LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The Louisville football spring game was over, an announcement was made over the Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium public address system that a postgame autograph session had concluded, but two lines still remained, and the players stayed to sign.

Quarterback Jawon “Puma” Pass watched his predecessor, Lamar Jackson, have so much success that he was no longer allowed to have public autograph signings, for fear that fans would sell them and cause him eligibility issues. But for this redshirt sophomore, the spotlight was a welcome thing, after a patient and persistent apprenticeship. He stood at the 10-yard line, posed for pictures, and talked with fans.

About 20 yards away, at the 30, stood receiver Dez Fitzpatrick, who dazzled as a freshman, and picked right up where he left off in Friday’s spring game, catching eight passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns, including acrobatic, tumbling, 29-yard grab in the second quarter.

On a night when Cardinals’ head coach Bobby Petrino had only one scholarship running back available and during which the defense asserted itself early before Pass settled in, Pass’ Red team beat the White team 42-13, as the red defense pitched a second-half shutout.

Anyone looking for meaning in all this probably needs to take a long look at the video, as Petrino and his coaching staff will do in the coming days.

For Pass, a slow start that included a scoring drive, a fumble and an interception in the first three possessions, settled into a calm consistency over the final three quarters.

“I really liked the way he played in the second half,” Petrino said. “In the first half he got a lot of experience, and you could see his competitive spirit, with what happened with the interception and the fumble, but he just came back and tried to compete harder and execute better. The post route he threw for a touchdown to Dez was probably as good a post route as he’s thrown this spring. He threw it on a line, hit him in stride. We can win games with throws like that.”

And they can with Fitzpatrick as a playmaker. He beat whoever the defense threw at him, for both deep catches and intermediate gains.

“He started slow in spring,” Petrino said. “I thought he was slow the first week and a half, then we had a good talk, and he started really working hard, on his routes, on his timing. The thing that sets him apart from other guys is his ability to control his body and adjust to the football in the air and make catches. Some guys aren’t that flexible and have to re-adjust their hips, they don’t have that control. And he’s got those great big gloves, his hands are huge. He should be a really good player for us.”

Redshirt freshman QB Malik Cunningham raised some eyebrows, doing his best Lamar Jackson impersonation, deftly operating the run-pass option offense to carry for 52 yards on eight carries while completing 13 of 16 passes for 99 yards and a touchdown.

With so many running backs injured, Tobias Little was the standout, carrying for 77 yards on 13 carries, with a touchdown.

“I don’t think Tobias realizes how good he can be,” Petrino said. “He’s so strong and he’s fast. He’s starting to see things better. He’s accelerating, breaking tackles. We just need to give him the ball. He had some really good scrimmages in spring. He’s got that speed that he can run through tackles and take it all the way. It’s unfortunate that Trey (Smith) didn’t get to go (because of injury), but that’s just how it is.”

Khane Pass, Jawon’s brother, led the White defense with six tackles. Sophomore cornerback Rodjay Burns registered a sack while sophomore linebacker C.J. Avery had a fumble recovery and an interception.

The Red defense was led by London Iakopo with seven tackles, including a sack, and Dee Smith, who had six tackles, including one for a loss. Russ Yeast intercepted one pass and broke up another.

Louisville leaves the spring game with a ton of questions. Pass leaves with plenty of homework over the summer. And they all have a huge season-opening test looming.

The Cardinals open fall practice on July 29, and begin the 2018 season in Orlando against defending national champion Alabama on Sept. 1.

CORRECTION: London Iakopo was misidentified in the original version of this story.

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