By: Raashaan Myers
The University of Louisville Football season has had the ups and downs, twist and turns, of an award winning John Gresham novel. We have laughed, we have cried, we have gotten our hopes up, and we have had our dreams crushed. When I think about the late great Jim Valvano and he says you should laugh, cry, and think I’d believe he would approve of this Cardinal team’s ability to make folks do all three. So much so that even yours truly got caught in the crossfire after an uneasy stare down with UofL Coach Bobby Petrino. But for all the drama and now as our hero seems to be down and out take heart that this is simply the growing pains of an emerging football powerhouse.
There have been few examples of teams busting through the door and taking permanent residence at the big boy table of college football. That is the rare feat that UofL is very close to obtaining but like all great endeavors it is never easy. That being said this 2016 football has pushed the Cardinal program well ahead of schedule in making Tom Jurich’s dream a reality. But as it is with most things the last few steps are always the hardest and those will be the most critical that we should all watch closely from here on out.
First and foremost will be the continued growth of UofL Football’s most prized possession and explosive weapon Heisman favorite Lamar Jackson. Jackson’s ascent from part time gimmick starter to now big Heisman favorite over a year’s time has been none short of amazing. He has grown and matured as a quarterback and to me even more impressively as a vocal leader for the program. The next step is squarely on Coach Petrino to figure out how he wants to build this offense around Jackson. As amazing as it sounds Lamar had one of the greatest offensive seasons in the history of college football as the first player to ever throw for 3300 yards and rush for 1500 yards while Coach Petrino struggled to find a happy medium between teaching Lamar the position, finding an offensive identity, and letting Lamar be his improvisational self as a player. When you consider that Jackson is still only about 60% of what he could become as a passer the possibilities are truly frightening.
Second step is about the harmony with the defensive side of the ball. Too often and again after the game Saturday the pot shots were lobbed at Todd Grantham and the UofL defenders. And while I agree that the defense was the key culprit in the startling loss to UK I have also seen this defense countless times this year keep UofL in games and fight off opposing offenses from getting into the endzone after several of UofL’s nation leading number of fumbles to keep the Cards from getting buried. The UofL defense has lead this team to far more victories than it has losses so cheap shots to me don’t do anything for harmony inside the program. But on Coach Grantham’s end he needs to find some way to do a better job of getting his guys off the field on 3rd down and keeping his best players healthy and engaged. Also UofL has struggled mightily in games where they faced mobile QBs and coincidentally those where the games when the Cardinal defense has been torched the most. A lot like the offense the UofL defense with all its issues still ended up 11th in total defense so with some tweaks one wonders just how good they can be with added talent waiting in the wings and on the recruiting trail.
Lastly this team may need an injection of heart and fire. I have spoken with several Petrino players and one thing those guys have lamented about this current regime is the void left by Paul Petrino. I have heard from several players that the combination of Bobby’s skill and Paul’s fire and heart made them the dynamic duo. Many wonder if this team has that same fire and guy who can really hold the current Cardinal’s accountable and get them fired up and focused. I thought that was an interesting commentary but there have been times this year when the team’s focus and heart have been questioned. An interesting observation and one that I’m not sure how or even if this issue will be addressed but that is something to keep an eye on was well.
All in all the UofL season started with a lot of unknown commodities, slowed turned to dreams of the College Football playoff, and ended with disheartening losses to Houston and archrival Kentucky. That is a lot to deal with but considering the amount of young talent leading this team starting with Lamar Jackson, a huge profile boost thanks to UofL’s amazing run at the playoff which has led to a boon in recruiting, and a coaching staff and AD that is second to none the best is surely yet to come. But it is a work in progress and the lessons learned this year are the building blocks for big things to come.
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