This week for the Q&A we’re chatting with CardinalStrong of the Louisville SBNation blog, Card Chronicle. We cover a wide array of topics, and he also gives those of you traveling to the game a plethora of eating and drinking recommendations a little bit further down. We are definitely passionate about the latter of those things around here, especially this season. So sit back, stop doing productive things at work, and get learned on the Murder Birds. You can check out my answers to their questions over at Card Chronicle here.
1) So the first handful of things that come to mind when folks around the country hear the name “Bobby Petrino” are almost entirely negative, the school is weathering the fallout from the Papa Johns debacle with their owner and Lousiville booster John Schnatter, and then that doesn’t even include the basketball violations... So how is the athletic department doing handling this myriad of issues and negative press at this point? Do you feel like the image and name of Louisville athletics have been affected by everything in the national sense? What kinds of things is the school actively doing to repair / rebrand?
Anyone who openly thinks that the University of Louisville hasn’t taken an image hit in the last few years is either delusional or so indoctrinated into the school they have been blinded by reality. The basketball issue is obviously the catalyst for many ‘hot takes’ the last few seasons, and the recent Papa John fiasco was an unfortunate incident that was tied to the school but consisted of no wrong doing from anyone at the university. John Schattner’s ties to the governing board were severed and the stadium name was changed within a day of the event being made public, BUT there is no denying that the perception of bringing back Bobby Petrino was going to turn some folks off in the media, in the fanbase, and even inside the offices at the University. I can discuss that further later on.
In regards to the “repair/rebrand” Louisville has done a good bit of housekeeping in the year. Before anything else they had to get fans and donors to buy back into what they were doing. There was a huge trust issue, rightfully so, and they needed to make moves to change that. They pulled in an interim AD with ties to the city and the school (Vince Tyra) who recently won the full-time job and has done amazing in connecting with the fan base and eliminating the walls of ‘old vs. new’. They hired a new University President in Dr. Neeli Bendapudi who has been as transparent as any fan or casual observer could ask for while taking hard-line stances on issues without fear of attaching her name to it (it was her call alone to strip ‘Papa Johns’ from the stadium 24 hours after news broke), and they made a basketball hire (Chris Mack) that has brought back energy to the program that was missing that fire the last couple years and was missing a personal connection with the fan base for the last decade or more. On a national level I think many respected the decision to fire both a long tenured and respected Coach in Rick Pitino and a local hero of sorts in former AD Tom Jurich. They were both really good at their jobs and the easy solution would have been to pull an Urban Meyer, or Joe Pa, or Sean Miller, etc, etc…but they didn’t. They fired them. Cutting ties and moving forward with a clean record is the only thing that will change the national perception and frankly that just takes time. I think they have the right people in place to shift the narrative but I’m on the inside looking out, as a fan, so someone else will need to fill me in four or five years down the road if they’re doing a good job.
2) How much leeway does Petrino have with the fanbase, excluding off-field incidents? What’s the temperature of his seat if Louisville misses a bowl this season?
To get back to the question above in regards to bringing him back. Why? Because winning football games matters. Year one of the ACC was huge for UofL back in 2014 and they couldn’t risk falling flat out the gate and setting the tone for the next 3-5 years as being a mediocre team. You re-hire Petrino with all his baggage and all the perception hits because he can almost without question get you to eight wins every year, and they had to get someone who could pick right up where Charlie Strong left off. If you go hire an unproven commodity and tank for two or three years Louisville doesn’t have the tradition or the history to go and build things back into a Top 25 program one or two seasons later. A bad coaching hire could have impacted the program for close to a decade. It was a huge risk with equally huge impacts on the future of athletics. Whether I agreed with it or not, I understood the hire. Fast forward to 2018 and Petrino is experiencing something he’s never dealt with before. In 13 years of being a head coach Petrino has only finished with less than eight wins one time, and that was year one at Arkansas(5-7). I have to be honest, I don’t see five wins this year for Louisville, meaning this will likely be his worst season ever…and folks are not happy. As I said, you accept the baggage and issues with Petrino because he can win football games but if he isn’t winning, well, that’s not a great trade off.
The problem this year, different than seasons past, is that the defense isn’t getting the heat for the issues in the win-loss column but it’s the side of the ball that “offensive genius” Coach Petrino is intimately involved in. The proverbial eggs were all placed in one basket this year (QB-Jawon Pass) and he just hasn’t lived up the hype in most areas. I don’t fault the young man for everything but poor decisions, bad timing, inconsistent play on the line, inconsistent play from the wideouts, no real number one back…that phase of the game is simply not good this year for Louisville and that was not something people signed up for in bringing Petrino back. If the Cards lose, we want to lose 48-42 or 35-30. Taking an ‘L’ from Virginia in a 27-3 game or barely beating Western Kentucky 20-17 isn’t going to cut it. Fans are mad right now and many are ready to pull the plug on the BP 2.0 experiment BUT I doubt it happens. Petrino is due to have a bad year and as long as things are not a literal dumpster fire at the end of the season Tyra will give him a chance to coach his young talent and avoid a massive buyout (over $12 million!) in the process.
