While looking spectacular in wins over Miami, FIU and Murray State and much less so in a loss at Virginia, head coach Bobby Petrino still appears to be looking for an identity for his youthful Cardinals in his first year back in the Bluegrass.
After Saturday’s struggle against perennial ACC bottom feeder Wake Forest, Petrino still appears to have his hands full. On the bright side, so does the vaunted Louisville defense.
Senior defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin had three of the team’s eight sacks to lead a Cardinal defense that also nabbed three interceptions and held Wake Forest to 100 total yards, including an astounding negative-22 on the ground.
“It was a struggle,” said Petrino. “We had to battle real hard. I’m very proud of our defense. Our defense is playing at a real high level and was able to make a lot of big plays. Offensively, we kept killing ourselves.”
The big plays kept Louisville out of big trouble, as linebacker James Burgess picked off an errant John Wolford throw in the end zone to thwart a Demon Deacon drive in the second quarter. The pick set up a 5 play, 80-yard drive that saw 4th string running back Brandon Radcliff rumble to the end zone from 29 yards out.
Repeated penalties, missed field goals and dropped passes plagued the Red and Black attack, though, and countered any hope of the Petrino Air Raid many have come to expect in 2014. True freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon performed admirably in his first start as the Cardinal signal caller, completing 50% of his passes. He did however have a part in three fumbles, one in the end zone that gave Wake Forest a touchdown and an early lead.
But when the game was on the line, it was Radcliff and Bonnafon who put the beleaguered offense on their backs. A fantastic speed-option play called for the freshman picked up a huge 3rd down conversion early in the fourth quarter. That led to Radcliff’s second touchdown, this one from 16 yards out that gave Louisville the lead for good. Bonnafon then hit tight end Gerald Christian for a 45 yard gain on a bootleg pass that led to John Wallace’s 31-yard field goal. The kick would give the Cardinals a little breathing room and the defense took over from there.
“I would hope that we’re a new team every week,” Petrino said. “We’ve been battling some injuries and we’re still a work in progress. Thank God we have a great defense because it’s allowing us to get better offensively.”
The jury is still out on whether or not the Louisville offense will come around. Gardner has been listed as “day-to-day” with his injury and Bonnafon has shown flashes of brilliance under center, especially with his legs. The real question is, how long can Petrino keep relying on the defense while his offense matures into the well-oiled machine he has been accustomed to.