When Bobby Petrino signed on to again be the head coach at Louisville, one thing was certain: Louisville would develop into a top offensive team, even after losing Teddy Bridgewater to the NFL. Everywhere Petrino has been, (Louisville, Arkansas, Western Kentucky) his teams have competed at a high level with consistent emphasis on an incredibly potent offense.
During his first go round at Louisville in 2007, he was one offsides penalty away from an undefeated season. At Arkansas he turned a 5-7 program into an 11-2 program in the impossibly difficult SEC West, all the while exploiting defenses with his gunslinging offensive schemes. Louisville fans expected the same thing this time around, and he satisfied his customers by setting a new attendance record for Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, and the fans responded by creating a remarkably hostile environment for visiting teams.
However, during Monday night’s game against the Miami Hurricanes, we saw something slightly different than what we expected. It was not the Bobby Petrino offense we have grown accustomed to, spread-offense style passing that covers the field and creates the potential for a touchdown on every time the QB drops back. What we saw instead was a tactical, patient offense featuring a powerful 240 pound running back in Dominique Brown, who dismantled an improved Miami defense with a high ceiling. Petrino’s offenses have traditionally allowed his passing games to shine and prosper, with less emphasis on the ground attack.
On Monday, Louisville threw for only 206 yards. Not quite what you’d expect from a Petrino offense. However, within those 206 yards, we saw that the potential for Petrino’s offense to thrive still exists. Weapons like WR James Quick, who lives up to his name, WR Eli Rogers and TE Gerald Christian all demonstrated that they are capable of stretching defenses all season long. We also saw a first time starting quarterback in Will Gardner make some excellent throws over the middle of the field. Gardner did commit two turnovers, but threw no interceptions. Undoubtedly, he can use some coaching, but luckily for him he has one of the best offensive minds in football giving him instructions. The 6’5″ Gardner will improve with time, of that there is no doubt.
Let’s also not forget two of Louisville’s most potent offensive weapons, WR Devante Parker and RB Michael Dyer, both did not play in Monday’s game. Parker is a top WR prospect in this year’s NFL draft, and Dyer was once the BCS Championship MVP at Auburn. Scary to think what this offense is capable of when they return.
The highlight of last week’s game for Louisville was the defense. When Charlie Strong bolted from Louisville for Texas, Cardinal fans’ expectations of the Louisville defense plummeted. Strong’s defensive mind and excellent recruiting job at UofL provided Louisville with a superb defense that led them to back-to-back bowl wins over premier programs, Florida and Miami. Monday was Louisville’s showcase that its defense was not only still good, but potentially the fastest in the conference. Miami’s offense is loaded with speedy weapons top to bottom both at receiver and running back. Despite that, Louisville held the ‘Canes’ offense to 244 yards and forced three turnovers. Louisville looked faster, stronger and more intense than a highly touted Miami offense. Led by outside linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin IV, who cracked the All-AAC second team last year as a junior, this Louisville defense is no joke.
Though this is by far Louisville’s toughest schedule ever as a football team with games at Clemson, at Notre Dame and at home versus No. 1 Florida State, this team is one that will be prepared and has the speed to contend with any team it wants to. Going into Clemson and into South Bend will be extremely tough for the Cards, but if they get on a roll there’s no telling what Petrino’s revamped Cardinals can do. They’re a team with great speed and excellent coaching, but they’re also playing with a chip on their shoulder. They feel as though they have something to prove. Louisville’s highest praise going into the season was that they could be the third best team in their conference behind FSU and Clemson. To add on, week one showed us that the two are both beatable, and UofL may just be the team to do that.
Before Louisville jumps back into ACC play, they have some games on the schedule that will allow Bobby Petrino to fine tune this offense into the monster it has the potential to be. This weekend, Louisville takes on Murray State at home. Last season, Murray State was 1-5 on the road and finished in the middle of the Ohio Valley Conference. For a team with those credentials to try and come into Louisville on Saturday and compete will be a tough task. Really tough. This week will be an opportunity for Louisville’s defense to again impress, but more for Bobby Petrino to demonstrate why he was worthy of a second chance at UofL. I look for Louisville’s offense to put up massive numbers on the stat sheet as well as the scoreboard, and for Gardner to come into his own as a starting quarterback in a power conference. My prediction for this week: Louisville 56-Murray State 10.
*Section Photo credit to John Sommers II, Courier-Journal; Featured Photo (above) credit to David Manning, USA Today Sports