CRAWFORD | Four verticals: Takeaways from Louisville's season-op - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Four verticals: Takeaways from Louisville's season-opening win over Purdue

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Lamar Jackson looks over the formation against Purdue. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford) Lamar Jackson looks over the formation against Purdue. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford)
Sideline play cards (photoshop by Eric Crawford) told the story. Sideline play cards (photoshop by Eric Crawford) told the story.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – You know when they say that . . .

Wait a minute. I wasn’t quite ready. Let’s call that a false start to this University of Louisville football column. It’s only fitting. The Cards were flagged for 10 false starts, many of which were the result of snap issues. More on that in a bit. Let’s back up five yards and try this again.

You know when they say that it’s never as good or as bad as it looks? That’s probably the case for the U of L football team. Looking back on the Cardinals’ season-opener, it’s easy to pick out the bad. But let’s also take a closer look at some of the good.

1). LAMAR IS STILL LAMAR. If you’re looking for a breakaway star on offense, meet the new star, same as the old one. Lamar Jackson didn’t break any big runs, and he will find a few passes he’d like to have again on tape, particularly a downfield miss or two, but on the whole we saw a more efficient Jackson, who still is capable of putting up ridiculous numbers with what looks like relative ease.

His biggest stat of the game is that he didn’t take a sack. One of the mantras of Louisville coaches entering the season was “no negative plays.” Now, penalties took the place of sacks and negative yardage plays on Saturday, but on the whole, Jackson kept the Louisville offense moving forward.

He didn’t thrown an interception. He threw for 378 yards and two touchdowns, and completed passes to nine different receivers. He ran for 107 yards. If he were playing at USC, they’d call that a Heisman-type performance. After Week 1, Jackson is back in familiar territory, second in the nation in total offense (485 yards) and eighth in passing yards.

2). RED FLAGS. The biggest red flag in the game for Louisville, believe it or not, wasn't all of the yellow flags. Consider: Louisville had more false start penalties (10) than 111 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision had total in their first game of the season. Louisville’s 16 penalties led the nation for whistles.

Nobody needs to spell this out for the players. They addressed it.

“The penalties are what was killing us. It let Purdue stay in the game a lot longer,” Jackson said. But he also said he believed they were quite correctable. And he showed that he can be deft behind the microphone. He praised his offensive line for its protection, while also being candid but caring when it came to freshman center Rob Bell, saying, “This was Robbie’s first game starting. I thought he did a pretty good job. He just needs to snap the ball sometimes.”

No, the biggest red flag was the continued propensity to turn the ball over, particularly via fumble. Turnovers, again, were a killer for the Cardinals, who lost two fumbles in the red zone, including one on their first drive of the season. The last game in which the Cardinals didn’t lose a fumble was last season’s 63-20 win over Florida State. In the 11 games since, they’ve lost 21 of their 26 total fumbles.

That’s a systemic problem. In that span, Louisville’s opponents have scored 71 points – or 25.8 percent of their scoring -- off of turnovers. But it’s not just the points the opponent generates, it’s the scoring opportunities Louisville robs itself of. That’s 26 offensive possessions the Cardinals have just fumbled away to the other team – not even counting the inevitable interception here and there, or the drives killed by penalties.

If the self-inflicted wounds don’t stop, it’s going to be a long season. The good news is that U of L players seem keenly aware of this. Wideout Jaylen Smith didn’t try to sugar-coat the win.

“It was a rough one,” he said. “. . . We made it a lot harder. I even fumbled the ball, dropped a couple of balls, left a lot out there. It was a good game by Purdue, we made it a lot harder than we had to, but we got the win.”

3). BRIGHT SPOTS. In addition to Jackson, Jaylen Smith was a go-to-player, even if he did fumble. He finished the game with 8 catches for 117 yards. When they needed him, wideout Dez Fitzpatrick delivered, with four catches for 95 yards and a pair of scores. Traveon Samuel added five catches for 55 yards, including some big third-down conversions.

Jackson was sold on third down, completing 8 of 11 passes (72.7 percent) for 127 yards. (He was 10-13 for 128 yards on second down, 12-22 for 125 yards on first.)

The defense, rocked early by losing preseason All-American cornerback Jaire Alexander, responded with a pair of big interceptions late, and three in the game. They sacked Purdue quarterbacks four times and recorded seven tackles for loss.

In his first game back from a devastating hip injury that sidelined him all last season, Trevon Young had three quarterback hurries, 1.5 sacks and broke up two passes.

Blanton Creque made all three of his field goal attempts.

Moreover, Alexander’s father told WDRB’s Mike Lacett on Sunday that he doesn’t believe his son’s injury will keep him out too long. An official update from Louisville coach Bobby Petrino is expected today.

4). FINAL ANALYSIS. Louisville made eight trips into the Red Zone and piled up 524 yards of offense. It needs more than three touchdowns to show for that effort. Defensively, while the secondary made some big plays, it also gave up 293 passing yards and four passing touchdowns to a patchwork passing game devised by Jeff Brohm (and, by the way, how good is Brohm?) to go directly at the Louisville corners in one-on-one situations. (Hat tip to @GregoryBrockman on Twitter -- it did take 57 pass attempt to get that number.) Often, Purdue won those battles.

The fact of the matter is, Purdue found the end zone more times than Louisville in this game, with nowhere close to as much talent.

The Louisville running game is still a Lamar Jackson production, despite efforts to establish a more traditional hand-off attack with plays under center and called runs. Jeremy Smith carried five times for eight yards. Reggie Bonnafon carried six times for 33, and touched the ball 11 times for 71 yards, including a 33-yard punt return (making him 11th in the nation in punt return average after one game).

This is a team capable of piling up big offensive numbers. It may have to. But if it doesn’t cut down on the penalties and turnovers, no amount of offense will offset it.

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