(Photo courtesy UofL)
Weeks and weeks of anticipation came to a head on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis. It all started with a great Tailgate party thrown by the Petrino Family Foundation & J Wagner Group in the shadows of Lucas Oil Stadium. It was just the kind of buildup and atmosphere you’d want before a game. And for the first game it was just perfect. After our day of tailgating concluded we made our way to our seats to finally cheer on our Cardinals Football team in their first game of the season.
I don’t think this game got the buildup it deserved from a National standpoint but local media and Cardinal fans knew exactly what it meant for the two head coaches facing each other for the first time on opposite sidelines. Coach Petrino joked in his pre-game press conference earlier in the week that the last time he had seen the Purdue coaching staff was at his daughter’s wedding this summer. It was probably all smiles that day but Jeff Brohm and his staff weren’t going to give any gifts to Coach Petrino or his Cardinals on Saturday night.
I think folks underestimated and are probably still underestimating just how much the familiarity between these head coaches effected the game. Nobody in the country knows Coach Petrino better. Purdue’s co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Nick Holt served as the defensive coordinator for Coach Petrino at Western Kentucky in 2013. That means he faced the Petrino offensive every day in practice. The familiarity was so intense that Coach Petrino had his staff making a box around him holding up signs to hide his signals. But even through that adversity our Cardinals would prevail over Purdue. It was far from a stellar performance from the home team but there were a lot of positives to build on moving forward.
Now about the game…
All off-season Lamar Jackson has been disregarded and in some cases disrespected by some of the sports media folks. But last night they got their first chance to eat some of those words. Yea he was 30 of 46 with 378 yards through the air along with 2 touchdowns and 107 yards on the ground but he also showed in his first game of the season that he wants to be more than just a one-dimensional quarterback. He showed great command in the pocket “when there was one” and made what I thought were some great passes in clutch situations. Lamar looked poised even when things weren’t going well. He completed passes to 9 different receivers and showed command of the offense. I couldn’t wait to see Lamar 2.0 and I like what I seen.
You could say that it was in the Cards that Jaylen Smith and Seth Dawkins were going to be guys who would step up to fill the void left at the wide receiver spot from the departures. And sure enough these guys combined for 173 yards of offense. I don’t think too many folks expected the kind of game we seen out of redshirt freshman Dez Fitzpatrick. This young man caught the game winning score and had 95 total yards of offense. He made some great catches and was clutch. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of Fitzpatrick. He and Jackson showed some great chemistry in the passing game. This young wide receiving corps for the Cardinals has me excited about the season.
Something I’m not so excited about is the Louisville run game. Anytime that Bobby Petrino has been real successful he’s had a solid run game. For this season to be a success the Cardinals are going to have to find one. Back during Spring ball, I thought we had our man when I was watching big Dae Williams busting through the pile, but then he goes down with a knee injury leaving this team still searching for that guy. The Cardinals had 146 yards on the ground on Saturday night but only 41 yards came from running backs Reggie Bonnafon and Jeremy Smith. Hope someone develops at this spot and fast or it could cause some problems. Especially down the road.
To have a solid run game you must have an effective offensive line. Another part of this team that has garnered some concern. After game one I do see some promise and do think that Coach Summers has this group going in the right direction. To their credit Lamar wasn’t sacked one time and there didn’t seem to be one time where this unit completely broke down like we seen last year. There were a few false starts but overall it was a disciplined effort I thought. I’m not going to keep beating these guys up. They earned some optimism last night.
Last night was the official start of the Coach Sirmon era at Louisville. I have been so excited to see how the defense would look. Just as I expected they were very active and flying around all over the field. They held a Purdue offense that before Brohm was built for the Big 10 style run game to just 51 yards. And held a Brohm led offense to just 344 total yards. That’s about 200 under his average. They got off the field on third downs only giving up 5 of 14 conversion attempts, had 4 sacks, and had 3 interceptions. Overall this group looked pretty good I’d say. They will only get better.
There were some great standouts on Saturday night. Big kudos to Ronald Walker who stepped up like a boss when All-American Jaire Alexander went out with a leg injury. Walker had 6 tackles. Speaking of Alexander, it’s being reported today that he will be fine and that it was not a significant injury. Great News! Zykiesis Cannon was in beast mode on Saturday night with 9 tackles. These guys are going to have a big season. Chucky Williams had 6 tackles along with the victory sealing interception late in the 4th quarter. And there were other guys like Stacy Thomas (6 tackles) who stepped up and made plays. I think these guys are playing loose and are as active as I’ve seen in a few seasons.
Yesterday was a great day. The tailgating, the atmosphere and the game were all great. Considering all the factors I’m very satisfied and happy that my team is 1-0 to start the College Football season. There is a lot of work to be be done but after game one I feel like we have the coaching staff and the players to get it done. My hats off to Coach Jeff Brohm and his staff for giving the Cardinals a great battle. Purdue is on its way up and they have a team this year that could win some games. I know I will be cheering for those guys to succeed. They were Louisville First and will be Cardinals Forever.