Question: You open up conference play with a Clemson team that’s picked pre-season favorite in the ACC. What is your outlook on that?
PETRINO: It’s a great conference opener for us. Obviously we need to play our opening game in Atlanta versus Auburn first, then a very good Houston team comes to Louisville and plays us on Saturday, then Clemson is a Thursday night game, a short turnaround, something that is going to challenge our players to get ready for. We have to have a good plan for it. We’ve been working hard, getting ready for that game already. They’re a very good football team with an exciting quarterback. It’s a challenge for us but we’re looking forward to it. I know it’s going to be a great game to have at the University of Louisville, Papa John’s Stadium. That’s a fun thing being in the ACC, the teams we get to bring in on a year-to-year basis at Papa John’s.
Question: Two stats jump out at me. You led the league in turnovers forced, 30, 26 of which were interceptions. You were almost dead last in sacks allowed. Only Wake Forest’s quarterback was sacked more. As you look to this year, can the Cardinals continue to be a turnover-creating machine and can you continue to protect the quarterback?
PETRINO: I think we’ve got to do better. We have to continue to get turnovers, force fumbles, interceptions. Holliman had a record-setting year. I don’t think we can get that from one player. A lot of times you get turnovers because you pressure the quarterback, you’re able to hit the quarterback, make him make early decisions or tip balls. So defensively we feel like we have a very good team coming back and we’ll be able to do that. Offensively, you know, one of the things that always creates sacks is not doing a good job on first down. So really when you look back at us, we need to be a better first down offense, be more successful on first and second down so we’re not behind the sticks and in the third down situations. We are going to be inexperienced on the offensive front. That’s something that is obviously a concern for us going in. But I do like our talent there and I do like the size and strength we have there. We just have to do a great job of teaching and getting them ready to play and do it very early.
Question: Coach, Brandon Radcliff came on the end of last year. He talked after the Georgia game about becoming a leader. Has that happened in the off-season? Do you like what you’ve seen from him?
PETRINO: I thought he was a leader last year. The reason that Brandon came on and took over the position is how he worked in practice, how hard he went, how hard he went every time he touched the ball. He’d run it in the end zone. Just his work ethic gave us an opportunity to say, Hey, we need to get this guy on the field. Then he learned how to protect the quarterback, how to pick up blitzes, not only who his responsibility was, but the technique to get it done. That allows him to play more. I feel like he’s a good leader. He works hard for us. He pushes guys in the weight room and in the conditioning drills. Obviously we all know that the best way to lead is by example. That’s certainly what he does.
Question: Reggie Bonnafon, you talked about the offense being younger, less experienced, but what have you seen from him and his leadership moving forward?
PETRINO: I thought last year Reggie came in as a true freshman. I remember the first day of practice, I threw him in the huddle with the ones just to see how he would react. He showed his maturity and his leadership ability on the very first practice of the summer. Then when he got the opportunity to play in the game, I felt like he early was inexperienced, wasn’t confident in what he saw. Then when Will came back and played, got injured, Reggie came in in the second half of Boston College, then the Notre Dame game, and things were different for him. He believed in what he saw. His confidence was much better. He was throwing the ball with confidence and velocity. He had a great spring. I think the number one thing he needs to do is be consistent with his footwork so his accuracy is good throwing the ball. The benefit that he has is if he can get consistent throwing it, he has an ability to make plays with his legs. He can run out of the pocket on pass plays and he can run when you call quarterback run plays. He’s a great athlete and an unbelievable person.
Question: Your coordinators were sought after. How important was it to keep them?
PETRINO: It was huge for us to be able to keep Todd and Garrick, continue to build and grow on what we did last year. It’s great for our players. We didn’t lose any assistant coaches. Our meetings as far as a staff all go by quicker. We’re all on the same page. I think that gives us a chance to take a step forward and get better.
Question: Of all the coaches in the ACC, you’ve probably had more exposure to the various levels of football all the way up. Based on one year, what is your impression of the football culture in the ACC?
PETRINO: I think it’s a great culture and very competitive. I think one of the things we found out early is every single game we play, we need to be ready for. Most of the games that we’re in are going to come down to the fourth quarter, whether we can find a way to win the game in the fourth quarter, which challenges your discipline, challenges your conditioning, and challenges your depth. One of the things that’s neat to me about the ACC is you see a lot of difference in schemes and different types of football from defenses and offenses, some people running the spread, some people running the power running game. You have the option football from Georgia Tech. It’s exciting and challenging for us as coaches.
