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Five Good Minutes: Talking Louisville Cardinals Football With Card Chronicle

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NCAA Football: Louisville at Boston College Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Make sure to head to CardChronicle.com to check out Keith Wynne who was gracious enough to talk about today’s game.

Lamar Jackson still gives Boston College fans nightmares after the epic thrashing he gave the Eagles last year. How has he changed as a quarterback since last year? And how is he supporting cast?

Bobby Petrino spent this summer talking up how he would have Lamar Jackson under center and more focused on passing as opposed to running. One of those things came true. Jackson hasn’t been running nearly as much as he did last year. The designed runs are still happening but they don’t seem to be called as often. He also hasn’t been under center any more than he was before so I’m not totally sure what Petrino’s plan is there.

On the other hand, Jackson has been much better in the pocket and his accuracy has really improved. He’s also improved his decision making and takes the easy throws over forced ones more. He still gets a little flustered against the blitz and other pressure but his legs typically help him out there. It’s been really nice to see him stand tall in the pocket and find his second and third read. He hasn’t been as accurate down the field but I think that’s due to those plays being covered well.

His supporting cast has played pretty well. Dez Fitzpatrick already has six touchdown catches and he can play in the slot or outside. Jaylen Smith is a game-time decision but he is the most complete receiver on the team. He would bring back the deep threat that they’ve been missing for a few games. The running game is a mystery at this point. Petrino has abandoned the running game in each game this season and three running backs are now down with injuries. Reggie Bonnafon moved to running back from receiver this summer and has done a solid job. Louisville also gets redshirt freshman Dae Williams back from a torn ACL in the spring. He was the likely starter this year before his injury.

I read on your site earlier that Louisville struggles against the deep ball, though I doubt Daz knows that and will have Anthony Brown throw no more than 2-3 deep passes. How does the defense do against draws up the middle and passes that go three yards past the line of scrimmage?

Louisville’s defense has been a constant source of frustration for fans and even Bobby Petrino himself. Louisville traded defensive coordinators with Mississippi State and we definitely haven’t gotten the good end of the deal so far. Peter Sirmon runs a 3-3-5/4-2-5 alignment like Todd Grantham did but he doesn’t rely on pressure at all. It’s a very vanilla defense that doesn’t really match the personnel.

Sirmon typically keeps things simple with two linebackers in the middle and a hybrid nickel/outside linebacker covering the slot or tight end. The run defense has been pretty solid outside of the Clemson game. NC State was able to run pretty well late in the game but they didn’t get much early on before the defense wore down a bit. I think that Jon Hilliman and AJ Dillon will be a big test for the defense, especially without senior middle linebacker Stacy Thomas who is out with an injury. UofL might be starting two true freshman in the middle Saturday.

The pass defense for Louisville is one of the worst in the country. They are allowing 340 yards per game against power five teams. That is the worst number among power five programs. They played their corners off in coverage for 5 games and allowed a ton of short passes to be completed over and over again. Against State last week they played a lot more press and they got beat repeatedly. The lack of pressure on the quarterback is a big issue. It’s allowing quarterbacks to sit comfortably and deliver strikes. The corners aren’t helping by not playing the ball in the air when they have a chance, either.

BC likes to punt the ball a lot, it was actually part of their gameplan against Clemson. Fortunately BC does a good job with the punting game. How is Louisville's special teams this year?

Louisville fans couldn’t be happier with our kicker Blanton Creque. He’s hit all nine of his field goals this year and looks to have extended his range this offseason. Mason King is solid as a punter. He had a really good freshman year last season and half of his kicks are either being fair caught or hitting inside the 20. King was also named a team captain so I think the team overall takes special teams seriously.

The Cards haven’t been as good at returns or covering kickoffs this year. They have one long kick return from Seth Dawkins but mostly they end up around the 20 or so. They’re ranked 127th in average field position to give you a feel for how bad it is. They’ve missed Jaire Alexander as the punt returner. He’d been out with a knee injury until last week. He’s supposed to be 100% but I’m not sure if he will return punts or not. If he does, that improves the chances for a big return by a lot. He had a big return for a touchdown last year against FSU and averaged 10.5 a return for the year. They’ve also allowed some big kickoff returns. UNC took one back to the house and NC State had a long return last week.

Harold Landry and Zach Allen are two of BC's bright spots this year and can cause a lot of damage up front. How is Louisville's offensive line this year.

The jury is still out on the offensive line. It’s definitely improved from last year, but they couldn’t really get worse so that’s not saying much. Louisville has three new starters this year and all of them have independently been better than their predecessor. True freshman tackle Mekhi Becton graded out as the best freshman in the country through last week by PFF. Redshirt freshman Robbie Bell has had some big time struggles against powerful linemen but he has improved just about each week. Kenny Thomas is a veteran that played a good amount two years ago. He’s been really good so far this year at guard.

The two returners are Geron Christian at tackle and Lukyuis McNeil at guard. Christian had a nightmare game last week against Bradley Chubb. He was beat a few times and flagged as well. Christian is the best player on the line so that was a surprise. McNeil hasn’t played well at all in my opinion. He has moved from guard to tackle and is back at home as a guard but he is getting beat a lot and doesn’t get to his blocks well enough. All of these guys are very good run blockers and it’s obvious to just about everyone but Petrino it seems. If he decides to start running the ball they would be much better off.

I can't speak for everyone, but most BC fans have no faith they are going to win this game. How bad is it going to be in your opinion?

I tweeted this the other day:

This year has been so weird for UofL football that I really don’t know what to expect this weekend. Louisville hasn’t played a complete game since the BC game last season. I could see this being a blowout or another game where Louisville gets in their own way too many times and BC takes advantage. Here are a few things that worry me about Louisville that go in BC’s favor:

  • Louisville could be starting three true freshmen on defense. They rotate another true freshman in at saftey, too.
  • Louisville has turned the ball over at least once in 40 of their last 45 games. That includes two pick-sixes this year.
  • Christian and Becton couldn’t handle Bradley Chubb last week. I don’t have high expectations with Landry and Allen coming to town.
  • Bobby Petrino has refused to run the ball and now he has few options to actually do that.
  • Louisville has trailed in the fourth quarter of every game against a power five team (plus Houston) since the BC game last year.
  • Louisville’s pass defense has made every quarterback look better than they actually are. UNC’s quarterbacks completed nearly 75% of their passes. Kelly Bryant looked like DeShaun Watson at times. Ryan Finley wasn’t pressured on any throw he made all game. Also, 9 different receivers have caught their longest reception of the year against UofL. It’s very bad and Steve Addazio and Scott Loeffler should go after it.

I just don’t trust this team to do what you would expect them to do at all. While I don’t think they will lose this game, I don’t go into any game thinking they will win or win big any more. Louisville has better athletes and better coaches but one could argue that the gap isn’t that wide outside of Lamar Jackson. Which is why the expectations are what they are in the first place. so that keeps other teams in the game if Jackson is having an off day or if Petrino doesn’t let him run. That’s why they barely beat Purdue and UNC to start the year.