BTP: So now that Petrino is officially gone, this is definitely going to fire up Louisville and I should 100% be worried about this game, right? Because I definitely am.
CS: Abso-freakin-lutely. I mean on the surface level alone you went from the semi-even keeled Petrino to an enthusiastic coach nicknamed ‘Whammy’. In fact, on Tuesday Whammy had the boys out there doing box drills, calling out a young man from the offensive side of the ball and the defensive side of the ball and having them smash into each other as hard as they could. That’s got me fired up just thinking about it. Also, the Cards got back a talented young corner who said he was going to transfer (Russ Yeast) last week and…wait for it….they got a dang QB commit AFTER Bobby P was let go of his coaching responsibilities. All things are looking up in The Ville, Will. Cards by 100! (maybe not)
BTP: Where do you feel like things went wrong for Petrino?
CS: I’ve answered this question a handful of times on other Q&A posts I’ve done (I apologize, I can’t be a monogamous in the Q&A game) but I’m going to go out of my way to reword it here it so that your ‘Backing The Pack’ readers get a fresh take on my thoughts about the matter.
The Spark Notes version for me is when Bobby Petrino came back to UofL I honestly believe this is where he wanted to end his career. He saw what else what out there in the NFL, in the SEC, in Conference USA, etc and I think he realized the grass ain’t always greener, in fact, here in Kentucky its blue (not really). The point is, he came back to a place he and his family considered home, a place his kids grew up, went to high school, etc and I think some complacency crept in. He came into the ACC with some well disciplined players under a Charlie Strong regime that was defensively focused and he made a good hire in DC with Todd Grantham. BP used his offensive mind to put up some points year one with a team who lacked great athletes on that side of the ball. He went out and recruited some great offensive players and IMO ignored the other side of the ball more than he should have.
2016 was a culmination of BP getting his offensive guys in there and Grantham having three seasons to mold the existing players into his system. It peeked with a Top 3 ranking and a shot at the Playoff 10 weeks into the year. As things seem to do with Petrino, his relationship with Grantham was rumored to be borderline toxic. After a few seasons, Grantham bolted for Mississippi State, and the defensive talent they inherited was graduating and not getting replaced all that well. The Cards hired Peter Sirmon to replace Grantham after he stunk at Mississippi State the year prior. Surprise…he stunk at UofL as well. So much so that Lamar Jackson dropping Heisman numbers for a second straight season only produced a 8-5,4-4 record. So, the Cards dug down deep in their pockets and went and got….the previously unemployed Brian VanGorder to whip that D back into shape. Surprise 2.0….he stunk as well. The defense this year has been so bad that Cardinal teams who finished 2-9 and 1-10 back in the 1990’s where actually statistically better than what we’re seeing now. They are quite literally the worst Power 5 defense in the country in numerous categories. To dig deeper into that wound the offense was/is sputtering under new QB Jawon Pass which means they’re giving up points and also can’t seem to score many of their own. A recipe for a fired head coach.
I know this wasn’t brief but here is my final point and I can put it to bed. BP came in with a fair amount of baggage due to some off the field extracurricular activities but fans could swallow that if his presence translated into the almighty win. The wins have stopped, and show no sign of coming back soon (Cards are stinking up the joint in recruiting both locally and nationally) so you weigh the juice versus the squeeze. Players who appear to be undisciplined and lack basic coaching, coaches who may be over their head and potentially unqualified for their job/salary (BP had three family members on staff), the team is losing games, and no new talent is coming in to save the day….a change had to be made. And now all your BTP readers can brag to their friends about why Petrino got fired. They just read three paragraphs on the topic…plagiarize your face off folks.
BTP: State’s defense has struggled mightily in the secondary in the latter part of this season. What will Louisville do offensively to try and exploit that weakness?
