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Petrino’s Louisville without Lamar Jackson looks like Petrino’s Falcons without Michael Vick

This isn’t the first time his teams have totally collapsed minus a dual-threat QB.

Georgia Tech v Louisville Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Louisville football hasn’t been all that fun to watch since they lost Lamar Jackson to the NFL, with a real chance of going 2-10.

It’s not the first time a Bobby Petrino team has looked like a complete dud after losing the game’s most electrifying player. Once upon a time, he coached the Atlanta Falcons, where a similar disaster occurred on the field. Let’s rewind.

Louisville was one of the most fun teams in football with Lamar Jackson.

College fans were spoiled in the 2016 and 2017 seasons when he was terrorizing defenses and earning high praise from Michael Vick, Jackson’s favorite player as a kid.

In both seasons, he had at least 2,500 yards and 27 touchdowns through the air to go with at least 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns. He did everything for Louisville, which earned him a Heisman win and another finalist trip.

But without Jackson, the Cardinals have been a nightmare.

The Cardinals are 99th in S&P+ overall and offensive rankings, below teams like Air Force, SMU, and Tulsa. They’re easily one of the worst teams in the power conferences.

In 2016, the Cardinals were 12th overall, and 10th in offense. In 2017, they were 16th overall, and fifth in offense. So yeah, they’re dramatically worse without Jackson, even though Petrino hoped they could improve.

Alex Kirshner succinctly sums up what’s behind Louisville’s stink:

Pretty much everything’s been bad. Jawon Pass, the QB charged with replacing Lamar Jackson, has struggled. The offense struggles to both stay on schedule and create big plays. The defense gets regularly gashed against both the run and the pass, letting offensive lines blow open huge holes and rarely generating pressure on opposing QBs. The only phase of the game that hasn’t been terrible is special teams.

Sure, you have to expect some kind of drop off after losing a player like Jackson. However, the dive Louisville has taken is dramatic. Saturday’s loss to Wake Forest was so embarrassing, it even included a revenge game by a Wake Forest running back Petrino pulled a scholarship from back in 2015.

This all feels awfully similar to when Petrino had to coach the Falcons without Jackson’s predecessor.

When Petrino left Louisville for the Falcons in 2007, everyone wanted to see what he could do with Vick’s still-unrealized potential, including Petrino, as he described years later:

There is an alternate universe in which Bobby Petrino changes the NFL.

It occurs some time around 2008, when Michael Vick and his Atlanta Falcons redefine NFL offenses with a formation previously unused at the professional level. It comes from Nevada, where its inventor, Chris Ault, once mentored Petrino, now the Falcons head coach. It’s called the pistol.

”I didn’t think you’d ever see it [in the pros],” Petrino says. “Why? Because you’ve got an owner there that says, ‘You’re gonna get this guy, this guy I’m paying this much money to, a chance to get hit and get hurt?’ That’s why I never thought you’d see it.”

“We probably would have [used the pistol option in the NFL, if Vick had played in 2007].”

Just imagine the NFL’s current adoption of college-style offenses happening years earlier, all thanks to Petrino and Vick. That was the idea at the time.

Instead, Vick was soon indicted for bankrolling a dogfighting ring. He was out indefinitely over the case and was eventually sentenced to 23 months in prison by December of 2007.

Prior to his indictment, Vick and the Falcons were coming off of a 7-9 season in which he threw for 2,400 yards and 20 touchdowns while rushing for over 1,000 yards and two touchdowns.

Petrino’s Falcons were putrid. Only once did they score more than 20 points in his 13 games that were quarterbacked by a mix of — wait for it — Joey Harrington, Chris Redman, and Byron Leftwich. It was a long and difficult season, but it appeared he’d have a chance to draft a franchise QB and build his promised offense from scratch.

On November 26, with his team at 3-8, Petrino said he wasn’t considering leaving the Falcons. With a 3-10 record on December 12, he resigned, and was hired by Arkansas hours later.

As you may recall, things didn’t end well there.

So what does this mean for Petrino moving forward?

Well, he can’t just do what he did in Atlanta and leave 78-word letters in the lockers of all the players and dip for another job (well, I guess we can’t count that out). His buyout is unusual, and costly. But Louisville might pay it anyway, because this team is that horrid:

His buyout would total about $12.6 million at that point, but because of the deal’s structure, that likely would not be all. The language also suggests Petrino would likely get three more years of the $500,000 APR bonuses, even if he weren’t coaching. Unless Louisville argued against that or somehow failed to keep up its APR, Petrino’s buyout would rise by another $1.5 million, going to about $14.1 million on Dec. 1, 2018.

At the very least, he’s going to remain a rich man. An unlikeable and rich man.

Louisville’s QB situation isn’t a whole lot better than what those 2007 Falcons had going on. They fixed it a few months after Petrino left by drafting Matt Ryan. That’s not exactly an option for Louisville, but bringing in a different QB to try and clean up the mess could still be.