3) Unsurprisingly, there’s been a pretty steep dropoff in QB play from Heisman-winning Lamar Jackson to Jawon Pass... which is an excellent name for a QB. What’s been the main source of Pass’ struggles this year? Is it on him or are the people around him not giving him the chance to succeed?
Yes and Yes. You watch a decent amount of Louisville tape this year and you can clearly see there are multiple opportunities where Jawon Pass was put in a position to succeed and he failed. Missing open receivers, taking horrible sacks (multiple times), and being so slow on his reads that he telegraphs his passes for easy interceptions doesn’t work well in a Petrino offense…actually, it doesn’t work well in any offense. Things were so rough that Jawon was pulled Week 2 and Week 3 in favor of Malik Cunningham (back up dual threat QB) who didn’t exactly light up the score board either. I think Jawon is the man moving forward but up until last week my performance review had him firmly in the “bad” column. I might contemplate bumping him up to “not good” after a decent showing against FSU.
Conversely, he isn’t getting the support on that side of the ball many fans and coaches expected to see heading into 2018. I spent all summer over at ‘Card Chronicle’ engineering the hype train on our offensive line and they have just not performed at a high level all season. Missing effort and enthusiasm is frustrating but not knowing the plays or not knowing where your blocking assignment is will eventually drive me insane. In addition, the wideout group was considered a Top 3 unit in the conference pre-season and they have been underwhelming most of the year as well lacking separation from the DBs, multiple dropped balls, etc, the whole show just ain’t pretty. Oh, and five games in we still don’t have a number one running back. But other than all that, everything is great, Josh.
(If you’re traveling to Louisville this weekend, maybe check on our friend CardinalStrong here and perhaps buy him a strong beverage of some sort.)
4) Why does your bird mascot have teeth?
So you’re one of those people who just willy-nilly believe whatever these “scientists” tell ya, huh? Just out here trusting all these so called zoologists like they ain’t never lied right to your face. You ever held a bird in your hand, Josh? Pulled up the beak of a Cardinal? Huh, Josh? Just cause you ain’t seen it don’t make it untrue!! Besides, I ain’t never seen no bee with wristbands!
(I know it’s a different sport, but I still have nothing but hate in my heart for all things “Cardinals” after the in-field fly game.)
5) As a school that has recently switched to Adidas as our uniform provider, how have you guys felt about your uniform designs? With regards to Louisville, I’ve been hit or miss on the ones I’ve seen. I’ve really liked the grey and black designs they did for you guys, but thought the helmets with the whole bird on them looked awful.
When we signed the deal with adidas they pitched the concept to Louisville that they would be their flagship school. An Oregon equivalent for the Nike brand, if you will. Multiple unis, multiple combinations, vibrant, exciting, you get the picture. Grading their partnership on uniforms alone…I’d probably go 7 out of 10. They’ve had some great concepts, including the red chrome helmets for football and adding a few minor touches like ‘wings’ on the sleeves and the old English ‘L’ on the pant legs…but they have had some misses as well. The basketball uniforms have had a cummerbund look for multiple years and a few baseball unis have had a throwback vibe that I just wasn’t buying into. With that said, what I will not tolerate is any ‘Murderbird’ uniform slander. Frankly because I fear that thing will come hunt me down if I even show a hint of disrespect.
(Don’t click on that last link. It’s truly terrifying.)
6) If the Cardinals are going to stop Georgia Tech’s flexbone, who on defense is going to have to step up?
In my opinion Louisville has a very long day on defense if Tabarius Peterson (LB/DE), Dorian Etheridge (LB), and PJ Blue (LB) don’t do their jobs. In my simple brain the key to stopping the flexbone is knowing your assignments on each play. While BVG may have a few more tricks up his sleeve (goodness, I hope so) the simply approach is that your end, which in Louisville’s case is typically Peterson playing up on the line, is going to be responsible for setting the edge on a dive and hauling his butt outside on a pitch. His trigger will be what the right guard is doing and he will be asked to make a lot of plays outside the hash. In addition, dives or run between the tackles will rely heavily on Etheridge and Blue shedding second level blocks and identifying what gap the ball carrier is targeting. If Etheridge and Blue can’t make open filed tackles and/or if Peterson doesn’t have the speed to cover the pitch…it will not be pretty out there for the Cards.
7) What matchup on either side of the ball gives you the most concern heading into this game?
