Bobby Petrino is a reckless dude. Ask Arthur Blank, Jeff Long, or his motorcycle insurance provider.
Knowing Bobby's penchant for risk taking, his play calling on the first play of the game didn't surprise me. It didn't surprise the Auburn defense either.
You gotta have brass ones to script a play that gives your freshman QB the bombs away green light the first time he touches the ball in his college career. Say what you will about that decision as a coach, but any good script writer knows the need for foreshadowing in his work. After two red zone meltdowns under Reggie Bonaffon, one resulting in a missed FG and the other a fumbled handoff that was housed to put Auburn up 14-0, the true protagonist of this story emerged.
Jackson took the reigns from Bonnafon after the botched 2nd quarter hand-off and never relinquished. Petrino said that Bonnafon looked "tired" when reporters asked about the switch. Maybe Bobby was just "tired" of seeing a kid he didn't recruit run his offense.
Right before the end of the half, the true freshman dual threat QB would lead the Cards' down the field in a two minute drill. With time on the clock to run a quick hit to the sideline Petrino elected to kick a 61 yard field goal instead. This was a somewhat questionable decision in a clock management scenario, and it wouldn't be the last. The kick fell just short and Louisville went into the locker room down 17-0.
After the opening drive of the second half all hope seemed to be lost after Auburn went up 24-0. Gus Malzahn's offense dazzled in a methodical, 7 play 75 yard drive capped off by a 33 yard TD strike from Jeremy Johnson to Ricardo Louis.
Then a sliver of light broke through the storm. The 4 star freshman recruit from Boynton Beach High in South Florida led Louisville down field for the Cards' first points, a 43 yard John Wallace FG.
On the Tigers' next drive, Jeremy Johnson threw his 3rd Heisman campaign crushing interception of the day to Trumaine Washington.
Louisville captured the momentum and started driving down the field after the pick. On the ensuing drive Jackson converted a 3rd and four with his legs darting for 6 yards and a first down. Brandon Ratcliffe rumbled for 14 yards on second down and on the next play Lamar Jackson did this to someone's child on national TV:
Down by 14 Jackson engineered a 3:43, 11 play, 75 yard drive capped by a Brandon Ratcliffe two-yard TD run. Jackson completed 3 out of 4 passes for 24 yards while rushing 3 times for 26 on the Drive.
The Cards' defense, which held Auburn's offense to its lowest yardage total under Gus Malzahn, forced a three-and-out on Auburn's next drive and the offense got the ball back down 14 with 5 minutes left on the clock.
Jackson went right back to work connecting with fellow Florida freshman, 6'6" Devante Peete, for an explosive 36 yard completion to the War Eagle 46. The offense moved deep into Tiger territory before being faced with a critical 4th and 7.
Then this happened:
Unfortunately for the L1C4 crowd, that is the way this one would end.
After Louisville failed to recover the on-side kick, their defense appeared primed to force a Tigers' punt. A holding penalty on an apparent 1st down pushed the Tigers back 10 yards forcing a 3rd and 19.
That's when things got weird. In his confusion, Petrino, negligently burned a timeout because the refs told him that the clock would still run after the penalty. What Bobby failed to understand was that the play clock would have been set at 25 seconds for Auburn, not the full 40. Had Petrino not called his final TO there, Louisville could have used it after Auburn ran their 3rd down play, which could have only burned 25 seconds pre-snap. If they stopped Auburn they would have gotten the ball back with roughly 20 seconds left. Instead, Petrino's timeout allowed them to run a third down play, and then run the clock out before snapping the ball again on 4th down. #goacc
The last second timeout snafu wasn't the back breaker that some in the media made it out to be. The probability that Louisville would have went all the way down the field (Auburn 4th &6 at Louisville 46) and scored in that small amount of time is very low. This was a tough one to swallow based on how strong the defense looked and how the offense gave the ball away. The fumble return for a touchdown wasn't Bobby's fault. The reckless play calling on the first snap was. That interception put the Cards' in a hole from which they never emerged. If you want to lose a football game, give the ball to your opponents five yards outside of the red zone.
Not only did Louisville lose the game, they lost #1 WR James Quick to what looks to be a leg injury. He was taken to the locker room on a stretcher. Losing Quick would be a severe blow to an inexperienced offense. He was the only returning wide receiver with more than 10 catches in his career. Prayers and thoughts go out to Quick, who many projected to be due for his breakout campaign this season.
Devante Peete finished the game with 3 catches for 66 yards. He like, Lamar Jackson will have ups and downs this season but it was a pleasant surprise the freshman running the correct routes and making catches down field as well as in the red zone.
Brand Radcliffe was his reliable self rushing for 76 yards on 17 carries and the 2 aforementioned touchdowns.
Some solace can be taken in the fact that the Defense held Auburn in check for most of the game. James Burgess flew all over the field and was very impressive in pass coverage. Josh Harvey-Clemmons lived up to his advanced billing, finishing the game with 14 tackles and 2 interceptions.
It isn't far fetched to believe that the Cards' defense will keep them in games with anyone they face this season. The question remains, will Louisville's Offense be able to avoid turnovers, which will force the D to defend short fields that will put them in situations they can't recover from? That will be the key moving forward. Based on how Jackson managed the offense in relief of Bonnafon the possibilities seem encouraging.
FINAL TAKE ON JACKSON:
There was plenty of good things to take away from this game. Lamar Jackson is a dynamic playmaking freshman Quarter Back. His running style reminded me of Randall Cunningham. He can go around, over, and through you. He flicks his wrist and the ball flies effortlessly down field. Here watch this if you think I'm sellin wolf tickets:
One thing is for sure, I've never seen a fan base more energized after a loss than I see Cards' Nation right now.
The future is bright and Louisville has a new favorite son.