Louisville seeks badly needed victory after 0-3 start
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) An unsettled quarterback situation. Poor blocking. Shaky defense and special teams.
Those are among many reasons Louisville is 0-3 for the first time since 1984 and facing unusual adversity for a program that lost just three games from 2012-13 with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and didn't sustain its third defeat last season until late October.
And while these Cardinals are younger by comparison, few envisioned this start.
''It's something we're not very used to,'' second-year coach Bobby Petrino said Monday. ''It's a new experience, but what I know is you keep working hard, keep a good attitude and good things will happen.''
The Cardinals hope Saturday's non-league home game against Football Championship Subdivision member Samford (2-1) provides that needed victory after a front-loaded early schedule featuring then-No. 6 Auburn, now unranked, and No. 11 Clemson. Then again, that might be asking a lot considering Louisville has often played catch-up and struggled to hold the few leads it had.
Louisville rallied four times against Houston before giving up the lead for good late, and a 10-7 third-quarter edge against Clemson in its Atlantic Coast Conference opener soon became a 20-17 deficit and loss No. 3. The Cardinals had chances to tie both contests late, but normally steady senior kicker John Wallace missed field goals each time - one was blocked - and is just 1 of 3 inside 39 yards.
''When you're not having the success that you usually have,'' Petrino said of Wallace, ''you have to work hard to get the confidence back. We're going to need him.''
What Louisville needs most is stability at quarterback, where sophomore Kyle Bolin has followed Reggie Bonnafon and freshman Lamar Jackson as a starter. Petrino has even used Bonnafon and Jackson together at times for a different look, but the moves have done little for an offense averaging 357.3 yards per game, including just 109 rushing.
Petrino didn't name his starter for Samford, but indications are Bolin could get the nod.
Taking most of the heat is an offensive line that has yielded 11 sacks and created few running lanes for ball carriers. Though Petrino mixed things up in the second half of last week's Atlantic Coast Conference opener against Clemson, Traveon Samuel's 100-yard kickoff return was Louisville's only TD in the final 30 minutes.
Sophomore running back L.J. Scott said the backfield deserves some blame for the offensive struggles and added, ''there have been some runs where we've made bad reads. We've just got to get on the same page.''
Petrino hinted this summer there could be some adjustment after Louisville lost 26 players including 10 drafted by the NFL. Every unit was affected - particularly a defense that had to replace seven starters - but the Cardinals believed the remaining regulars would step up with added responsibility.
Pass coverage has provided one of the few bright spots, with junior safety Josh Harvey-Clemons making two of Louisville's six interceptions. Everything else is a work in progress as opponents are averaging 206 yards rushing per game and converting 43 percent of their third-down chances.
''We've been hitting guys at the line of scrimmage,'' junior nose tackle DeAngelo Brown said, '' but we've been letting them fall forward.''
Despite the frustrating start, players said Petrino has shown patience but made clear that improvement is necessary. The good news is nine remaining games leave plenty of chances for a turnaround as the Cardinals pursue a sixth straight bowl bid and contend in the ACC's Atlantic Division.
It all starts with getting that first win.
Said Scott, ''There's a sense of urgency that we all have to grasp.''