The one I just talked about it. I hate the flexbone, and if I was asked to defend it for a full 60 minutes I may lose my mind first, but shortly after I would lose my stamina. I think the Cards can absolutely defend what GT is throwing at them early but what makes me nervous is how those bodies are holding up late in the game. Do we have the athleticism and the depth to prevent a play that went for 3 yards five times in a row from turning into a 60 yard touchdown because the defense is gassed. This goes back to what I hit on in our Q&A yesterday with the offense scoring 30 plus points. Not only do they need to ring the bell to keep the game close, but I think they need to be on the field long enough that the defense has an opportunity to recover. Louisville is currently one of the worst teams in the country in 3rd down conversions (35.8%), and that stat is so low because they are also one of the worst teams in the country at getting into a manageable third down. Right now 61.8% of all Louisville’s third downs are considered 3rd and long (7 yards or more) If the offense can’t stay on the field the defense has no shot of having any legs in crunch time.
8) For those of us making the trek to Louisville, where should we be eating and drinking before / after the game? Our fight song is entirely about drinking, and Louisville seems like an excellent town for such things.
If you came to Louisville for the sole purpose of drinking alcohol, you would likely leave a very happy person. Known mostly for the wide array of bourbons in the region, Louisville also has its fair share of microbreweries for the beer fans as well. You can start as early as you like and keep going as late as most folks can handle (Louisville bars are open until 4am). I always hesitate giving out specific restaurants or bars as someone will undoubtedly call me an idiot or curse the name of my family for omitting their favorite spot but, hey…you only live once. Here we go…
Tailgate bar: There aren’t a ton of places within walking distance of the stadium, but if you want the typical sports bar approach there is a Beef O’ Bradys within a stone’s throw from the action, and right down the street is a spot called JB’s Pub if you want a more local flavor with tons of beer and alcohol selection. The honest answer is that 95% of the people are tailgating. Louisville has always had a large tailgate community and while Friday night games are tough (especially with a 2-3 team) they’ll be plenty of folks out there who would love to welcome you into their party and hand you a cold beverage. Southern hospitality isn’t dead.
Sit down restaurant close to stadium: You can likely find a seat at either spot I mentioned above if you get there early enough but if you want to check out some local memorabilia and get a slightly “fancier” dining experience the ‘Cardinal Hall of Fame Café’ isn’t a bad spot either. They have more comfort food than bar food but plenty of options and once again within walking distance.
Hole in the wall spot: Although its reputation grows during the Derby each year ‘Wagner’s Pharmacy’ is another spot close to Cardinal Stadium where you can get a home-style breakfast or lunch plate on Friday or Saturday. Nothing fancy but a decent choice to start the day.
Tourist stuff: Churchill downs isn’t running right now but you can still get a Derby Museum Tour, Louisville Slugger Museum is a must for out of town folks, and for those interested in that sort of thing the Bourbon Trail Tour makes for a fun afternoon. If beer is more your thing you could have a full day in the city hitting ‘Against The Grain’, ‘Gravely Brewing’, ‘GoodWood Brewing’, and ‘Akasha Brewing’ just to name a few.
After the game spots: If you want to hit the bar scene after the game you can check out the ‘Nulu’ area on Market Street which has plenty of relaxed spots to hang out, Baxter Ave around the Grinstead intersection which is more of the college/early 20’s crowd, or if you’re feeling frisky ‘4th Street Live’ is something everyone should experiencing at least once in their life..I’ll leave it at that.
9) And finally, how do you see this game going? Who wins and why?
I’ve been going back and forth on this all week. I picked Florida State last week in hopes that the players would feel personally disrespected by my non-belief and subsequently extend their FSU win streak to three…but that did not happen. I told you above this game made me nervous when I thought Louisville had an 8-5 team before the year started but now that they’re sitting at 2-3 I don’t know what to expect. The offense without question played their most complete game last Saturday and that was with Pass missing plenty of open guys and the running game just starting to pick up with Hassan Hall getting more touches. I think the offense can keep things going against a decent GT defense; the big question for me is what happens on the other side of the ball. My gut says Louisville contains the offense for most of the first half maybe giving up a couple touchdowns on blown coverage and we go to half with a 14-14 or 17-14 score. As the second half wears on I think we get a little scoreboard ping pong with both offenses starting to click. I’ll say my man Blanton Creque (K) knocks an eventual game winner through the sticks late in the fourth quarter and the Cards escape 38-35. Hot Tip: For the gamblers out there, the O/U on me cursing the flexbone during the game Friday night is currently at 8.5. TAKE THE OVER! Trust me.
Thanks again to Cardinal Strong for taking the time to answer all these questions for us this week. Safe travels if you’re heading to Louisville this weekend. A city known for bourbon and baseball bats can certainly be nothing but a good time.