University of Louisville

Louisville football: Five good questions about the Cardinals

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson raced to the edge against Kentucky safety A.J. Stamps in the 2015 regular-season finale in Commonwealth Stadium. Jackson came off the bench to run for 186 yards and two touchdowns in the Cardinals 38-24 victory.
Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson raced to the edge against Kentucky safety A.J. Stamps in the 2015 regular-season finale in Commonwealth Stadium. Jackson came off the bench to run for 186 yards and two touchdowns in the Cardinals 38-24 victory. Lexington Herald-Leader

Q: Is this the year Louisville finally features a vintage Bobby Petrino offense?

A: During Bobby Petrino 1.0 (2003-06), Petrino’s U of L attacks scored 40 points or more in 31 of 50 games as the Cardinals went 41-9. Petrino 2.0 — which has coincided with U of L’s move up to the ACC the past two seasons — has featured no such explosiveness. While going 17-9, Petrino’s offenses have gone above 40 points only four times — and two of those were against FCS foes Murray State and Samford. Part of the issue the past two years has been a revolving door at quarterback, a problem Lamar Jackson is expected to end in 2016.

Q: Over a full season, can Lamar Jackson replicate his final two games of 2015?

A: Jackson electrified Louisville football with his final two performances of 2015. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound product of Boynton Beach, Fla., came off the bench with U of L trailing Kentucky 21-0 and rallied the Cards to a 38-24 win by gashing the Cats with his legs (186 yards rushing, two touchdowns). Jackson followed that up with a stellar showing in Louisville’s Music City Bowl victory over Texas A&M, hitting the Aggies with 226 yards rushing and 227 passing. Talk out of the U of L camp has been Jackson is much more in command of Petrino’s playbook as a sophomore and has refined his passing mechanics. If that chatter proves true, Jackson could be sitting on a monster season.

Q: Will the U of L offensive line step up after flailing a year ago?

A: Given how many issues Louisville had on its offensive front in 2015, it’s a minor miracle the Cardinals went 8-5. U of L surrendered a whopping 43 sacks and was victimized by 97 tackles for loss. This season, we’ll find out if the lumps taken by a youthful offensive line in 2015 will produce improvement. Ex-Lafayette lineman Tobijah Hughley, a senior, is a veteran anchor at center. Sophomore Geron Christian, a 6-foot-6, 314-pound product of Ocala, Fla., is considered to have star potential at left tackle.

Q: How reliable will the Louisville kicking game be?

A: U of L loses both place-kicker John Wallace and punter Josh Appleby from a year ago, so the Cards’ kicking is a great unknown entering 2016. At punter, Louisville signed true freshman Austin Johnson — the Desales High School starting quarterback — to a scholarship and he was expected to battle redshirt freshman walk-on Mason King (St. Xavier) for the job. At place-kicker, Austin Laszewski, a freshman preferred walk-on from Hollywood, Fla., was battling with redshirt freshman walk-on Blanton Creque (Collins High School in Shelbyville) and sophomore walk-on Evan O’Hara (Boone County).

Q: Is this the year U of L breaks through vs. Clemson and Florida State?

A: In its two years in the ACC, Louisville has been a notch below the league’s elite — Florida State and Clemson. Interestingly, the Cardinals have been far more competitive with Clemson than FSU. Two years ago, U of L lost 23-17 in Death Valley after the Cards failed to score on 4th-and-goal from the Tigers’ 2-yard-line with 21 seconds left. Last season, Louisville missed a 38-yard field goal and threw an interception in the final 2:28 of a 20-17 home loss to Clemson. Florida State, conversely, rallied to beat U of L going away (42-31) in 2014 and just beat the Cards going away (41-21) last year. For many Cards backers, the 2016 season will be defined by whether Petrino and Co. can break through against the ACC’s two big boys.

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