In anticipation of Friday night’s ACC opener, CuseNation.com reached out to CardinalsAuthority.com’s Michael McCammon to answer five questions about the Louisville Cardinals.
Q: Who will play quarterback against Syracuse and what do they bring to the table?
Michael McCammon: True freshman Reggie Bonnafon is expected to make his second consecutive start when Louisville visits Syracuse on Friday night. Sophomore Will Gardner continues to recover from a knee injury suffered on a late hit in a blowout victory over Florida International two weeks ago.
After seeing limited action in two prior contests, the injury to Gardner thrust Bonnafon into his first starting role on Saturday against Wake Forest. While he looked like a rookie at times, he also had the composure and ability to make plays. He finished with 206 passing yards and 46 yards on the ground in the Cardinals 20-10 win over the Demon Deacons.
What Bonnafon lacks in experience – he only started one year on the high school level – he makes up in maturity and pure skill. A four-star prospect at Louisville Trinity High School, the 6-foot-3, 206-pound Bonnafon played in an offensive scheme similar to that employed by U of L head coach Bobby Petrino. His ability to feel the rush and escape resulted in multiple positive for the Cardinals last Saturday. He was a high school teammate of former U.S. Army All-American wide receiver James Quick.
Q: With Parker out, who are the skill position weapons on offense that could give Syracuse some problems?
McCammon: Senior wide receiver Eli Rogers leads the Cardinals with 22 catches, while sophomore James Quick's 16 yards per reception is tops on the team. Quick, who will also see time returning punts, has the speed to change a short pass into a lengthy touchdown reception.
Louisville's running attack is deep and Bobby Petrino's philosophy of feeding the hot hand continues. Dominique Brown's 286 yards is tops on the team, but the recent trend has gone the direction of sophomore Brandon Radcliff. Making his first career start against Wake Forest, Radcliff rushed for 129 yards and 2 touchdowns on 17 carries.
Louisville's tight ends are always a threat to make a big play. Senior Gerald Christian is third on the team with 15 catches, two of those for touchdowns. Freshman Charles Standberry has just three career receptions, but two were for scores.
Bonnafon's continued development, both in the passing and running game, is great news for the Cardinals and a break out game against the Orange wouldn't be much of a surprise.
Q: Why did Louisville struggle with Wake Forest last week and is this cause for concern?
McCammon: Consistency and turnovers. The one constant the past few weeks with the Cardinals offense has been its inability to sustain some consistency and protect the football. U of L has drawn so many penalties (35) that the Cardinals rank among the nation's most penalized, that when coupled with 9 lost fumbles, most of which involved the quarterback, have promising offensive series have ended prematurely.
The Cardinals lost three fumbles against the Demon Deacons. The most costly came in the third quarter when a Bonnafon miscue at the Cardinals own goal line resulted in Wake Forest's lone touchdown. Additionally, U of L was flagged 11 times in the 20-10 victory.
Despite the many self-inflicted wounds, the Cardinals still gained 421 yards, including 248 on the ground, against a defense that ranked 21st in the nation entering the game.
Q: How has the Cardinals defense performed this season? Are they better against the run or pass?
McCammon: A new coaching staff, the installation of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme defense and the loss of multiple personal to the NFL did create some initial concern about how the Cardinals would perform this fall. Those concerns quickly have proven to be for naught, as U of L's defense has been its strength through five games.
The Cardinals are proving difficult to pass or run on.
The Louisville secondary likes to go for the big play. Senior cornerback Charles Gaines lead the team with 5 interceptions a season ago, while first-year starting safety Gerod Holliman's 6 picks this season leads the nation. The Cardinals are first in the nation against run, giving up just 58 yards an outing, and rank first in the ACC it total defense.
Senior linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin leads the team with 4 sacks, while 8 others have also reached the quarterback at least once this season. The Cardinals 19 team sacks is the third highest total in the nation.
Q: Before the season, there were rumblings that Bobby Petrino was not putting himself on a favorable light with his players. Were those accurate? Where do things stand now?
McCammon: When Bobby Petrino was introduced as the Cardinals next head coach in January, those within the school and program, as well as those on the outside, braced an onslaught of bad publicity.
The reality of the expected news cycle was smaller than anticipated and the grumblings reported by Sports Illustrated proved to be “laughable” and unfounded.
Petrino has long been described as a players coach and the support that he received from former players – both at Louisville and elsewhere – played a role in the decision to bring him back.