The Cardinals offense set a number of school records during Petrino's first tenure and if Friday night's Spring Game is an indicator, similar results can be expected this fall. The more than 27,000 fans that attended the annual event witnessed a new quarterback directing an offense loaded with talent at the skill positions and an improving offensive line.
Gardner Removes Doubt
Replacing an All-American quarterback is never easy, but sophomore Will Gardner removed doubts that he can do it successfully with his near perfect performance on Friday night.
After solidifying his spot as the first team quarterback during early days of spring practice, Gardner was comfortable directing the offense and made the proper reads and throws in the Spring Game. He completed 87% of his 37 pass attempts, throwing for 542 yards and 4 touchdowns. He displayed his accuracy and arm strength early, hitting James Quick for a 62-yard touchdown on the third play of the game.
Gardner had one incorrect read, which led to an overthrown ball landing in the hands of safety Chucky Williams. The offense would run that same play two more times in the game, with Gardner making the proper reads and connecting with a receiver for a big gain.
"He learned as the game went on," Petrino said.
Choose Your Weapon
It is common for a new quarterback to become more comfortable throwing to a favorite receiver, but the 6-foot-5, 225-pound signal-caller distributed the ball well among the many talented skill players. Gardner connected with seven different receivers, with four eclipsing the 100-yards mark.
"We have a lot of play-makers and it's hard to distribute the ball to everyone because we have so many," Gardner said. "It makes a quarterbacks job easier when have guys like that and so many of them."
The Cardinals receiving corp, highlighted by DeVante Parker, is loaded with play-makers and will make opposing defenses reconsider double-teaming the All-American. Senior Eli Rogers, who has averaged 44 receptions per season during his career, is certain is see his numbers go higher this fall. Sophomore James Quick's speed makes his anywhere on the field.
The tight ends always play an important role in a Petrino offense and that was evident in the Spring Game. Senior Gerald Christian hauled in 8 receptions for 126 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while redshirt freshman Keith Towbridge had 2 catches for 53 yards.
Improving Offensive Line
An area of emphasis this spring, the Cardinals offensive front has steadily improved during the past month of practice. The change in fundamentals and schemes being taught by offensive line coach Chris Klenakis is paying dividends.
The move of All-Conference performer Jake Smith from center to guard and inputting Tobijah Hughley at center to go along with John Miller at left guard spot and Aaron Epps and Jamon Brown as the tackles, the group has improved the running lanes and provided above average protection for Gardner.
While depth has been a concern throughout spring, that will be eased during the coming months. Ryan Mack and Abraham Garcia, both of whom have starting experience, along with the addition of junior college transfer Kelby Johnson will make the unit even stronger when fall camp opens.