Two Games into year 5 there are more questions than answers for Bobby Petrino
By Raashaan Myers
Louisville Head Football Coach Bobby Petrino is without a doubt the most accomplished leader the Cardinal program has ever seen. His habit for winning and doing it in spectacular fashion has helped establish both as household names in college football. Upon his return to UofL 5 years ago it was met with a ton of opposition due to his off the field troubles, but there was one thing that was never in doubt. The man can coach up a football team. But there has been something undoubtedly different about this second go around for Coach Petrino and to me it comes down to this. Bobby Petrino seems to be in the midst of a coaching identity crisis.
Through 4 years at UofL Bobby has taken on the challenge of the ACC with solid results directing the school’s first ever Heisman Trophy winner in Lamar Jackson and finishing just behind the blue bloods of the conference Florida State and Clemson in terms of notoriety in the conference. In his return Coach Petrino showed an affinity for the more mobile dual threat passers moving away from the more stationary signal callers of his first stint at UofL like Brian Brohm and Stephon Lefors. We first saw this with Louisville native Reggie Bonnafon before ultimately handing the keys over to Jackson. And while the results under Jackson were explosive running a primarily Read Option attack due to his once in a generation talent there was concern if we would ever see that trademark Bobby Petrino Power Spread offensive attack again.
Behind the scenes there was optimistic hope that Coach Petrino was on the road back to his roots as a play caller grooming 6’4″ 230 pound Georgia native Jawan Pass as the heir apparent to Jackson. Pass while very athletic in his own right was considered to be much more of a traditional pocket passer and closer to what Bobby made his reputation grooming. Add to that the addition of several big bruising running backs in Jeremy Smith, Dae Williams, and Colin Wilson as well as talented pass catchers in Jaylen Smith, Dez Fitzpatrick, and a slew of talented tight ends and you have all the ingredients for a return to the old school starting in 2018.
Well through 2 games so far I have not seen nearly what I anticipated this offense to look like. While it was understandable and expected that Alabama Football in the opener would be a bit much to deal with there was still reasons to be excited. Pass looked poised in his first start never looking rattled and making good decisions finding monster TE Kamari Averitt for two touchdowns against the Tide. The UofL running game was largely ineffective but Bama does that to everyone so that is to be expected. We saw some of the classic I-Formation of Bobby 1.0, but with the score out of hand it was scrapped for a lot of Spread and Shotgun which is understandable. All in all it was ugly but excusable.
Fast forward to Week 2 as UofL returned home to Cardinal Stadium to face a clearly overmatched Indiana State team in what was pretty much a monsoon. Petrino opted in extremely unfit conditions to throw the ball early and often and predictably Pass struggled. While UofL clearly had a talent advantage everywhere but especially up front I would have expected to see a ton of that patented I-Formation power football circa UofL @ UK in 2003 in Petrino’s first game as Cardinals coach where in a torrential downpour he gave the ball to bruising runner Eric Shelton 25 times resulting in 151 yards and 2 touchdowns. But this past Saturday I saw a lot of Pistol and Shotgun formations neither of which make much sense in those types of conditions and possessing the bigger more physical team. Also considering since moving to more of the Pistol/Shotgun Spread look UofL has not been able to establish any sort of running game other than the QB that would seem to give more incentive to get back to more of a Power base look.
Seeing all this and remembering that we had been promised when Jackson was still the QB that while as a freshman UofL had to scrap the playbook due to Lamar’s inexperience he would learn to play under-center and learn to run the efficient “Petrino Style” offense as a sophomore. We heard the same talk heading into Jackson’s junior campaign that a more Pro-Style look was coming for UofL but instead it was more of the same. This season was supposed to be an opportunity for Coach Petrino to get back to his roots as a play caller, but after opting to sub in Malik Cunningham in the second half vs ISU and showing much more of a comfort level with that style of ball this whole situation is becoming more and more interesting. Add to that Coach Petrino came out and told the media that even though Jawan Pass has been cleared and deemed healthy, but refused to name a starting quarterback between he and Cunningham for Saturday for the WKU game shows the turmoil Bobby is facing. This is a clear sign that the identity crisis is real and the future of Cardinal Football may hang in the balance. While it is still way too early to figure out which way this will play out where UofL will go from here clearly there is a lot more drama to come. Who will Coach Petrino choose to be? Who knows but I can’t wait to find out!