Still fix-up time for offense
Louisville gets another chance to fix its offense Saturday, but time is running short if the Cardinals want to be near peak efficiency before heading into the toughest part of their schedule.
After hosting Wake Forest (2-1) Saturday afternoon (3:30 p.m., ESPNU), UofL will play four of its next six games on the road, including Clemson in Death Valley and Notre Dame in South Bend, dangerous trips to Syracuse and Boston College, plus a home game against top-ranked Florida State.
In their last appearance, a 34-3 win over a woeful FIU team ranked 160th in the Sagarin Ratings, the Cards did little to ease the mind of coach Bobby Petrino, who admitted to frustration concerning Louisville's offense during his weekly press conference Monday.
The uncertain status of starting quarterback Will Gardner, and true freshman backup Reggie Bonnafon's inability to practice all last week due to the death of his father, doesn't help matters.
Gardner hurt his knee in the third quarter against FIU and left the locker room wearing a protective boot. Petrino said Monday that Gardner's knee is sore and swollen and that his availability for Saturday's game could be "day to day."
Against FIU, the offense struggled for the second straight game despite a change in the offensive line, where Petrino moved Jake Smith back to center from right guard and inserted redshirt freshman Skylar Lacy in his place.
But that didn't get the hoped-for result -- UofL allowed four sacks, nine tackles for loss and had four false starts -- and now Petrino says he is uncertain about the offensive line's makeup for Wake.
"Offensively, we're not where we want to be yet," Petrino says. "We're not there yet to be able to step on the field and execute at a high rate and go down and move the ball and score all the time. We've just not shown it. A guy makes a mistake on one play. A different guy makes a mistake on another. We miss a block on a third play. We don't read it right on the fourth play.
"I remember back when I was a young coach, I would tell my dad something like that and he would say, 'Yeah, that's when you're not very good.' We're not very good on offense right now. That's how I feel, not where I want to be for sure. We've got to get all 11 guys to do their jobs right every single play for us to be able to execute and do things the way we want them done.
"We didn't play great on the offensive front. We protected the quarterback at times to throw the ball down the field. The way we're going to continue to work that (OL lineup) is see how we do in practice. I think the competition did help us in practice, and I think we did get better, so we've got to continue to have that competition in practice. We need to be more consistent on offense."
Asked what Petrino hoped to see out of his offensive line against Wake, he said, "Just continue to get better on our technique and our fundamentals, effort, communication. We had a couple of communication breakdowns, so we have to take charge and make sure we get the communication right."
Aside from its protection problems, UofL produced a mere 12 yards rushing. Petrino attributed much of that to what he called FIU's "kamikaze defense" that stacked as many as nine players in the box and dared the Cards to try and run. Still, Petrino indicated UofL should have been able to generate more rushing yardage.
"When you look at the first two games of the year, you feel like, 'Hey, we can line up and run the ball and run it on anybody,'" he said. "Then I feel like we took a little step backwards in the last couple of weeks. We're just not executing at a high rate. We're not focusing enough. We're not using our technique enough. We're not playing hard and fast enough. It's just all kinds of things, and obviously it's my job to make sure we get there."
Besides the obvious, Petrino noted that an overlooked downside of the offense's woes is that it is taking away from the outstanding performance by UofL's defense.
"I always worry a little bit about taking away from how well the defense is playing, because I'm so used to going and scoring points," he says. "Man, I'm telling you, our defense is playing really well. I don't want to overshadow our defense by our offense's lack of not being able to score 60 points a game."
The lone bright spot offensively in the win over FIU was the play of sophomore wide receiver James Quick, who caught touchdown passes of 37 and 74 yards and had another reception for 39 yards to account for 150 of his team's 291 yards.
Of course, UofL is playing without its biggest offensive weapons, wide receiver DeVante Parker, who is recovering from foot surgery. But Petrino seems uncertain about how much Parker would help ease the current situation, which defies an easy solution.
"That's (how much Parker's absence has hurt the offense) hard to say because that doesn't affect how we block this or the decision we make here," Petrino says. "He might hide some of that at times because of his ability to make big plays, but we're still not where we need to be."
And not much time to get there before the schedule heats up.