Question: Based on evaluations by objective analysis of your recruiting, you’re getting a higher level of commitment than the program has gotten in a long time, maybe ever. How much of that do you attribute to the ACC and are there other factors involved?
PETRINO: Yeah, I think definitely the pool that we’re going after since we’ve been in the ACC is different. It also makes it more competitive and makes our assistant coaches and myself to be thick-skinned, understand we’re not going to win all the battles. I think that it helps us that we kept our staff, kept our coaches in their area so that we can build relationships, know the high school coaches better, know who the freshmen, sophomores and juniors are. We’ve worked extremely hard here in the spring and the summer of getting kids to come to our campus and see us because I really feel like anytime we can get them on campus, see what the University of Louisville is all about, the city of Louisville is all about, we have as good a chance of getting them as anybody.
Question: You had three guys on your roster last year that started at quarterback, plus you added some guys this year. What is the atmosphere like amongst the quarterbacks? Is there such a thing as too much competition? Are they friendly? What’s the vibe like?
PETRINO: Yeah, I’ve never seen anything about too much competition. I’m enjoying it. They are friendly. They’re all very good friends. They push each other. They work hard together. They like to be in the meeting room. Garrick does a great job of teaching and coaching in the meeting room. They go out on the field and they’re starving for reps. That’s the one thing you worry about, is having enough reps. But we practice at a very high pace, a very fast tempo. We feel like there’s enough reps. Obviously I feel like we’ll need to have a starter two weeks before the opener. Hopefully we can get that done. But I feel like they’re going to make each other better. Not only the fact that they’re competing at the quarterback spot, it will make the guys competing for other spots understand that they need to come out every day and do their job every day.
Question: In the Coastal Division, a dogfight every year. Atlantic has been dominated by Florida State and Clemson for four or five years. Do you see any change in the two-team domination? Do you see the Atlantic Division being more balanced now?
PETRINO: I think it’s up to us to make a difference in it. You saw how North Carolina State finished the year last year. They’ve got great players coming back. They do a great job of coaching. They did a nice job of recruiting. Obviously with Florida State winning a national championship, Clemson having the success they’ve had, the wins in the bowl game, we have to go out and beat ’em on the field. We have Clemson at home on a Thursday night, which will be a great game, a great venue for us. We need to play well there because it will certainly have a lot of recruits watching it. Then we get to go on the road and play Florida State at Florida State. But certainly you have to go out and play well and find a way to win the games.
Question: The graduate transfer rule is something that’s been talked about the last couple months. What do you think of a school allowing a player to come in sort of like a free agent? Do you think it’s an option for a player to further his career?
PETRINO: I think the players that did a great job in the classroom, found a way to graduate, still have eligibility left, it’s kind of a bonus for them to figure out what they want to do with that last year of eligibility. You look at guys that have success stories like Russell Wilson, how much it changed his career. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it because they’re the ones that went out and earned the degree and earned the opportunity to do what they want that last year.
Question: Is there a danger in the storyline being we’ve got all these guys to replace, you sent 10 to the NFL Draft? Is there a danger of your players thinking about that too much?
PETRINO: I mean, it is what it is. We’re on, one hand, proud of it. We’re proud of the fact that we had 10 guys drafted, another four or five free agents. But the fact of the matter is we had 23 seniors, we had three juniors that came out early. That’s a lot of players to replace. Our players see it as opportunity. The young guys have an opportunity to come in and compete and play right away. I feel like we have to do a great job of coaching, a great job of teaching, maybe make sure we don’t ask them to do too much. I think the number one way you win is you don’t beat yourself. It’s up to us as coaches to make sure we don’t try to do too much and we don’t beat ourselves with mistakes so we have an opportunity to win the game in the fourth quarter. Our players are confident. Defensively we have a good nucleus back, particularly in the front seven. We had two guys that redshirted that have played in this defense before and been very successful. So you feel good about that. Offensively I think we’re going to be talented, but very youthful. We’re going to have to do a good job of being aggressive and finding ways to make plays on offense.