Game week for University of Louisville football has arrived.
With the Cardinals’ 2017 opener five days away, it’s time to stop all the rhetoric and get on the field to play the game.
The Cardinals will get their opportunity to see how much they’ve improved this fall when they take on Purdue Saturday night from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. The game will be shown nationally on FOX.
“I’m excited about it,” UofL head coach Bobby Petrino said at his weekly Monday press conference. “I was happy with the way the guys practiced last week. They practiced hard and they gave great effort.”
After four weeks of fall camp, Petrino is satisfied with where his football team is, especially after the final tune-up Friday night in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
The Cardinals conducted a mock-game scrimmage, the final showcase before Saturday’s opener. Both offensive and defensive units looked sharp, and the eighth-year head coach, whose expertise is on the offensive side of the ball, was surprisingly pleased with the way his defense played.
“I thought it went well,” Petrino said. “Our players did a good job preparing for that. I thought we executed really well. One thing we are trying to do is play the good principles of defense. We shed blocks, ran full speed to the ball and created turnovers. I thought it was our best scrimmage defensively this fall.
“I thought our defensive linemen did a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage at the 1s.”
While the defense had its best performance last week, the offense is no slouch either, which is led by Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson at quarterback.
Petrino said the reigning Heisman winner is better at ‘everything’ after a successful camp, and looks for the signal caller to take a bigger step forward this season.
“A lot of times, as a young quarterback you don’t really trust what you see, you don’t really believe it, so you hesitate,” Petrino said. “He trusts what he sees, he trusts his knowledge, so his decisions are quicker and better. He’s doing a good job with his technique, his sets, his transfer, his weight. He’s had really good scrimmages and been very accurate. He’s done a good job of getting us out of a bad play and into a good play.”
First games are difficult because teams are trying to adjust to new personnel and integrate freshmen to replace key losses, but Petrino is encouraged because of the number of veterans returning.
“I think the thing we’ve got going for us is we’re a pretty experienced team,” Petrino said. “When you look at having three guys on the offensive line that have been here for three years and two of them started every game and one of them started half of the games, that’s good carry-over there.
“Our skill guys have been in the system. We’ve got a starting quarterback coming back, so that really helps. Defensively, our front four guys have all played and had great production in games for us. (Senior linebacker) Stacy Thomas is in there. Then in the back end, we’ve got experience too, so you rely on your experience and guys who have been there in big games and produced in big games.”
There is the element of the unknown with first-year head coach Jeff Brohm roaming the opposing sideline.
A former UofL quarterback, assistant coach under Petrino and Louisville native, Brohm takes over the Boilermakers this season, and would like nothing more than to upset his alma mater and the No. 16 Cardinals in his first game.
“The biggest question right now is what quarterback we are going to see,” Petrino said. “All three of them played in the spring game, so we’ve been able to see that. I know their starter was back yesterday in practice. I think he has a really good release and a strong arm. He threw a lot of interceptions a year ago, but this is a different system for him. We just need to see how much practice he’s received and how healthy he is.”
As the countdown reaches its final stages, junior cornerback Jaire Alexander is chomping at the bit to move from the practice field to a game-day environment.
“It feels good,” Alexander said. “It’s almost like the first day of school, everyone’s excited. The locker room vibe is totally different. I can see a big difference, I can tell we’re really excited about this game coming up.”