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Petrino hoped his offense would be ‘better’ without Lamar. How’s that going?

So far, the Cardinals’ offense is terrible.

NCAA Football: Louisville at Alabama John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

At this summer’s ACC media days, Bobby Petrino said this about his offense in the post-Lamar Jackson era:

I expect us to be better. I expect us to be more balanced, the ability to get more guys involved, particularly in the running game. I really like our receiving corps coming back. I really think it’s one of the strongest corps coming back. I forgot Jaylen [Samuels] missed three games and still had that many catches and that many touchdowns, and Dez [Fitzpatrick] is a guy that can really go get the ball and adjust to the ball. Seth [Dawkins] is a big, physical guy that really runs well after the catch.

He had some other things to say as well, clearly indicating high confidence in his offense minus the 2016 Heisman winner, now a Baltimore Raven.

This is certainly a thing one can say, but it didn’t quite pass the smell test in July, and it certainly doesn’t pass it now that Louisville’s three games into the season.

It was going to be nearly impossible for Louisville to actually be better on offense.

First of all, let’s put to one side the fact that the most transcendent player in school history just left. His individual talent was one (big) thing. Jackson wasn’t doing it entirely alone, and his supporting cast helped him to one of college football’s best offenses over the last two seasons — even though he was contributing far more than his share throughout, with frequently subpar blocking and some issues with drops.


  • No. 4 in yards per play (7.21)
  • No. 3 in yards per game (532.7)
  • No. 6 in scoring offense (42.5)
  • No. 10 in offensive S&P


  • No. 3 in yards per play (7.39)
  • No. 3 in yards per game (544.9)
  • No. 11 in scoring offense (38.1)
  • No. 5 in offensive S&P

That’s really good!

But whether you lost the best player your school has ever had or not, this would be hard to replicate for a third year in a row. It also showed that there was almost nowhere to go but down for U of L’s offense.

Petrino acknowledges that his team is not meeting the lofty expectations.

“I remember saying that. ACC media days. I said, ‘I expected them to be better.’ I expect a lot of things,” Petrino said in his Week 4 press conference.

When asked if he overestimated, Petrino responded:

“No, you have to have high expectations. You have to have high expectations. I’m looking at what we’ve got coming back and I feel good about what’s going on, but right now, we’re not obviously getting that done. So, we’ve got to regroup. We’ve got to do a better job of coaching. We’ve got to do a better job of playing.”

There was cause for some optimism about the Cards this season.

Plenty of that has to do with Petrino himself. He’s one of the best offensive coaching minds, renowned for doing more with less talent and being a quarterback whisperer since his first go-round with Louisville.

And he came into this season with reasonably high expectations from his personnel.

You don’t plug someone into Jackson’s role; you look at all the remaining components and build something new around them. And looking at what the Cardinals have instead of what they don’t, you find hope. Louisville has ...

A four-star sophomore quarterback (Jawon Pass) who completed 70 percent in limited action last year and fills the “pocket passer” niche that Petrino has thrived with in the past.

Last year’s top three receivers, each of whom averaged at least 9.1 yards per target with at least a 50 percent success rate in 2017.

A trio of running backs (Dae Williams, Trey Smith, Colin Wilson) who combined to average 6.6 yards per carry in backup roles. Each is at least 6’ and 220 pounds.

Four returning starters, who have combined for 77 career starts, on an offensive line that appeared to do its job better than the year before.

That’s not to say that his claim that the team would improve had merit, but to show optimism was fair.

But that has not come to fruition. At all.

It’s early in the season, but this isn’t great.

Alabama is Alabama, but with an entire offseason for Petrino to plan, one would hope for Louisville to do better than 4.1 yards per play.

More worryingly, going by S&P+ percentile performance, Louisville’s offense has actually regressed since losing to Alabama.

There’s a difference between regressing to the mean and all out cratering, which it appears Louisville’s offense is currently doing.

  • Alabama: 37th percentile
  • Indiana State: 17th percentile
  • Western Kentucky: 24th percentile

With winnable games against Virginia and Florida State coming up, Louisville has a chance to get things on the right track. Petrino’s also replacing QB Jawon Pass with Malik Cunningham, an athletic freshman who might be able to replicate a portion of Jackson’s production.

But it’s nowhere close to Petrino’s lofty expectations, and likely won’t get there by the end of this season.