the game is approaching, but he wants those first sets of plans done because he doesn’t want to rush through them. That, and he likes to do everything three times, if he can. He installs the offense three times. He believes that if you do something three times, you can start to master it.
So it was no surprise at all to learn that Louisville’s 63-20 victory over Florida State had been in the works long before game week, and in fact, long before the start of the season.
“We spent a lot of time on it,” Petrino said. “You pick out a few games each year you're going to focus on over the winter, over the spring and summer and make sure that you get well-prepared for it. And this was one of those games that we picked out. We wanted to make sure we looked at all aspects of it: from the start of the game, third downs, second half. Second half was something we studied a number of times.”
Petrino’s players knew exactly what was coming. He had scouted Florida State so much, this staff knew them so well, they had prepared their players to the point that, for this one game anyway, they had that happy (for them) combination of talent and preparation that leads to something special.
I’ll let you guess which other games of this season are among “the few” that got the same treatment in the offseason. But you probably won’t need many guesses.
The brush marks of Petrino’s ability to analyze opposing defenses are all over the start to this season. The first plays of Louisville’s three games have averaged 37 yards. The Cardinals are averaging 9.4 yards per play, or just short of a first down every time they snap the ball.
Petrino spent all offseason being quietly confident. I guess now we know why. I even wrote about it before the season started. The morning of Louisville’s opener against Charlotte, I even said, “From before camp began, Petrino has talked with the quiet confidence of a man holding a royal flush, or a handful of aces.”
Turns out, maybe he was.
I remember Bob Knight once saying that the greatest challenge -- and the most fun -- you can have in coaching is when you have a team that everyone knows is the best, and the job is to try to get them to play to that potential.
I don’t know that everyone would acknowledge that Louisville is the best team in the country, or even the most talented. But they’re in that conversation at the moment.
At the very least, they are a team with experience and talent -- especially on offense -- and that lets Petrino get deeper into his playbook. And clearly, he’s having fun.
“Really enjoying some of Petrino's blocking schemes this game,” Chris Brown, a Louisville native and author of the book “Smart Football” wrote during the Florida State game on Saturday, via Twitter. “Some fun stuff with pullers and getting blockers to the second level.”
The speed and ability of Lamar Jackson and Brandon Radcliff necessitates Petrino getting one more blocker to the next level to try to help turn a good gain into a big one.
Once into the second level, Jackson is virtually unstoppable.
I would argue that Petrino, too, is able to get into the second level with this team. They’re responsive to what he says. They believe in his game plans. They want to do what they’re told. Nothing is 100 percent, but when you can push the buttons and the right things happen, for coaches, that’s fun. He isn’t having to go back to step one, teaching the offense, or correcting fundamentals or technique every week. He’s not having to worry about who is quarterback will be.
“I had a lot of fun on the sidelines (Saturday),” Petrino said. “It was a lot of fun for me looking at our players, seeing their confidence, seeing their smiles on their faces, from what they’re doing out there on the field. Seeing their camaraderie, listening to the O-line talk about running the ball at the end of the game. It was a lot of things that we really work on in practice and talk about as a team that showed up on the sideline and showed up on the field, and that’s probably the funnest thing as a coach is when you see all that hard work show up.”
The challenge, part, of course, is getting it all to keep showing up, game after game, as the target on your back grows.
Petrino got his players together for a meeting after the Florida State win and told them all to raise their right hands. They didn’t know what was coming.
Then he had them put their arms back, and pat themselves on the back.
“You had a great win,” he told them. “Now let’s get our butts back to work. That’s what I told the team, because that’s, kind of how I feel about it. We did a great job, it was a big win for us, but now we haven’t reached our goals, we’re not even close, it’s three games into the season, let’s go back to work and get better.”
He said that several times, when questions came about what the team has achieved or what it’s like being at this level, or if the stars are aligned for something special.
“I don’t think we’re close enough to do that yet,” he said. “We’ve just got to go back to work. If the stars are going to align, it’s up to us to it one week at a time.”
Petrino has been close before. He had two Louisville teams that missed a potential championship chance because of a single loss. He knows how college football works. But this time is different. If Louisville wins its division, it has a chance to get to the football playoff.
This much is clear from three games: Petrino has a team that is in sync with his philosophy. He has a team that can execute what he plans. He has a team that gets along.
Several players remarked about seeing Petrino smile on the sidelines on Saturday. Now, if they screw something up, they know what’s coming. Let’s not get the idea somehow that Petrino has softened.
But it also seems fair to say that he is having fun.
“I enjoyed it Saturday after the game,” Petrino said. “It was a lot of fun. Went home with my family. Had some nice Italian food. My dad enjoyed it. Sat around and watched a couple of games. And Sunday morning I got up and went to work.”
Right now, when it comes to work, it looks as if Petrino is dialed in. And that could be bad news for a great many teams.
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