The C-J vault: This week, 2006

I got a laugh when I was cleaning in my office and ran across this story from the paper in 2006. It was in my U of L beat writer days, and the feature was about all the hand-wringing surrounding the U of L offense.

It just goes to prove that there’s always something to pick at. Bobby Petrino had just blown up at his offense during a 44-17 win over Middle Tennessee. And when the Cards went three-and-out on back-to-back drives early in the season it marked the first time in 13 GAMES that they’d been held three-and-out on two straight possessions.

Remarkable. Here’s the story I wrote, which can’t help but leave you shaking your head in retrospect.

Enormous expectations for this offense

By Eric Crawford
October 13, 2006

When it happened for the first time last Friday , University of Louisville football fans were turning to each other with a kind of smile, like you might give when you see an antique car on the road.

A three-and-out series by the Cardinals’ offense. How quaint. Remember when we used to see those here in Louisville? Young children were asking parents, “How come the Cardinals are punting the ball so soon?”

Then they got the ball back, and it happened again. Play, play, play, punt.

What is wrong with this offense?

“What the . . . ?!?” was the header of one immediate message board post.

“What are these three-and-outs of which you speak?” asked others.

Maybe it’s the need to fret about something, anything. Maybe it was watching coach Bobby Petrino come down on his offense as hard on the sideline as he has at any point during his tenure early in Friday’s 44-17 win over Middle Tennessee. Maybe it was the dissatisfaction with the offense that Petrino voiced after the game.

But there’s been some mild concern about the Card s’ offense this week, ludicrous as that sounds. There are some who can’t help but hear the little knocks and pings, even when the engine is humming along. Petrino is one of those.

Three-and-outs are rare

“The bar is very high,” the coach said. “. . . A lot of people would say we had 526 yards of offense, that’s an unbelievable game. But for us, we want to get more. Actually, we want to execute better, more consistently.”

Petrino values stats, but he doesn’t judge his offense by them. U of L leads NCAA Division I-A in scoring and total yards, but he and U of L’s players acknowledge that the machine-like quality just hasn’t been there in the past two games. And the offense just hasn’t looked the same on the road.

Perhaps now is a good time to try to illustrate just how high the bar is. U of L had back-to-back three-and-out drives against MTSU. The same thing happened in the fourth quarter of a 24-7 win at Kansas State on Sept. 23.

Before that, the last time U of L had been held to back-to-back three-and-out drives in the regular season was in its season opening victory over Kentucky — in 2005. That’s 190 drives — 13 games — in which U of L was never held to three plays and a punt on consecutive drives.

That’s the standard, with or without Michael Bush and Brian Brohm. Petrino has created a monster offense, but he’s also created monster expectations. Only 44 points against MTSU? In Petrino’s first season, U of L reached the 44-point mark once. The coach admits sometimes even he is too greedy, though he bristled on the subject of whether his team underachieved last week.

“A lot of times, I’m not happy after the game if we don’t win by a bunch,” he said. “But then you come in and see the video and see how hard your players are playing and working to execute the game plan … and you just have to balance it out when you look at the video and grade them out.”

Bearcats are no pushovers

We’re getting ready to see where the U of L offense really stands. Cincinnati coach Mark Dantonio, former defensive coordinator at Ohio State, gave the Buckeyes’ offense some first-half fits before it got going in the second half. The Bearcats, who visit Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium tomorrow, figure to be the third straight opponent to clog up U of L’s running game, making the Cardinals establish the pass first.

Petrino, who always wants to run first, said that he was too stubborn in running at MTSU. He’ll adjust. Brohm could play tomorrow. Freshman tailback Anthony Allen and his 7-yards-per-carry average may play more.

As Petrino’s offense is studied more and becomes more of a target, Cardinals fans might have to brace themselves for a few more three-and-outs.

But when your worst two-game offensive stretch in a while still yields 34 points a contest, things could be worse.


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