CS: One would assume Jawon Pass is still the starter at this point and the bad news for NC State is that he has a solid arm….we just don’t know where the ball is going sometimes. Pass has never looked comfortable in the offense, which is concerning considering this is year three in the system for him. Short balls, deep balls, patented Petrino wheel routes, even simple crossing routes to try and establish some momentum are never consistent. He can look like he’s getting it for a drive and then appear as if he has only recently learned what a football is the following drive. The other big issue is ball security. Pass has a 8/11 touchdown-interception ratio and he also has a handful of fumbles. If you’re NC State you can be nervous that the talented “future Cam Newton” may finally click and light you up for 350 yards and 3 TDS….but you can also rest easy knowing he has shown little that points to that actually happening.
BTP: Who is one player on Louisville’s offense that is vital to the team’s success? How about on the defense?
CS: On offense I loved the wide receivers group heading into this year. They were considered a top ten group nationally and had shown in years past they can makes catches, and make plays with the ball in their hands. The problem in 2018, as you can imagine, is getting them the ball. Jaylen Smith, Dez Fitzpatrick, Seth Dawkins, Tutu Atwell…these kids can play, they just need someone to put it on them and give them a chance to work.
Since I copped out on the offense and mentioned like four guys I’ll just give you one of defense. CJ Avery. The Sophomore linebacker has missed a few games this year with injury but he is still Top 4 in tackles, has an interception, a forced fumble, and has a few impact plays in the backfield. He has the “high motor” you want to see in a young guy at that spot and he and fellow Sophomore Dorian Etheridge can be a building block for future defenses. Crap, I just said a second defensive player when I specifically told you I wouldn’t. Think of it as french fries at the bottom of the bag. Not sure if you’ll dig in there and eat them after you finished your meal…but they’re there if you want them.
BTP: For NC State fans coming up to Louisville for the game, what are some places they should hit up while in town?
CS: Uh, Churchill Downs. Ever heard of it, bro? Seriously though, fall meet is going on and it’s easily a fun filled few hours to occupy your day even if you’re not a gambler. The sights, the sounds, the horses…it’s a pretty cool spot if you’ve never been. If that doesn’t tickle your hoof how about Louisville Slugger? Ever heard of it, bro? Ok I’ll stop doing that. In downtown Louisville you can go tour the factory where they make the bats that many pros still use today. “Just like big leaguers, huh paw?” It’s a cool tour and if nothing else you get a mini-bat at the end of the tour you can whack your friends with until they bleed. Then they can drink bourbon to dull the pain. Welcome to Louisville.
BTP: Any major injuries to report?
CS: I haven’t seen an updated injury report from old ‘Whammy’ at the time I’m typing this but the Cards have some nagging season long things with a few guys who I still expect to play. Backup QB Malik Cunningham appears to be practicing so I think he’s a go if need be, and a couple guys on defense appear to back to 100%. The big loss for the Cards, a guy who has been out all year, is defensive leader Jon Greenard and under the very definition of “season ending” injury he will not play this week…ya know, because it’s still during the season and all.
BTP: Who concerns you most on the Wolfpack and why?
CS: Finley is a great QB and even with all the hoopla and hype surrounding the rejuvenated Cardinal team you still have to go out there and compete. Ryan has been around long enough I think he settles in eventually and can put up some good numbers against a secondary that really hasn’t been tested all that much. That tends to happen when running backs can go for 150 yards and a couple TDs with ease. Cards have a Top 25 passing defense simply because no one feels the need to pass the ball. I think that changes Saturday.
BTP: Let’s get a prediction - who leaves Louisville with a victory on Saturday?
CS: Man, if Louisville was gonna get another win this year you would like to point to the week they hit the proverbial reset button to be that week, right? The problem is NC State, even through recent struggles, is still a talented team that was considered Top 15 earlier this year. On the offensive side of the ball they are still averaging 31 points/game and have yet to face a defense as bad as Louisville. The Cards may be excited with a fresh look but the reality is that you have a new play caller on offense and your QB is still struggling to find a rhythm. I think the home crowd helps the Cards jump out early to a 7-0 or 10-0 lead but eventually everyone settles down and NC State methodically picks apart the defense like nearly every other team has done this year. I’ll say 30-17 Pack with a late score by Finley widening the gap. (insert obligatory, “I hope I’m wrong” comment).