By Rick Bozich
WDRB Sports

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WDRB) — Now the college football world will discover what Bobby Petrino 2.0 still has in his DNA to throw at the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Other than this towering mess, of course.

That’s what it is fair to call this University of Louisville football team after the Cardinals came to Scott Stadium Saturday and were punished by a Virginia team that was the consensus pick to finish last in ACC Coastal Division.

The Cardinals are a mess.

The final score was 27-3 — and even when the U of L defense gave the offense the ball at the Virginia 3-yard line, you doubted that Petrino’s muddled offense could navigate the 9 feet of turf necessary for a touchdown.

“That’s all on me,” Petrino said after one of his teams failed to score more than 3 points for the first time in 169 career college games. “We’re just not very good right now on offense.”

He is correct, of course.

They are not very good right now on offense. In fact, they are bad.

And it is all on him.

This is Year Five since former athletic director Tom Jurich summoned Petrino from Western Kentucky to replace Charlie Strong and begin his second run at Louisville.

These are his players. These are his coaches. This is his playbook. This is his way of operating.

And these are his anemic offensive numbers — a team that has averaged 17 points, 17.3 first downs and 284.3 yards while splitting its first four games this season. Honk if you remember when Petrino’s teams averaged more than that per half.

The anger is already percolating on social media. Former U of L offensive lineman Alex Kupper was deservedly stinging in his criticism on the Cards’ radio network. After the game at least one U of L player talked as if he knew the negativity was flowing.

“We just have to have a lot of positivity amongst ourselves,” defensive back Rodjay Burns said. “The coaches, players, staff. Everyone just come together and not worry about outside things and be able to adjust from it and play the next play, next game. Don’t hang your head on the last game.“

This is also not the first time this season that Petrino has said that it’s on him. It’s what a guy paid as handsomely as Petrino is paid should say.

But there is a danger here: Say it enough times, people will start to believe you.

And then …

… then it will be time for a rousing conversation at the end of November, especially if the Cards deliver a losing season and miss a bowl trip. Could happen. We'll know more after back-to-back home games against Florida State and Georgia Tech.

Until then there are other rousing conversations to have. Plenty of them.

What has happened to Petrino’s offensive mojo?

This wasn’t Alabama. This wasn’t unreasonable rain and wind as well as three weather delays. This was against a Virginia team that was gashed for 31 points by Ohio University in Nashville, Tenn., seven days earlier.

The U of L offensive line remains unable to dominate enough plays. The running backs lack the ability to break tackles and provide long runs. The wide receivers drop too many passes. That’s a starter set of issues.

“It’s just killing us right now to not be able to be explosive and make big plays,” Petrino said. “Throwing the ball. Running. Offense is all 11 guys. You’ve got to do your job, all 11 guys.

“All we can do is keep working on it, try to get better. But you have to have some explosive plays. You can’t just drive the football. You have to have big plays, and that’s something that is really missing.”

And the quarterbacks?

If you believed that Petrino’s decision to switch from a passer (Jawon Pass) to a multi-threat guy (Malik Cunningham) was going to fix problems then you weren’t paying attention to all the issues Louisville had moving the football with vigor against Indiana State and Western Kentucky.

How did Cunningham perform?

He performed like a guy who reminded you how truly remarkable Lamar Jackson was at that position for Louisville the last two seasons.

Although the Louisville defense stopped Virginia without a touchdown despite three trips into the red zone in the first half, the Cardinals trailed 6-0 because the offense generated an average of less than 3 yards on 30 first-half snaps.

In four games this season, Louisville has scored 10 first-half points.

Cunningham ran 10 times for 26 yards. He completed six of nine throws for only 35 yards. With a week to prepare for a running quarterback, Virginia eliminated Cunningham’s ability to turn broken plays into valuable yardage. As a redshirt freshman, Cunningham has not developed the passing skills to keep the safeties from cheating toward the line of scrimmage.

Petrino gave the keys back to Pass in the second half. But as I wrote last Monday after the quarterback switch became official, Louisville’s offensive issues are considerably more than one position.

The problem is closer to 11 positions — and the coaching staff.

Pass played better than he had the last two weeks, completing 10 of 19 throws. Occasionally he stretched the field with an 18-yard strike to Dez Fitzpatrick, a 17-yarder to Trey Smith and a 15-yarder to Jaylen Smith.

But Pass also threw an interception, his fifth in 75 passing attempts this season. He fumbled.

Pass was the quarterback for the offensive series that confirmed how completely that offense has become a mystery for this 2-2 team.

On Virginia’s first possession of the second half, Burns intercepted a Bryce Perkins pass and danced 34 yards with his prize to the Virginia 3.

Get the three yards and you wipe away the frustration of the first 30 minutes. Get three yards and you force Virginia to play from behind. Get three yards and you energize your sideline.

Louisville could not get three yards.

Louisville could not get any yards.

Jeremy Smith took the ball to the 2. He was stopped at the 2 on his second attempt. The offensive line tried to open a hole for Trey Smith. He lost a yard.

“We felt like we were trying to run off tackle,” Petrino said. “We had a couple of good plays blocked. The running back didn’t quite get to the off-tackle area. We cut back inside a couple of times. Then we just weren’t able to get it in the end zone.”

Blanton Creque kicked a 20-yard field goal.

Those were the only points Louisville would score. Virginia added three touchdowns, winning by 24 on a day when the Cavaliers were favored by 4 1/2. It was Virginia’s largest victory margin in ACC play since 2012.

“The offense didn’t do our part,” Petrino said. “The offense has got to take the ball, move it, get it in the end zone and that’s all on me.

“I”m the one who calls the plays for the offense. I’m the one that runs the offense, and we’ve got to do a better job.”

Petrino is right. It is on him. The Louisville offense is broken. Now we’ll see if Bobby Petrino can fix it.

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