Bobby Petrino's first season in his second tenure at the University of Louisville was expected to have its share of challenges as the program moved into the ACC, but multiple injuries to hit the quarterback depth chart was one that all hoped to avoid.
The Cardinal's season-opening starter Will Gardner suffered an injury the season' fourth game that temporarily sidelined him, lifting true freshman Reggie Bonnafon into the top spot on the depth chart. Following an impressive return at Clemson, Gardner suffered a season-ending injury a few weeks later, again lifting Bonnafon back into the starting position.
The injuries struggles didn't stop there, as Bonnafon would suffer a knee injury early against Kentucky, forcing third team quarterback Kyle Bolin into unexpected action. The redshirt freshman threw for over 300 yards in leading the team to a come-from-behind victory over their rivals.
Each of the three quarterbacks led the team to important victories, something that U of L offensive coordinator Garrick McGee says is a credit to the system, coaching and dedication to study and preparation.
“It was a lot that went on,” McGee said. “I think what we have as a staff, we have the confidence in our system, we really believe in the way we teach it and our kids did a really good job of in trusting what we were teaching and I think that's why we continue to get better.”
Intial concerns were that Bonnafon would miss that Cardinals Belk Bowl contest against No.13 Georgia, but his response to treatment has been positive, giving hope that the Louisville Trinity product could play on December 30.
“Reggie, on Friday, got some work in,” U of L head coach Bobby Petrino earlier this week. “He didn't take full drops, but he did a lot of throwing. He has some pain in there – it's a bone bruise in his knee. It's really going to be determined on how quickly the pain goes away. He has great movement and range of motion. He's able to run and do those type of things, but we just have to see how it plays out.
“We're encouraged that he'll be ready for the game, but we don't really know yet.”
McGee added that the coaching staff will be cautious with their preparation for Bonnafon.
“One of his strengths is that he can run, he's an athletic kid,” McGee explained. “We have to make sure he's at the point where he can run and be efficient running the football, so that he can protect himself. We don't want to put him in risk of further injury, because the off season is going to be really important for Reggie.
“We just have to see that he can get on the field and do what he naturally does, which is make plays throwing the ball, but when things break down he can sneak out and run.”
“There could more of an emphasis on certain things if Reggie is in or if Kyle is in, but these are the same plays that we were running when I played for coach way back in the day, so we're not going to change what we are doing.”
Should Bonnafon be unable to go, Bolin, who had a delayed start to the season due to surgery in the summer, will get the start and should have plenty of confidence following his performance in the 44-40 win over the Wildcats.
“I thought he did a nice job,” Petrino said. “He was very calm. He did a nice job delivering the ball on time and getting it out of his hand. He made mistakes, which you are going to make when you first go out there, but he made plays that made up for them, so I thought it was a good performance by him.”
The Cardinals will face Georgia at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., on Dec., 30 in the Belk Bowl. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 pm and it will be televisied on ESPN.