LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Heading into the last half of the season, the University of Louisville football team is looking to find the rhythm it had in getting off to a 4-1 start and hopes regain it at Florida State this weekend
After two consecutive losses, the Cardinals are heading to Tallahassee, Fla., to face the Seminoles in a key game for positioning in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Opening the season in the top five of both national polls, the Seminoles dropped their first two games of the year before winning two of their last contests, including a pair of ACC victories.
“Obviously, we go play a really good football team,” head coach Bobby Petrino said. “Florida State has great tradition. We know their quarterback (James Blackman) really well—he was here a couple of years ago in our quarterback academy. He’s a very talented young man. He can snap his wrist and throw the ball. And they have really good running backs, so we’ll be challenged against defensively.
“And they’re always good on defense – when you watch them, they’re mostly the same defensive front that we played against last year. They got their All-American safety (Derwin James) back, and we’re going to have to go down there and execute and make plays.”
Stopping the run will be paramount for the Louisville defense – facing a downhill running attack led by Cam Akers, who led the Seminoles with 115 yards over the weekend against Duke, including a 42-yard run in the fourth quarter for a touchdown.
“We’ll work on the game plan,” Petrino said. “But, we’ve got to work on our technique and our fundamentals, too. Like I said, tackling – we’ve got come in, be physical, shoot our hips, run our feet, get more guys to the football. I think it’s going to be really important to set edges, because they like to run the outside zone play, and they do a really good job of it. We’ve got to be able to set the edge and keep them inside.”
The Cardinals struggled stopping the run last week in the loss to Boston College, allowing a season-high 364 yards and five touchdowns. It’s a continuing focal point, as the team returns to the practice field this week.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” Petrino said. “Sometimes we’re in position and we don’t make them, sometimes we’re not in position. We’ve had some busts. There were some really good series too in the first half, and we were doing a good job. I think we had three or four 3-and-outs and some negative yards, and it allowed us to get the early lead, but you’ve got to play good defense when the game is on the line.”
Offensively, Louisville was solid for most of the game, putting up 42 points. The Cardinals, who rank fourth in the nation in total offense, totaled over 600 yards behind the play of quarterback Lamar Jackson and running back Reggie Bonnafon, each rushing for more than 100 yards.
“Lamar is a great competitor,” Petrino said. “His ability to throw for over 300 yards, rush for 180 was special. I really liked what we got out of Reggie Bonnafon. One of the things you really work on, and we’ve got to do this on defense, is, on every play, we always say there’s either a hammer or a nail. Someone’s either doing the hitting or being hit. And a few weeks back, we addressed that with Reggie, and Reggie really finished runs. He snapped his hips, he was the guy doing the hitting when he ran with the football. And that was really good to see.”
With five games left, the Cardinals have to improve to reach a bowl game for the eighth-straight season, and it starts with preparation for Saturday’s game at Florida State, one of the traditional NCAA powerhouses.
“We’re working hard at it,” Petrino said. “Obviously, we’re not seeing the results we want. We do have a belief in how we prepare, how we practice, and it’s been good. It’s worked over time, so, you have to stick to your beliefs and not try to have quick fixes. It’s about going out and doing things right on the practice field, doing things right in the meeting, and then carrying it over.
“Sometimes with young guys, it’s harder to carry it over from the practice field to the game field and for an extended period of time, four quarters. We did have some guys playing more reps than normal and that hurt us a little on special teams, it’s a combination of getting better.”