Can Petrino and Louisville make a run at Clemson and FSU?
|Wednesday, May 11, 2016, 8:01 AM- -|
Clemson and Florida St. are getting most of the attention when it comes to previewing the ACC’s Atlantic Division, but the Louisville Cardinals are a trendy darkhorse pick to unseat the giants in the division.
Head coach Bobby Petrino recently received a new seven-year contract from the Cardinals worth up to $31.675 million. The Cardinals went 9-4 in Petrino's first season back in 2014, then 8-5 last year, overcoming an 0-3 start to win eight of the final 10 games. That included a victory over Texas A&M in the Music City Bowl.
Louisville looks to have finally settled on a quarterback – sophomore Lamar Jackson. Jackson started seven games as a true freshman last season, passing for 1,840 yards and 12 touchdowns with eight interceptions and rushing for 960 yards and 11 TDs. He finished the season running for a Music City Bowl-record 226 yards and passing for 227 against Texas A&M.
Petrino is excited about what Jackson brings to the Cardinal offense.
“Really I'm excited about it. We embrace high expectations. We've always had them here, and certainly our players and our fans have high expectations, our administration obviously has high expectations for us. I've always felt like preseason polls and early season polls are based off how you finish the year and what you have coming back, and obviously Lamar finished the season very, very strong,” Petrino said. “He matured a lot. I thought he had a really good spring football, and the fact that he understands the offense better, he's making better decisions, and he's throwing the football with accuracy, which is something that we knew he could do. He just has to be consistent with his technique.
“He's really doing a much better job with his footwork and being on time with his drops and his sets, doing a good job with his lead shoulder and where he's getting his feet. He's always had just a great wrist. He can snap his wrist and get the ball out and has a very quick release, but I think right now he's been more consistent getting his body in the right position.”
Jackson split time at the position with Reggie Bonafon and Kyle Bolin and will compete against newcomer Jawon Pass during the fall, but Petrino said the way Jackson ended last season impressed him.
“He had a good year coming in and playing as a true freshman and performing well, going through some struggles, learning how to take care of the ball, learning how fast the game is,” he said. “I thought he really matured and grew up as the season went on. He got a little bit nicked up in the middle of the year and took a couple games off, and so basically he was getting back to full speed. He's a guy that really made some great runs in those two games, but also threw the ball deep down the field.”
He also said he was pleased with Louisville’s spring.
“We're coming off our spring game, and overall I was pleased with our spring ball. I thought offensively we improved. We improved on our passing game, and I think we have more ability to run the ball with our offensive front and our running backs' experience,” he said. “Defensively we should be another strong team. We've got a good defensive front, and our secondary intact coming back, and it was very competitive. I think that's the best thing about spring ball. It was very competitive.
“The number one thing we emphasized in spring football is individual improvement, and I think our players worked really hard on understanding technique and fundamentals and what the other side of the ball is trying to do. Excited about our coaches hitting the road in spring recruiting, and look forward to when we get back with our players in June.”