Coach Mike Summers, Lukayus McNeil and Jaylen Smith spoke with the media after today’s practice.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Cardinals’ offensive numbers a season ago – 42.5 points and 532.7 yards per game – were astonishing. Matching that output, let alone surpassing it, is difficult to fathom given both of those were top-10 marks nationally.
However, the University of Louisville football team has plenty of firepower – led by Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Lamar Jackson – returning as the team gets set to open the 2017 campaign on Saturday against Purdue in Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Cardinals’ offensive unit returns five starters, with a number of players back who have seen plenty of game action and contributed heavily.
“As far as the offense goes, I like where we’re at there,” Petrino said. “I think our offensive line is going to be a lot better. I really think we have some good weapons around Lamar (Jackson) that we can use. Jaylen Smith and Seth Dawkins have had good fall camps – both of them are catching the ball and getting open, and we’re able to do different things with them.”
While Jackson is the jewel of the offense, the Cardinals’ explosiveness reaches far past the quarterback position.
Jeremy Smith, Reggie Bonnafon, and Malik Williams have made the running back room a crowded area packed with talent. While none of those players have received a boat load of the carries, all three are capable of changing the fortunes of a game with one broken tackle. The challenge for Petrino is figuring out how to distribute the football.
“It’s something where you want one guy to get hot and let him get a lot of runs and catches and have a great game,” Petrino said. “The one thing you do know about running backs is they’re the ones who take most of the hits throughout the year, so you have to have guys who are ready to play.
“When one guy’s not in full speed one week, you need the next guy to step up. Smith has really stepped up in the last couple of weeks of practice, so I feel great about that – I think he’s back to full speed. Reggie’s (Bonnafon) doing a good job and Malik Williams has had an outstanding camp and he’s caught the ball really well.”
The old cliché that ‘it starts upfront’ will certainly be true if the Cardinals are able to set another school mark for rushing yards after breaking it a year ago.
Having to replace three starters won’t be easy, but junior offensive tackle Lukayus McNeil likes the unit’s progression.
“I think it’s a different group than last year,” McNeil said. “I think we have really bonded a lot more. We are coming together. We hang out a lot more together. I think that is a big change from last year to this year.”
Attending Decatur High School in Indianapolis, Ind., McNeil is exciting about returning home to face the Boilermakers in Lucas Oil Stadium.
A two-way starter, McNeil has some fond memories and is looking forward to seeing all his family and friends. He expects at least 15 of his family to be in attendance to start his third season with the Cardinals.
“The stadium will be packed with just my fans,” McNeil said with a laugh. “It’s going to be like a home game for me. I’m going to have a lot of people there. They are all Louisville fans now. Even when I go home and see some of my teachers and friends, there is Louisville gear everywhere.”